Mary Anne Thomas | April 9, 2014

If you knew for certain that a simple exercise would bring you better health, would you do it?

Probably not.

In The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor recounts a conversation he had with a leading CEO. Achor demonstrated with overwhelming research that writing down three good things a day for 21 days would improve productivity in this CEO’s company. Improving productivity is the goose that laid the golden egg in corporate America.

The CEO was convinced; yet, his response to Achor was: “But I’m not going to do it.”

What is it about human nature that we eschew the very things that will help us?

Take a look at research about optimism and health. Optimism is what writing down three good things a day for 21 days produces.

In his book about the impact of optimism, “Flourish,” Martin Seligman recounts studies about the connection between optimism and health. Cardiovascular disease can be reduced or halted. Immune systems can be boosted to the point where they show a renewed ability to function.

In one study, Seligman measured the immune response in blood from optimists and pessimists. His conclusion? “The blood of optimists had a feistier response to threat.”

Blood having “a feistier response to threat” is a rather creepy notion. It’s certainly not as enticing as a golden egg. But if a simple five-minute exercise for 21 days would boost your immune system to the point where it knocked out early signs of more serious stuff – like cancer – would you do it?

Probably not.

There is something missing in the application of this research – and I think I may know what it is.

It’s the fact that we’re hardwired for cooperative connection.

Before his second stroke late last year, my husband, Bob, started noting three good things a day. He wouldn’t write down his three good things, though, no matter how much I nagged him – and I nagged him plenty, after reading the research about the connection between optimism and health. Instead, we did the exercise verbally.

At the end of our day, we each talked about the three good things that happened that day. I haven’t had Bob’s blood tested for a “feistier response to threat,” but the fact that he’s recovering from two strokes and prostate cancer is undeniable. His mobility is improving. His speech is clearer. His cancer is in remission. He no longer has high blood pressure. He looks and acts healthier. His doctors are floored.

Grab someone. Together, start talking about three good things at the end of every day. If you don’t have someone, join a new Facebook group I started called “Three Good Things” and do it with Bob and me.

Either way, start noting three good things a day. You’ll shift into better health, and won’t need a blood test to prove that it’s happening. {end}

Comment on Mary Anne’s columns at

Read online at Black Mountain News