Three Good Things
Date Published: June 5, 2020
Jordyn Feingold, MAPP, shares three evidenced-based techniques for harnessing the power of the positive in bleak times. Jordyn is a Positive Psychology Practitioner and a Medical Student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
From the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. This is Road to Resilience, a podcast about overcoming adversity. I'm Jon Earle. My guest today is Jordyn Feingold. She's a positive psychology practitioner and a medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine here at Mount Sinai. Jordyn is going to share three exercises that can help you see the bright side of life, even in dark times. They're evidence-based and closely tied to resilience factors that we talk about a lot on the podcast, things like gratitude and playing to your strengths. Jordyn has a master's in applied positive psychology, and she's been teaching these techniques for years. So I think you're really going to enjoy what you hear.
What is positive psychology for someone who might not be familiar with the term?
Jordyn Feingold: 00:47
It is a scientific discipline. It is an empirical, observable science that is all about the positive side of the human experience. So we study things like optimism, future-mindedness, resilience. So not just not suffering and getting rid of depression, but the state beyond that, which we define as well-being or human flourishing.
So it's not just about moving someone from sick to well, it's about moving them from well to great, essentially.
Jordyn Feingold: 01:19
I want to move now to where we are right now with COVID and the pandemic. And I was wondering if you could share with us a few techniques or a few strategies from positive psychology that anybody could use to help them during pandemic times.
Jordyn Feingold: 01:34
Of course. So a big part of positive psychology is about positive interventions, which are intentional activities that are aimed at cultivating positive emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. One that I love is called the "three good things" or the "three blessings" exercise. And this exercise is all about just noticing positive things that happened to us during the day. And so we say that every night for a maximum of five days—you don't have to do it any longer than that, but a lot of people actually end up doing this every day because they love it so much—before you go to bed, just think about three good things that happened to you that day. And you don't stop there. You also think about, and you can write it down, too, why those good things happened. And what starts to happen is that you realize that normally when good things happen to us during a day, we don't really think twice about it. We're wired with this negativity bias that is a remnant of our evolution that makes us overvalue the negative things that happen to us. So it takes a lot of mental effort for many of us to actually think about the positive and feel it as saliently as we feel the negative. So by doing this exercise it really helps us notice how when we start to pay attention to the positive we can really end up savoring those things and not letting them just pass us by during the day.
I love that. I think the "why" is so important because it's not simply counting your blessings, it's also understanding why things happen so that you can replicate them.
Jordyn Feingold: 03:08
Exactly. And often when positive things happen, we think, like, "Oh, it's because other people made them happen," or "I'm just lucky," or "I was in the right place at the right time." But, really, often the positive things that happen to us happen because of things that we do to make them happen. And it helps us get into the mindset to take more ownership and give ourselves more credit for the good things that happen to us because often we do play a role in those things.
So what are some examples? Have you been using this recently?
Jordyn Feingold: 03:36
Yeah, so we were doing this when I was with my roommates during the pandemic. And just really simple things like we made a delicious dinner and we made it because we planned out the recipe beforehand, we set a time, we planned to be together. So that's one example.
It sounds like the why often has to do with planning.
Jordyn Feingold: 04:02
These days, yeah, when everything just feels so nebulous, just being able to plan and take some control over the situation, which otherwise feels like we are losing so much of the control, I think is often driving a lot of the positivity that I'm experiencing.
What's another exercise that's been on your mind recently?
