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.