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Monday, September 21, 2020

Why Writing Down the Good Stuff Can Keep Out the Bad

by Michala Ritz and colleagues

In today’s current world of social isolation and virtual EVERYTHING, it is easy to get sucked down an endless rabbit hole of negativity, sad stories of sickness and death, and scary projections of the future. It is now normal to wake up, wonder about family and friends near and abroad, and monitor the volatile stock market – all while sipping our morning coffee worrying what bad news tomorrow may bring.

Those lingering questions keep us up at night, like monsters under our beds.

“What if I lose my job?”

“What if my parents contract COVID?”

“How will my patients do with all of this?”

“What if I accidentally spread the disease to someone I love?"

“Will life ever be “normal” again?”

Current alterations in daily life due to the coronavirus pandemic have put an enormous mental and emotional strain on countless people throughout the globe.1 Anxiety and depression result from increasing physical and social isolation. There is such a focus on the negative; what activities we cannot do, what events we cannot attend, and what people we cannot see in person. Commonly, the end of the day becomes a time for reflection on the negative, as we replay the conversations, events, and thoughts that did not go well. What’s missing is a healthy dwelling on the good things, the happy moments that brought a quick smile to our faces and joy to our days.

Science and years of research have proven that grateful people are happier and healthier. Gratitude journaling helps people cope with stress and increases the positive emotions that they feel.2 Dr. Martin Seligman has written extensively of the power of positive psychology, and specifically the benefits of gratitude journaling by writing down three positive events or feelings at the end of the day. In doing this, it “changes your focus from the things that go wrong in life, to the things you may take for granted that go well”.3 Gratitude journaling also creates a mentality that is more resilient to adversity and setbacks. Extended research has also shown that promoting resilience training for healthcare workers can lead to lower level of depression, anxiety and an increased overall life satisfaction.4

So, you are telling me, that in order to maintain happiness, healthiness and resiliency, I can reflect on my day and write down three good things that happened? Sounds simple enough. Sign me up! And, guess what, there’s an app for that.

We worked with a software solutions company called CrossComm to build a free, web-based (no download needed) gratitude journaling and sharing app called “The Three Good Things”. We particularly thought about colleagues in palliative care in its design, but also made the app usable for persons outside of healthcare, including our family and friends, patients, and their caregivers. Users of the app can journal privately, or create and invite their own family and friends to join a gratitude sharing network where nightly posts can be seen by those they care about. In doing so, we hope that positivity goes viral, starting from within your own social circles. Further, the app can send you a text or email reminder at the time of your choice to nudge a moment to reflect on the things that are going well.

Here are some examples from the latest rundown of publicly-posted “good things”, known in the app as the “Positivity Feed”.

“Cookie cake and grilled burgers”

“My wife and I are still in love. Like lots.”

“Playing Apples to Apples”

“One week in our new house”

“Cauliflower rice bowls”

“Walked a 5K”

“Thankful for my children”

Just because we have to be a little distant doesn’t mean we need to lose sight of the great lives we all live, the love we experience each day, and the kindness the world still has. We encourage you to take a quiet moment, reflect, and write down your three good things and smile!

The web app can be accessed here:

Michala Ritz MPH

Fred Friedman

Jon Nicolla MBA

Don Shin

Arif Kamal MD, MBA, MHS


1. Siija, Li et al. The Impact of Covid-19 Epidemic Declaration on Psychological Consequences: A Study on Active Weibo Users. 2020.

2. Allen, S. Is Gratitude Good For Health. 2018.

3. Seligman, M, Steen T, Park N and Peterson, C. Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. Am Psychol 2005 July – August;60 (5):410 – 421

4. Peccoralo L, Mehta D, Schiller G, et al. The Health Benefits of Resilience. 2020.

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