Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Positive Emotions

In Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval by Dr. James W. Pennebaker, he writes about the importance of positive emotions. "Even the most horrendous life experiences can provide positive feelings and insights. In some circles, this is almost a heretical idea. This is not to say that traumas are good events—rather, their value lies in having the potential to remind us of the good things in life.

"One of the most surprising findings about expressive writing is that the more people can use positive emotions in their writing, the more they benefit from the exercise. We see positive emotions when words such as love, caring, funny, joy, beautiful, and warmth are used. The degree to which people can use these words even when they are dealing with terrible traumas predicts health improvements after writing.

"Being able to acknowledge positive emotions when dealing with tragic events is related to optimism and benefit-finding. Across an increasing number of studies, people who are able to see the positive side of negative experiences tend to cope better. This is not to say you should be some kind of Pollyanna who pretends everything is wonderful. In fact, if you have tried to do this in the past, you probably have learned that it doesn't work.

"The take-home message from this research is that it is important to acknowledge the bad and look for the good. The degree to which you can do this in your writing is one factor that correlates to improved health."

What do you think about Pennebaker's hypothesis that you feel better when you write about stress and trauma using positive emotions?

14 comments:

Gianna said...

I have made enemies in the blogosphere because I refuse to me full of hateful bitterness. That's not to say I don't deal with some healthy anger as a result of the care I've received.

I fully believe in the power of love to heal!! And with love comes joy, and warmth and all the other positive emotions.

I wrote a post today about my new doc. She is filled with these positive emotions and that I believe is how we found each other....I may add that to the end of my post!!

thanks!

Jazz said...

Susan--
I think being able to write about stress and trauma in a positive way is a good thing--but it is difficult to do while you're in the middle of it. This is something that comes later, after you've had a chance to process it all. There are periods of my life that were just awful, and I would never want to re-live...but I would be lying if I said I hadn't gained wisdom and insight from going through those periods...and since I like the place I am at right now, and since I had to go there to get here, I can't quite bring myself to wish they'd never happened.

This research drives home the idea that attitude has a huge impact on health and well-being.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Gianna,
I, too, believe in "healthy anger." And that's how I survived when I was so sick. But what was interesting was that no publisher would publisher my original book, which I called Honk If You're on Lithium, because it wasn't "sad enough" for a bipolar book.

Yet, somehow I instinctively knew that dwelling on the negative wouldn't heal me.

Susan

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Jazz,
I, too, like the place I am now, and I, too, realize that I could never have gotten here without all the pain and suffering.

And you're so right; I'd never want to relive it again.

But somehow I knew that if I focused on the pain and suffering rather than on seeking wellness, I would never get well.

Susan

Gianna said...

Susan I think that the climate around mental health has changed so much in the last 10 years that irreverent and/or not "sad" looks at mental health might be considered by the right publisher....

Annie said...

Susan, I gave this post a lot of thought. I know what your mean about searching for the positive, even in times of sadness. In my experience with others sometimes that can be at a very slow pace and the person may remain sad or mad for some time before being in a place to find the positive. When I have been with someone who has a profound trauma or loss there is value in them having permission to work through those feelings with the faith and guidance that the positive will come in its own time. What do you think Susan? Great post. Peace Annie

marja said...

I believe very much in looking at the positive in the bad and most of my writing is from that point of view. That accounts to a large degree for how well I'm doing. I'm sure of it.

I caused a bit of trouble when I wrote an article a while ago that started off by saying: "Mental illness isn't all bad..." I go on to say how I wouldn't ask for it or wish it on anyone, yet I could not have learned what I have, or become the person I am, if things had been easier.

One or two people were quite angry at my approach, but I stand by what I said. I believe that to go through the troubles I've experienced is like the refining fire the Bible speaks of.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Annie,
Yes, it's something to think about. I think I deal with it in a post so we can continue discussing it. Thanks for bringing it up.

Susan

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Gianna,
I turned that book into Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out, and took out the amusing stuff. Now I'm writing about wellness and have moved on. But you're right...it's a different time and it would probably find a publisher now.

Susan

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Marja,
I agree. I think there will always be people who are offended when we take a slightly different viewpoint. But I'm a big fan of yours!

Susan

Deb said...

I always feel better when I hold positive thoughts.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Deb,
Isn't that true for all of us?

Susan

katie said...

remembering to search for the good in the midst of the hard, traumatic or trying situations is part of living fully. the flower blooms whether we are happy or sad - being able to 'drop everything' and be in the moment to appreciate the good and the beauty, and then be able to sincerely have it in my heart to write about, is the most powerful way i can help myself stay on track. Thank you for highlighting this important topic here, Susan.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

So nicely said Katie! You're welcome.

Susan