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In a variation on Pennebaker's writing paradigm, a sample of 81 undergraduates wrote about one of four topics for 20 minutes each day for 4 consecutive days. Participants were randomly assigned to write about their most traumatic life event, their best possible future self, both of these topics, or a nonemotional con- trol topic. Mood was measured before and after writing and health center data for illness were obtained with participant con- sent. Three weeks later, measures of subjective well-being were obtained. Writing about life goals was significantly less upset- ting than writing about trauma and was associated with a sig- nificant increase in subjective well-being. Five months after writ- ing, a significant interaction emerged such that writing about trauma, one's best possible self, or both were associated with decreased illness compared with controls. Results indicate that writing about self-regulatory topics can be associated with the same health benefits as writing about trauma.
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The Health Benefits of Writing
About Life Goals
Laura A. King
Southern Methodist University
In a variation on Pennebaker’s writing paradigm, a sample of
81 undergraduates wrote about one of four topics for 20 minutes
each day for 4 consecutive days. Participants were randomly
assigned to write about their most traumatic life event, their best
possible future self, both of these topics, or a nonemotional con-
trol topic. Mood was measured before and after writing and
health center data for illness were obtained with participant con-
sent. Three weeks later, measures of subjective well-being were
obtained. Writing about life goals was significantly less upset-
ting than writing about trauma and was associated with a sig-
nificant increase in subjective well-being. Five months after writ-
ing, a significant interaction emerged such that writing about
trauma, one’s best possible self, or both were associated with
decreased illness compared with controls. Results indicate that
writing about self-regulatory topics can be associated with the
same health benefits as writing about trauma.
The health benefits associated with disclosive writing
have been demonstrated in a number of studies by a vari-
ety of investigators (Smyth, 1998). Typically, these stud-
ies have involved asking participants to write about emo-
tionally upsetting life events over the course of a few
days. Such writing has been shown to relate to superior
immune function (Esterling, Antoni, Fletcher,
Margulies, & Schneiderman, 1994; Pennebaker, Kiecolt-
Glaser, & Glaser, 1988; Petrie, Booth, Pennebaker, &
Davison, 1995), reduced health problems (e.g.,
Greenberg & Stone, 1992; Pennebaker & Beall, 1986),
lower skin conductance levels (Pennebaker, Hughes, &
O’Heeron, 1987), better adjustment to college
(Cameron & Nicholls, 1998; Pennebaker, Colder, &
Sharp, 1990), and more quickly finding employment
after being laid off (Spera, Buhrfeind, & Pennebaker,
1994). Recently, studies have begun to incorporate dif-
ferent writing instructions, obtaining similarly salubrious
effects. For instance, Greenberg, Wortman, and Stone
(1996) found that even writing about an imagined
trauma once for 20 minutes provided health benefits.
King and Miner (2000) demonstrated that participants
who wrote only about the positive aspects of their trau-
matic experience showed the same health benefits as
those who wrote about the trauma itself. Based on these
results, King and Miner suggested that any writing that
might be thought to enhance self-regulation ought to
lead to health benefits. Writing about topics that allow an
individual to gain insight into his or her priorities and to
understand better what his or her emotional reactions
mean may facilitate physical health. The purpose of the
present investigation was to examine whether writing
about a self-regulatory topic (but one that is not intensely
emotional) might lead to the physical health benefits of
A variety of explanatory mechanisms have been sug-
gested for the health benefits of writing. Initially, cathar-
sis and insight were considered possibilities. The role of
emotional expression was thought to be demonstrated
in research showing that individuals who had confided
in others about a trauma were better off physically than
others. For instance, Pennebaker and O’Heeron (1984)
reported that among spouses of individuals who had
committed suicide or who had died of accidental causes,
differing health status 1 year later was accounted for by
degree of confiding. Pennebaker, Barger, and Tiebout
(1989) found that survivors of the Holocaust who openly
disclosed about their traumas in an interview were
Author’s Note: I thank Tom Scollon, Christie Napa, and Teresa Wil-
liams for their contributions to this project and article. This research
was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant No.