Jordyn Feingold: 04:24
So actually this is something we're doing with all of the second-year medical students next week, and it's all about character strengths. So a big piece of positive psychology, especially when the field was first really developed back in the 1990s and early 2000s was this whole notion of character strengths. And it's all about the common character strengths that are present in all of us across cultures, all across the world. So they're things like appreciation of beauty and excellence, bravery, curiosity, love of learning. Just love in general, the ability to love and be loved, kindness. The list goes on. There are 24 character strengths that are inventoried. And then the exercise is every day for a week to use your top strength in a new way. So, for example, if my top strength is appreciation of beauty and excellence, the question is how can I apply that strength in a way that I'm not currently applying it now? So maybe it's, like, I'm going to take more nature walks or do more museum tours or watch a film and appraise it with a friend. And the idea is using our strengths rather than focusing on our weaknesses, which is often our inclination to do as human beings, really helps us to feel a sense of ownership in our lives, it increases our well-being, and there are many research studies that have shown that people who have done this exercise using a new strength every day for one week had greater happiness and decreased levels of depression up to six months later.
It sounds like that's the sort of thing that you could do in a group, right? You could do it in pairs at home?
Jordyn Feingold: 06:03
Yeah. So anyone at home can go to the organization it's called VIA. There's a website called viacharacter.org, and you can learn more about what the strengths are. You can actually take a quiz that you answer a bunch of questions. It takes like 20 minutes. And then at the end of that test, it gives you a rank ordered list of your 24 character strengths. And the top strengths, like the top one or two that you score highest on, we call those your "signature strengths." Strengths are dynamic, they certainly can change over time, and we use different strengths in different contexts. And, you know, maybe I'm really high in humor in my personal life, but I'm less inclined to use humor in my work. So things like that. So they're definitely context-specific and malleable. But the idea is that when we have a pretty good sense of what our top ones are, which are like the ones that are really core to who we are and our identities, we can use those in our lives in more creative ways to help us give us a sense of mastery, too. And we can even use them to help bump up some of our lower strengths.
Amazing. Let's do one more exercise.
Jordyn Feingold: 07:16
Yeah. So, there's so, so many. Another one that I've been teaching my students, and we're doing this one with some pediatrics residents next week also, is called "savoring." And savoring is about deepening and prolonging positive experiences. So, again, like that negativity bias, I talked about with the three good things exercise, we often just let the positive go. So savoring helps us really deliberately, mentally prolong the positive experiences. So savoring can happen in the past with reminiscing about past positive experiences. You know, spending time looking at old family photos and really deepening your experience, getting back into what life was like at another beautiful time in the past. We can savor the present moment, things like drinking a delicious glass of wine, or having a homemade dessert, or a piece of chocolate, or even taking a shower and luxuriating in a warm bath. And we can savor in the future, too, anticipating positive experiences that, I think that's really powerful right now. We may not know when they're going to happen in the future, but really anticipating a life after this pandemic where we can think in as many details as possible what we see ourselves doing in the future. I love to savor. I think it really helps me be more present in the moment. And it's just really powerful and it's fun.
It's a form of stopping to smell the flowers. And it sounds like you could combine this with the three good things?
Jordyn Feingold: 08:55
Totally, totally. Yeah. These things are really, like, they don't fit so cleanly into just one exercise. There's so many ways you can do it and positive interventions are not necessarily one-size-fits-all things. Some people may really love to savor in the moment, but it's just like the idea of sitting and writing down three good things that happened at the end of the day just seems too burdensome. And that's totally okay. We can mold these to work with our values and what we are most interested in doing and what fits into our schedules and our routines.
Great. Thank you so much for sharing those exercises. I know you've also been doing some other COVID-related work that has to do with creating resources and gathering uplifting stories from the Sinai community and beyond. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Jordyn Feingold: 09:45
Sure. So when this pandemic started, I think in the very beginning I was in a little bit of denial and shock. I was going through my stages of grief. And then within a couple of weeks of realizing life was going to be this way for awhile, I was really thinking: I know this obviously is such an unfortunate time and so many things are not as we would wish them to be. And this is also going to be a time where we see the best of human beings and there's so much to celebrate during this time. So I got together with a group of students and we thought about a campaign that we could put together, which we ended up naming #revamp_cov2. So REVAMP stands for relationships, engagement, vitality, accomplishment, meaning and positive emotions. And so revamp is basically what we know are the ingredients for the good life for well-being, for human flourishing. So we put together a campaign to highlight these REVAMP elements, to share wonderfully positive stories that are happening all around us.
