Although negative emotions are inevitable, we can actually make them more tolerable by infusing them with positive emotion. Here's how.
*This page may include affiliate links; that means I earn from qualifying purchases of products.
A few years ago, my car’s transmission blew completely. If I had wanted to, I could have stressed out by focusing 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 use positive reappraisal, we can handle challenges more easily and get on with our lives. This is why reappraisal counteracts negative emotions, decreases stress, and boosts resilience.
Positive Reappraisal Activity
In this activity, you'll practice using positive reappraisal. Reappraisal has been shown to both increase happiness and resilience and to reduce negative emotions and stress.
Positive reappraisal involves cognitively reframing an event as more positive. For example, let’s say that I dropped my sandwich on the ground and I have nothing else to eat for lunch. I might tell myself that this will be a fun challenge for me or it will give me an opportunity to spend my lunch doing something else I enjoy.
This is a bit different from negative reappraisal which involves reframing an event as less negative.
For this activity, you will get an example of an event that could happen.
Practice reappraising this scenario as more positive. Come up with as many reappraisals as you can over the next few minutes.
My boss yelled at me."
What did people say?
Thank you to everyone who submitted your responses to this activity! We can now share some responses. Hopefully these will help you learn new ways to reappraise.
When your boss yells at you, you could positively reappraise the situation by thinking:
Some people responded with negative reappraisal (or decreasing negative emotions) such as:
Next time you come across a difficult situation see if you can use positive reappraisal in the situation to increase your positive emotions or negative reappraisal to decrease your negative emotions.
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.