MH54142. Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to
Laura A. King, who is now at the Department of Psychological Sciences,
McAlester Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211.
PSPB, Vol. 27 No. 7, July 2001 798-807
© 2001 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
healthier 14 months later compared with more reticent
The role that releasing pent-up emotion might play in
the benefits of writing is also demonstrated in the typical
instructions used in the writing studies—“to really let
go...andwrite as much as you can about the experience”
(e.g., Pennebaker & Beall, 1986). Having individuals
write about traumatic life events in this way has been
shown to lead to fewer physical illnesses over time (e.g.,
Pennebaker & Beall, 1986; Pennebaker & Susman,
1988). Furthermore, the importance of the emotional
release was demonstrated in research showing that hav-
ing participants avoid emotional content showed no pos-
itive effects (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986). These kinds of
results seemed to indicate that emotional release was a
crucial part of the benefits of writing.
Placing these results in a theoretical context,
Pennebaker (1988, 1989, 1992) proposed a theory of
active inhibition to account for the healing power of writ-
ing. This active inhibition model posited that individuals
who held back from talking about traumatic life events
tended to experience chronic autonomic arousal and
immune function deterioration. Writing about previ-
ously undisclosed traumatic life events allowed the indi-
vidual to halt this vicious cycle.
More recently, Pennebaker (1997) suggested that
emotional catharsis might not be the most important fac-
tor in these writing results. Analyzing the essays written
by participants in the trauma group of a typical writing
study, Pennebaker (1993) found that independent of
emotional expression in the essays, increasing use of
insight words, causal words, and words associated with
cognitive activity were associated with health improve-
ments. These results were also found in a sample of
bereaved men (Pennebaker, Mayne, & Francis, 1997).
Thus, the health benefits of writing appear to be tied to
constructing a sensible story rather than releasing pent-
up negative emotion. Indeed, Pennebaker and Francis
(1996) and Pennebaker, Mayne, and Francis (1997)
found that the use of positive emotion words (relative to
negative emotion words) was associated with health ben-
efits. Pennebaker (1997) asserted that although a reduc-
tion in inhibition might play a role in obtaining health
benefits from writing, the cognitive changes manifested
in these word use differences more strongly predict phys-
ical health.
The evolution that has occurred in the conceptualiza-
tion of the mechanisms underlying the benefits of the
writing paradigm demonstrates a movement away from
the mechanism of catharsis toward a more insight-driven
explanation. The body of evidence that supports the
effectiveness of the writing paradigm is unquestionably
remarkable. And the refinement of the theory away from
emotional catharsis toward insight is certainly an impor-
tant improvement. However, even the argument that it is
insight about a past trauma that drives this effect might
be questioned.
It is notable that all of these studies have started with a
particular bias—that benefiting from writing must
involve encountering and coping with a traumatic event
from the past. This assumption, along with the joint
notions of catharsis and insight, that some past trauma is
driving current health echoes a Freudian notion of past
experiences driving current behavior. Thus far, explana-
tions of the healing power of writing have been predi-
cated on the notion that individuals must revisit,
reexperience, or reevaluate past traumas.
These explanations cannot fully account for the
remarkable finding that writing about someone else’s
trauma can provide health benefits (Greenberg et al.,
1996). Greenberg et al.’s finding that writing about
someone else’s trauma led to health benefits challenges
the belief that somehow writing facilitates the reintegra-
tion of experience—because the experience written
about is not one’s own. In attempting to explain the ben-
efits of writing these traumatic fictions, Greenberg and
her colleagues postulated that the traumatic event itself
was relatively unimportant in producing health benefits;
rather, the simple act of confronting a negative emotion,
whether real or imaginary, and being able to control it
led to increased affective regulation, which in turn led to
health benefits. In other words, through emotional writ-
ing about any trauma, individuals come to see them-
selves as capable of handling intense and challenging
emotional experiences.
