How to Increase and Sustain Positive Emotion

Study considers the sustainability of positive emotions.

Study considers the sustainability of positive emotions.

Fundamentally psychology is concerned with peoples mental functions and subsequent behaviours. As people generally want to be ‘happy’ positive psychology is specifically concerned with achieving a satisfactory life and happy life, rather than focusing on illness.

Research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology examined how regularly practicing positive mental exercises could impact on positive emotional outcomes. (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2007)

Over a 4 week period the researchers randomly assigned 67 participants to carry out one of three mental exercises.

Participants in the ‘gratitude’ group were given the following instructions:

You have been randomly assigned to try to cultivate a sense of gratitude now, and during the next few weeks. ‘‘Cultivate a sense of gratitude’’ means that you make an effort to think about the many things in your life, both large and small, that you have to be grateful about.

These might include particular supportive relationships, sacrifices or contributions that others have made for you, facts about your life such as your advantages and opportunities, or even gratitude for life itself, and the world that we live in. In all of these cases you are identifying previously unappreciated aspects of your life, for which you can be thankful.

You may not have thought about yourself in this way before, but research suggests that doing so can have a strong positive effect on your mood and life satisfaction. So, we’d like to ask you to continue thinking in this way over the next few weeks, following up on the initial writing that you’re about to do.

Participants in the ‘best possible selves’ group were given the following instructions:

You have been randomly assigned to think about your best possible self now, and during the next few weeks. ‘‘Think about your best possible self’’ means that you imagine yourself in the future, after everything has gone as well as it possibly could.

You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of your life dreams, and of your own best potentials. In all of these cases you are identifying the best possible way that things might turn out in your life, in order to help guide your decisions now.

You may not have thought about yourself in this way before, but research suggests that doing so can have a strong positive effect on your mood and life satisfaction. So, we’d like to ask you to continue thinking in this way over the next few weeks, following up on the initial writing that you’re about to do.

Participants in the final ‘life details’ group were given the following instructions:

You have been randomly assigned to pay more attention to the daily details of your life. ‘‘Pay more attention to your life’’ means that you take notice of the ordinary details of your life that you wouldn’t typically think about.

These might include particular classes or meetings you attend, typical interactions with acquaintances, typical thoughts that you have during the day, or your typical schedule as you move through the day. In all of these cases, you may be helped to better identify problem areas in your life, and to take action to change them.

You may not have thought about yourself in this way before, but research suggests that doing so can have a strong positive effect on your mood and life satisfaction. So, we’d like to ask you to continue thinking in this way over the next few weeks, following up on the initial writing that you’re about to do.

The researchers assessed the participants with a mood questionnaire at the start of the experiment and 2 and 4 weeks afterwards and hypothesised that performing a gratitude or best possible self exercise would immediately boost mood and increase motivate to continue completing the exercise.

After analysing the data the researchers found that completing all three exercises produced immediate reductions in negative moods and that the best possible self exercise produced a significant immediate increase in mood.

Considering sustained the authors concluded that longer term emotional benefits required persistent effort to achieve and that the exercise should be a good ‘fit’ for the individuals personality, interests and goals.