Scientists Suggest That You Force Yourself to Consider the Bright Side at Work

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Portrait of woman smiling, holding up pencil & budget book. (Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images)
Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/(c) H. Armstrong Roberts

Sometimes nothing feels better than a good venting session about your weird day at work. Your unsuspecting partner or roommate or happy-hour pal asks a simple, polite question — How was your day?  — and off you go. It’s human nature to dwell on negativity, and yet a trio of researchers really wish that you wouldn’t. 

Writing in Harvard Business Review, they propose an alternative: the "three good things" intervention, something typically used to improve the moods of the mildly depressed. Summarizing their research, which was published in the journal Academy of Management, the researchers, led by Joyce E. Bono of the University of Florida, write that they tried a version of this for three weeks with a group that usually does have some real, actual problems to complain about: nurses and other employees at an outpatient family-practice clinic.

After work, for just five to ten minutes, the participants were to write about the good things that happened to them that day. The responses ranged from the mundane (Yay, it’s Friday!) to the substantial, like the nurse who was proud of herself for knowing exactly what to do for a patient who was having a seizure. Following the three-week period, their self-reported stress levels were lower than when they’d started; they also told the researchers that they had an easier time detaching from work at the end of the day. 

It is not the best experiment — there’s no control group, for one — but the idea that whining about your job can be draining is a pretty intuitive one, something echoed by research published earlier this year. And the truth is that nothing is more boring than hearing someone drone on and on about the tiny dramas at their office, and for that reason alone it is probably worth following this advice.