The idea that writing might improve self-regulation
has led to research examining whether writing topics
that promote self-regulation might enhance physical
health. For instance, Cameron and Nicholls (1998)
found health benefits from writing about one’s plans for
coping with coming to college—an instruction that was
intended as a self-regulation task. King and Miner
(2000) sought to spur effective self-regulation by
instructing participants to focus only on the positive
aspects of a life trauma—to explore the ways they had
grown as a person and become more able to cope in the
future. In this study, health benefits were obtained for
individuals who focused only on the positive and who
experienced relatively little of the emotional distress
that is typically associated with writing.
Studies demonstrating health benefits for self-
regulatory writing expand on previous assumptions
about the health benefits of writing, but they also dem-
onstrate a bias in this body of work: focus on negative life
events. Given psychologists’ original speculation that
catharsis and insight were the mechanisms behind the
healing power of writing, it is no surprise that examina-
tions of positive or neutral writings have been largely
ignored. If delving deeply into traumatic life events is
necessary for healing, positive or neutral topics would be
considered inherently uninteresting and unimportant.
Note that even in their study, Cameron and Nicholls
(1998) asked about plans for coping with a potentially
traumatic event: coming to college. King and Miner
(2000) asked participants to first think about a trauma
and then focus on the positive aspects. Thus, research
has tended to focus on negative life events as the source
of the health benefits of writing without considering
other possible starting points.
The purpose of this study was to test whether writing
that promoted self-regulatory processes that was not at
all related to past trauma might produce health benefits
even in the absence of experiencing (Greenberg et al.,
1996) or reexperiencing (Pennebaker, 1993) intense
negative emotions. In this study, I selected writing about
one’s life goals as an appropriate self-regulatory topic—
yet one that might not conjure intense negative
The goals that individuals espouse for themselves
have been seen as a window into self-regulatory pro-
cesses (Austin & Vancouver, 1996). A variety of ways to
study goals have been presented in the past two decades
in personality psychology (cf. Pervin, 1989). These
approaches have typically investigated goals by asking
people to list the goals they are seeking in their everyday
behavior (e.g., Emmons, 1986; Klinger, Barta, &
Maxeiner, 1980). Such an activity might well have bene-
fits per se. However, in this study, the concept of best pos-
sible future selves was used as the goal measure.
Possible selves are personalized representations of
goals (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Possible selves have been
described as an essential link between the self-concept
and motivation (Markus & Nurius, 1986; Niedenthal,
Setterlund, & Wherry, 1992). Possible selves encompass
all of our imaginable futures for ourselves. Possible
selves and aspects of possible selves have been found to
relate to a variety of outcomes, such as memory, self-
esteem, and delinquency (e.g., Markus & Nurius, 1986;
Markus & Ruvolo, 1989; Oyserman & Markus, 1990). A
number of methodologies have been employed to assess
possible selves, including having people rate the likeli-
hood of certain outcomes in their lives (Markus &
Nurius, 1986) and the use of open-ended items
(Oyserman & Markus, 1990). Possible selves were
deemed more suitable to the current investigation
because they might lend themselves to a session of
focused writing comparable with the trauma writing
employed in other studies. That is, constructing a goal
list might not involve the kind of narrative construction
that traumatic writing does. Therefore, in the present
study, participants were asked to write narrative descrip-
tions of their best possible future selves. In addition, pos-
sible selves might be seen as occupying a high level in a
motivational hierarchy. These high levels might be less
likely to be chronically in people’s minds as they go
about their daily life pursuits. Therefore, asking people
to consider these high-level life goals might allow them
to examine a previously unexamined part of their moti-
vational lives.
Like writing about a past trauma (Pennebaker, 1997),
writing about one’s life goals might be considered a ther-
apeutic activity. Writing about life goals might involve
bringing awareness and clarity to one’s life goals, re-
organizing priorities, deciding on values—the types of
processes that might be part of cognitive-behavioral
treatment. Having clear and valued goals has certainly
been shown to relate to positive psychological function-
ing (e.g., Emmons, 1986; Little, 1989; Omodei &
Wearing, 1990). In addition, writing about life goals
might also serve to reduce goal conflict. Pennebaker
(1998) noted that having individuals write about unre-
solved conflict is associated with long-term health bene-
fits. The concept of conflict here was used to refer to the
conflictful situation of wanting to talk about a trauma
but being prevented from doing so or about unresolved
personal traumas in which individuals had not gained a
sense of closure. Conflict, in the sense of goal conflict,
has also been shown to relate to physical illness
(Emmons & King, 1988). It may be that writing about
one’s life goals will allow individuals to recognize and
resolve such conflicts.