Are there any amazing stories that are sticking with you right now that you'd want to share?
Jordyn Feingold: 11:06
Yeah, I mean, watching the students at Mount Sinai, the workforce that has come together. So obviously for students' own protection, many of the medical students were pulled from the wards in mid-March. So the third- and fourth-year students were pulled from the wards. And the way that the student body has mobilized to do tasks that are not necessarily directly patient-facing, but are over the phone via telemedicine, you know, students calling patients about test results and explaining how they can quarantine during this time and stay safe from their families, students stocking shelves in the hospital with supplies, working in the pharmacies. I've been constantly inspired by what is happening from the student-run side. And there's so much inspiration happening all over. And so much of it is just being student-initiated, which is totally incredible.
So Jordan, what's coming up next for you in the coming months?
Jordyn Feingold: 12:04
So a few things. Right now, I'm actually working on a research project with our Office of Well-Being and Resilience. That's a survey that has gone out to over 6,000 front-line workers across the Mount Sinai Hospital to understand the psychological impact of this pandemic. And that's going to be something that's going on over the next couple months longitudinally and up to six months to a year out after the pandemic is over so we can really understand how this has affected our community and what our institution can do to support our frontline workers. And I think that there's definitely going to be major, major opportunities to utilize positive psychology principles in the wake of this pandemic. Of course, right now, and as things continue to calm down and we get a hold on the crisis, I think we're going to realize that this time actually was filled with a huge sense of meaning and duty for front-line workers. That people were less preoccupied and less burdened with paperwork and administrative burden and were actually able to do a lot of the things that they came to this medical profession to do, to really prioritize taking care of patients. And what I'm really curious about doing is figuring out how we preserve that when life returns to normal and how we can keep that deep level of engagement and meaning alive when people return to their usual duties, and to help support everyone—patients, providers—and their mental health, which is certainly going to be a really, really big concern as things calm down and we begin to process this pandemic and what it means for us.
Any initial thoughts along the lines of preserving? Like how do we keep the good things from this time going?
Jordyn Feingold: 14:10
My initial thoughts are that we really need to—you know, this moment has been a time where we can all pause and really think about what our values are. And I think moving forward, we have to constantly keep that at the forefront when there's not something looking at us in the face and threatening our lives. So this notion that this was a time to really prioritize what matters most, that we can continue to do that even after this and advocate for the healthcare system of the future that works for everyone, that prioritizes the sense of meaning and duty for healthcare providers, and perhaps lessening administrative burden. Of course it's a hugely complex system that we exist in, and I know things will not change overnight, but I think using an approach of examining what has gone well during this time and how can we keep more of it, rather than going in and saying, "This was a problem before, how do we get rid of it?" I think we need to take a positive and appreciative approach of moving forward into the next wave of this and really looking at what's been working and continuing and growing that.
Great. Jordyn, thank you so much for being on the podcast. It's always a pleasure to talk to you.
Jordyn Feingold: 15:33
Thank you for having me. It is totally my pleasure.
Jordyn Feingold is a positive psychology practitioner and a medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. You can hear more from her on Episode 6 of the podcast in which she talks about managing fear, anxiety, and stress. As always I'll include links to her work and related resources in the show notes. And now a couple thank you's. First, I want to thank everybody who's donated to Mount Sinai's COVID-19 response fund. Your donations continue to help us fight the disease. Our clinicians and researchers are so grateful. Thank you. And secondly, I want to thank everybody out there who's fighting for equality, dignity, and justice. Your resilience is the stuff of legend, and we're so proud of you. Road to Resilience is a production of the Mount Sinai Health System. It's made by Katie Ullman, Nicci Hudson, and me, Jon Earle. Lucia Lee is our executive producer. From all of us here, thank you so much for listening and we'll see you soon with new episodes. Until then, stay safe.