The costs and benefits of writing, talking, and thinking about life's triumphs and defeats

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Lorie Sousa, Rene Dickerhoof
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2006, 90 (4): 692-708
Three studies considered the consequences of writing, talking, and thinking about significant events. In Studies 1 and 2, students wrote, talked into a tape recorder, or thought privately about their worst (N = 96) or happiest experience (N = 111) for 15 min each during 3 consecutive days. In Study 3 (N = 112), students wrote or thought about their happiest day; half systematically analyzed, and half repetitively replayed this day. Well-being and health measures were administered before each study's manipulation and 4 weeks after. As predicted, in Study 1, participants who processed a negative experience through writing or talking reported improved life satisfaction and enhanced mental and physical health relative to those who thought about it. The reverse effect for life satisfaction was observed in Study 2, which focused on positive experiences. Study 3 examined possible mechanisms underlying these effects. Students who wrote about their happiest moments--especially when analyzing them--experienced reduced well-being and physical health relative to those who replayed these moments. Results are discussed in light of current understanding of the effects of processing life events.

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