Finally, research on mental simulation would indicate
that imagining success at one’s life goals might have
implications for self-regulation. Pham and Taylor (1999)
found that individuals who mentally simulated the pro-
cess of doing well on a test actually did perform better.
Such simulation increased the relationship between
thought and action. In addition, Rivkin and Taylor
(1999) found that individuals who mentally simulated a
stressful life event were better off psychologically than
others. Thus, this type of simulation may be operating in
disclosive writing—whether about life goals or stressful
Participants were instructed to write about one of four
topics: their best possible selves (BPS) in the future, their
most traumatic life experiences, both of these, or a con-
trol topic over 4 days. For individuals in the combination
cell, instructions were given to write about a trauma on
the first 2 days and then were switched to writing about
future BPS on the 3rd and 4th days. King and Miner
(2000) found that individuals who changed topics
midsession tended to show lowered benefits from writ-
ing. It was posited that individuals who switched topics
after 2 days might enjoy the benefits of both types of
writing—the emotional disclosure of the trauma and the
self-regulatory benefits of writing about goals. Mood,
subjective well-being, and health center visits for illness
were also measured.
It was predicted that writing about traumatic life
events would relate to more negative mood, whereas
writing about BPS would have either no effect or the
opposite effect on mood. It was predicted that writing
about BPS would be judged as less upsetting by partici-
pants than writing about trauma, although writing about
BPS might still be rated as quite important. It was pre-
dicted that writing about goals would relate to height-
ened subjective well-being, whereas writing about
trauma would result in short-term distress. Finally, it was
predicted that participants in the BPS, trauma, and com-
bination groups would show lowered health center visits
for illness relative to controls.
Participants were 81 psychology students ages 18 to 42
(M= 21.04, SD = 3.15) from Southern Methodist Univer-
sity (69 women, 14 men, 2 not reporting). All individuals
were given extra credit in their psychology courses
(introductory and upper level) in exchange for partici-
pation in the study. Participants were primarily drawn
from 3rd- and 4th-year students (83%) and were largely
European American (87%); 7% were Hispanic, 3% were
African American, and 3% were Asian.
Materials and Procedure
Participants were randomly assigned to one of four
conditions in a 2 (trauma vs. no trauma) ×2 (BPS vs. no
BPS) design. The ns for the cells are shown in Table 1.
Participants were taken individually to a room and were
told that over 4 days, they would be writing about differ-
ent experiences and topics. Participants signed a con-
sent form and completed their first mood ratings. Each
participant was then given an envelope containing a writ-
ing topic. Participants wrote for 20 minutes each day
over 4 consecutive days. At the end of each writing ses-
sion, participants again completed the measure of posi-
tive and negative affect and rated the essay-writing expe-
rience on a variety of dimensions.
Three types of writing instructions were used. For the
participants in the trauma-only condition, the following
instructions were used:
For the next few minutes we would like you to write
about some traumatic event or traumatic loss that you
have experienced in your life. Write about the experi-
ence in as much detail as you can. Really get into it and
freely express any and all emotions or thoughts that you
have about the experience. As you write do not worry
about punctuation or grammar just really let go and
write as much as you can about the experience.
For the BPS condition, participants read the follow-
Think about your life in the future. Imagine that every-
thing has gone as well as it possibly could. You have
worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your
life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life
dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.
In the combination condition, participants were
given the trauma-only instructions on the first 2 days and
were given the BPS instructions on the 3rd and 4th days.
For the control condition, participants were asked each
day to write about their plans for the day in as much
detail as possible (after Pennebaker et al., 1996).
