Try the What-Went-Well Exercise for a Happier Year

“When we take time to notice the things that go right—it means we’re getting a lot of little rewards throughout the day.” – Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD.


I know we can all agree that 2020 was a rough year. This is especially true for teachers…and students…and parents of students doing remote learning.  And as we turn to 2021, there is no quick fix that is going to make the beginning of 2021 all that different. It is still going to be rough.  For a while anyway.  But take heart, I have a tried and true strategy to add a little positivity to your day and to help you flourish in this difficult time.  It’s called the What-Went-Well-Today exercise.

This exercise was developed by Martin E. P. Seligman an American psychologist who is a pioneer in the science of Positive Psychology.  He is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and creator of the Positive Psychology Center. (Check out the website. It has tons of resources.

Years of research and teaching the psychology of well-being has provided Seligman with a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being (Atria Books, 2012).  He has taught the What-Went-Well exercise with great success to hundreds of college and graduate students as well as mental health workers around the world.

Seligman notes that most of us dwell way too much on the difficulties and failures in our lives which, of course, leads to anxiety, stress, and depression. In order to combat this mode of thinking he suggests that we all need to get better at “thinking about and savoring what went well.”  To do this, he encourages us to “set aside 10 minutes before you go to sleep and write down three things that went well today and why they went well.”

Simple, right?

It is, and Seligman assures readers of his book Flourish that if you stick with this exercise “the odds are that you will be less depressed, happier and addicted to this exercise 6 months from now.”

He does add that it is important to not just list the good things but to think why they happened.

Teachers and parents, don’t you think this would be a wonderful exercise to do every once in a while, with your students or with your own children?  In these difficult times of remote or hybrid learning, giving them time and encouragement to recognize some positives of the experience might help keep them motivated.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts