Finding happiness in negative emotions: An experimental test of a novel expressive writing paradigm

The Journal of Positive Psychology

Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice

Volume 6, 2011 – Issue 3


Using an experimental writing design, this study pitted a novel emotion regulation strategy, integrating psychological acceptance and positive reappraisal, against two established strategies for increasing psychological well-being: emotional disclosure (Pennebaker, 1997Pennebaker, JW. 1997. Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8: 162166. [Crossref], [Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) and positive reappraisal (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998; Gross & John, 2003). 315 undergraduate students wrote on four consecutive days about the biggest problem in their lives and were randomly assigned to use one of the three strategies: (1) emotional disclosure, (2) positive reappraisal, or (3) acceptance + positive reappraisal. Results indicated that the integrative condition led to optimal emotional well-being outcomes at post-intervention, including: greater happiness and positive emotions, marginally fewer negative emotions, and greater overall psychological acceptance. Findings indicate that accepting one’s negative emotions and then trying to seek out positives might be an optimal strategy for building happiness.

The effect of meaningfulness and integrative processing in expressive writing on positive and negative affect and life satisfaction

Cognition and Emotion

Volume 26, 2012 – Issue 1


Meaningfulness and integrative processing of expressive writing may influence the effect of expressive writing. Participants completed measures of positive affect, negative affect and life satisfaction before and after an expressive writing intervention. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four expressive writing instruction conditions, which combined higher and lower levels of meaning and integrative processing instructions. Meaningfulness and integrative processing instructions had significant effects in increasing positive affect and there was a significant interaction between meaningfulness instructions and integrative processing instructions; participants in the high meaningfulness and high integrative processing instruction condition showed the greatest increase in positive affect. Meaningfulness had a significant effect in decreasing negative affect. The intervention did not influence life satisfaction. Both meaningfulness and integrative processing instructions led to more self-reported personal meaningfulness of the writing and more cognitive, emotional, behavioural and situational changes. More self-reported meaningfulness of the writing and more cognitive, emotional, behavioural and situational changes made as a result of the writing were in turn associated with greater increases in positive affect. The results of the study affirm the importance of meaningfulness and processing in expressive writing and potentially provide information regarding how to increase the effectiveness of expressive writing.