Participants were told that they were free to leave
once they had completed the questionnaire and that the
experimenter would pick up their materials after the
participant had left the room. Information about coun-
seling services on campus was made available to all
Mood ratings. Before and after each writing session,
participants completed ratings of their positive and neg-
ative mood (Diener & Emmons, 1984). This scale asked
respondents to rate from 1 (not at all)to6(extremely
much) the extent to which each of 17 adjectives described
their current mood. Ten of the adjectives measured posi-
tive affect (happy, pleased, self-confident, enjoyment/
fun, joyful, aroused/active, anticipating, excited, socia-
ble/friendly, satisfied), and 7 measured negative affect
(depressed/blue, bored, worried, tired, frustrated,
unhappy, angry/hostile).
Participant ratings of essay content. After each writing
session, participants made ratings on a scale from 1 (not
TABLE 1: Means and Standard Deviations of Net Positive Mood
After Writing
Best Possible Self
No Yes
No 1.37b1.26b
(.95) (1.48)
n= 16 n= 19
Yes 0.16a1.86b
(1.61) (.95)
n= 22 n= 22
NOTE: Means with differing subscripts significantly differ (p< .05, us-
ing Tukey’s HSD test).
at all)to5(extremely much) of how important (grand M=
2.89, SD = .66), emotional (grand M= 2.89, SD = .67), dif-
ficult (grand M= 2.87, SD = .66), and upsetting (grand M=
2.44, SD = 1.58) the writing experience was.
Psychological well-being measures. Three weeks after par-
ticipation, participants were given a questionnaire
packet containing psychological well-being measures.
Participants completed the Satisfaction With Life Scale
(SWLS) (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985; M=
3.43 on a 5-point scale, SD = .66). The SWLS is a five-item
measure that includes items such as “My life is close to my
ideal” and “If I could live my life over again, I would
change almost nothing.” In addition, participants com-
pleted the Life Orientation Test (LOT) (Scheier &
Carver, 1985), an eight-item instrument measuring
dispositional optimism—the extent to which individuals
expect favorable outcomes. Each item was rated on a 5-
point scale from disagree on the low end to agree on the
high end. The LOT includes items such as “Every cloud
has a silver lining” and “I’m always optimistic about my
future” (M= 3.68 and SD = .67). These two measures
were highly correlated (r= .56, p< .001). Therefore, a
subjective well-being composite was computed by aver-
aging the standard scores for the two scales.
Physical illness measure. On the last day of writing, par-
ticipants signed a release form giving the experimenter
access to their health center information. Physician visit
information was obtained from the Southern Methodist
University Health Center for the semester prior to the
study as well as for 5 months after writing. Records were
stripped of all identifying information and a rater, blind
to condition, simply counted the number of visits to the
health center that each participant had made for illness
(discounting regular checkups, accidents, etc.). These
counts were made with the help of a health center nurse
who verified intake codes. Health records were available
for 89% of the participants (n= 72). Data were unavail-
able for 3 participants in the trauma-only and combina-
tion groups and for 1 and 2 participants in the BPS and
control conditions, respectively (χ2n.s.).
Content analysis. To examine the characteristics of the
essays themselves, two independent judges read and
rated the essays from the three experimental groups on
dimensions, including how emotional, negative, posi-
tive, optimistic, and insightful the essay was. Ratings were
also made with regard to the extent that participants
attributed responsibility to themselves or to others. All
ratings were made on a scale from 1 (not at all)to5
(extremely much). Interrater correlations were all greater
than .67. These ratings were not completed for the con-
trol essays because the task was nonsensical to the raters.
Sample Essays
Before presenting the analyses of the results of this
study, it might be helpful to examine a few representative
examples of essays written in each of the writing condi-
tions. An informal inspection of the trauma essays indi-
cated that participants indeed wrote about a variety of
quite negative experiences, including death of a parent
or loved one, romantic breakups, parental divorce, acci-
dents, death of a pet, and victimization. Some represen-
tative examples from these essays follow.
