How Positive Reappraisal Can Boost Happiness
Positive reappraisal—or the ability to change your emotions by changing your perspective—can help you see silver linings, improve your mood, and boost your well-being. Here's how to do it.
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A few years ago, my car’s transmission blew completely. If I had wanted to, I could have focused on the negative things about this experience–it cost about $2,000 to fix, it happened as part of a string of repairs on that car, I desperately needed that car to get to work, and money was really tight. But because I had trained my brain to use reappraisal to focus on the positive, instead of focusing on these negatives, I actually felt gratitude.
My commute to work was an hour each way and I was relieved that this didn’t happen on the highway. I also felt relieved that my partner was in the car with me and helped me get it to an auto shop that day. I even felt happy that third gear was still working, so the car would still drive well enough for me to get it to the auto shop without having to pay to get it towed. By being able to see the silver linings, we can handle challenges more easily and get on with our lives. This is why reappraisal counteracts negative emotions, decreases stress, and boosts resilience.
So how do you find silver linings?
To give one example, you might consider that the benefits of working a really difficult job are that you learn new skills and build character. You might find that the benefits of working a really easy job are that you feel relaxed and have more time to devote to other things you enjoy. With some practice, you can find the benefits of just about any situation. As a result, most situations no longer appear to be simply good or bad—they are what you make of them.
When you are just starting to learn how to reappraise, first think about a slightly negative situation you experienced recently. Try to choose an experience that isn't extremely negative—it’s important to choose an experience that’s not too bad when you are first learning how to use this technique. You can work up to harder experiences as you become more skilled. For example, maybe you forgot your lunch or you got in a disagreement with a friend.
Once you’ve chosen which situation you will focus on, write it down. Next, spend a few minutes trying to find silver linings. You could try to think of the benefits, think about how the situation could be worse, or brainstorm opportunities that could result from this situation in the long term. Try to search for as many silver linings as you can think of.
Ask yourself these questions as your brainstorm:
Once you have your list, consider sharing your challenging situation and at least one benefit on social media. Try to make it habit that if you share something negative, you also note one silver lining. The more you practice this skill, the easier it becomes. Every “bad” situation will seem more like a mixed bag, with something to be gained.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.