Tell me something good
A simple prompt for uncertain times.
By the time Billy returned home from having dinner and drinks with an old friend, a night that was months in the making, I was already in bed.
“Did it feel good to finally go out on the town?” I asked him, as he leaned over to give me a kiss.
“You’ll find out ...” he said, with a mischievous smile on his face.
“Wait, what?” I laughed. “Why are you saying that so mysteriously?”
“You’ll find out!” he repeated, chuckling as he headed to the bathroom to brush his teeth.
Not long later, Billy joined me in bed. We did the same thing we’ve done every night for months now.
“Tell me something good,” I said.
“It felt great to finally go out on the town,” Billy replied.
I can’t remember the exact day that we started this ritual, but I know that we’ve kept it up ever since. It all began when we heard Chaka Khan and Rufus’ 1974 hit single, “Tell Me Something Good,” playing in the background of a TV show or movie we were watching.
“Tell Me Something Good” is the kind of R&B earworm you can’t shake, and while I cannot for the life of me remember what we were watching when we heard it, I do remember how it looped in my head for the rest of the evening.
That night, as Billy and I settled into bed, I sang my best version of the song’s titular line. “Tell me something good!” I belted in my cheesiest voice.
“No really, what was good about your day?” I asked.
Billy laughed, then shared a moment that made him smile. He asked me the same question, and I offered up a bright spot in my day.
That was sometime in December. It’s now March, and every night, no matter what kind of mood we’re in, we’ll always tell each other something good.
In just a few days, it will be three years since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. We are entering our fourth year of living in a world of social distancing, masking and unmasking, vaccines and vaccine deniers. It’s been a confusing time, an exhausting time, a discouraging time, a time that feels simultaneously memorable and forgettable.
We’ve weathered more than just a pandemic, too. We’ve witnessed or experienced firsthand the effects of police violence, mass shootings, climate disasters, abortion restrictions, and wildly disappointing decisions by our elected officials. We’ve worried about a future that seems increasingly inhospitable. And we’ve suffered the personal losses that come with being human—the effects of getting older, losing loved ones, growing apart from friends, or saying goodbye to dreams we once had.
It’s all piled up and taken a toll, whether or not we’ve stopped to acknowledge it. In many ways, the past few years have been a time when the extraordinary—the once horrifyingly unimaginable—has become the ordinary.
Of course, there have been bright spots. There always are! But given the totality of what we’re facing, those light moments can seem insufficient and inconsequential. Between our brains’ built-in negative bias, and the near-constant stream of catastrophic news available to us at any given time, focusing on the heaviness of life seems only natural.
For me, at least, it feels like I’ve adopted a low-level sense of dread about the future. This will probably be bad has become my go-to approach for most things. On an optimistic day, I might add, but hopefully not too bad!
Let’s pause here. It took me a long time to write those last five paragraphs—to try to sum up the heaviness and horribleness of the past three years. It might have taken you a while to read what I wrote, or having read that summary, you might now be feeling a pit in your stomach. I get it.
Despite our brains’ tendency to wallow in the negative, it’s no fun. It’s not healthy. It can easily drain us. Training our minds to look for and focus on the positive is a really crucial and important skill—not only for our own wellbeing, but for the benefit of the people around us.
Over the years, I’ve dabbled with gratitude journals, daily meditation, and taking and revisiting photos. But nothing has stuck quite as much as my and Billy’s nightly routine. Maybe it’s because naming one bright spot each day is so easy. Maybe it’s because there’s built-in accountability. Or it could simply be the fact that the “tell me something good” refrain is so catchy.
Whatever the case, sharing something good before bed feels like the best brain rewiring I’ve done in a while. Now, when an especially sweet, funny, or happy moment occurs, my mind lights up in recognition. Something good! There it is! I file that moment away, ready to share at the end of the day.
Some days, I have a stockpile of moments to share. At the end of a really good day, picking just one highlight is a challenge. Other times, it takes me longer to find something to share.
Many nights, as I think back through my day, I find no shortage of negative things to offer up—the bad news about a relative, the way my back is aching, that meeting that went too long, the dumb mistake I made. Amidst all that bad stuff, zeroing in on something good can be like finding Waldo on a jam-packed illustrated page. It’s there; it’s just frustratingly hard to find.
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But the good thing is there! This is the lesson I’ve grown to love. Every night, without fail, I find something positive to share with Billy. And every night, without fail, he has his own happy moment to offer up in return. Instead of going to bed straight after scrolling our phones or laying out our worries, we give ourselves the gift of basking in the memory of a bright moment.
I don’t want to paint a picture that Billy and I are happy and connected all the time. Not because that wouldn’t be nice, but because it’s not the truth—and I think it’s important to know that other couples go through hard times too. There have been plenty of evenings when Billy and I have bickered about something as we crawled into bed. We turn away from each other, quietly or not-so-quietly frustrated, trying to will our angry brains to sleep.
But there’s a stubborn and sweet part of us that knows how important our ritual is. So even on evenings when we’re fuming about something, one of us will break the silence with that now-familiar tune: Tell me something good.
And we do. We talk about unexpected encounters with neighbors and rewarding conversations with friends. We recall work wins, creative breakthroughs, and funny moments that made us laugh. More often than not, we talk about our girl. We both relish in the sweet and silly Cass stories, precious moments that already feel like they’re slipping away. Sharing them aloud gives us a chance to hold on just a little bit longer.
Some days, we’ll simply hum the line as an invitation to share. “Bum-bah-dum-dum-dah” is all we need— it’s a secret invitation we share, a reminder to think of one bright spot before we put yet another day behind us.
There’s a lot in the world that’s bad. No one needs to tell us that. But you can trust that there’s also always something good.