This summer my grandmother past away. It was com-
pletely unexpected. ...Iwasveryclose to her as was
everyone in my family. She was so full of energy all the
time and was the type who could hardly sit still. We loved
to shop together, go to antique stores, have lunch, go on
vacations, etc. She was up for anything, in fact, she always
planned everything. The hardest part about losing her is
that we had no time to prepare and my grandfather was
left behind in shock. ...Iworry about him all the time
because I now if I feel so sad about her being gone, I can’t
imagine how devastating it must be from day to day to
lose the woman you’ve loved for 50 years. I try to remem-
ber all of the wonderful, positive qualities about her and
apply them to my own life. She would not want anyone
moping around missing her. I just wish she were still
here, I’d like to see her one last time, and tell her I love
My grandfather died on my 17th birthday. That certainly
wasn’t fun. We only found out the day before that he was
in the hospital, even though he’d been there for 4 days.
My senile grandmother forgets where he was—and for-
got to tell anyone else.... Myfirst thoughts were of how
I’d never hear my grandfather’s voice again reciting his
favorite poem. I could hear it in my head. I thought of my
grandmother, who probably wouldn’t even understand
exactly (until she died, she continued to ask about my
grandfather’s whereabouts).
The BPS essays included a variety of topics, focusing
on desired states for the future. Common themes were
job success, self-improvement, marriage and family,
travel, home ownership, and so forth. The following are
examples from the BPS writing condition:
I have learned to love as fully and selflessly as possible. I
have learned to be humble without losing and confi-
dence, esteem, or being fake. I have touched the life of at
least one other soul in a significant way and helped them
learn to love more greatly. If I have achieved this then I
know that I have also achieved happiness, peace, and
worldly success. By this last I refer to career accomplish-
ment, and enough material wealth to keep me satis-
fied. . . . I have learned to relinquish all fear.
I guess ...Iwant a pretty normal middle class life. I want
just a medium-size house—no mansions even if I could
afford it.... Mymain goal is to keep experiencing as
much as I can even when it seems there isn’t anything
else, there always is. Really, I just want a good marriage,
where we are both confident together and compliment
each other’s personalities. Once we are happy together
we could be happy in lots of different situations—even if
it means some sacrifice. My ideal would be for us both to
love, or at least be proud of, our jobs, but also always
strive for more.
I hope my life allows me to travel. I have this passion to
spend extended amounts of time in countries that are
drastically different from my own. I’d love to visit India,
China, Israel, Nepal, Africa again. So, somehow ...Iwant
to travel. I also envision being the associate pastor of a
moderately sized church in Arizona working with adult
education programming and cross-cultural awareness.
Hopefully somewhere along the line I will find someone
that I want to commit to sharing my life with. I would like
to have 3 children. I really wouldn’t mind living in
another country! I certainly don’t want to be in the mili-
tary, but I’d love to do medical missions in third world
countries or something like that. I also would like to
teach Religion courses at the college level someday, or
maybe even at graduate school! Maybe I could be a reli-
gious archeologist! Then I could travel and learn amaz-
ing things all at the same time! Life is just full of possibili-
ties. See, there is all this stuff I want to do with part of my
life, but I also really do desire a home and family.
As these examples illustrate, although the BPS writing
was clearly more positive than the trauma writing, it was
an engaging task for participants.
Statistical Analyses
Analyses first examined the effects of writing topic on
mood, differences in the participants’ ratings of the writ-
ing experience, and rated differences in essay character-
istics. Then, the main predictions regarding psychologi-
cal well-being and physical illness effects were examined.
Effect of writing topic on mood. Recall that it had been
predicted that writing about trauma would relate to
more negative mood, whereas writing about BPS was pre-
dicted to have no effect or a positive effect on mood. Pos-
itive and negative mood ratings at the beginning and
end of each writing condition were averaged over the 4
days of writing. The net positive affect (PA) experienced
was calculated by subtracting negative affect (NA) from
PA. Prior to writing, the mean net PA was 1.21 (SD =
1.49). After writing, the net PA was 1.48 (SD = 1.18).
There were no differences among the groups on net PA
before writing (F< 0.2). To examine the effects of writ-
ing topic on mood, a 2 (trauma vs. no trauma) ×2 (BPS
vs. no BPS) analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was per-
formed on net PA ratings after writing, controlling for
net PA before writing. Means are shown in Table 1.
Results demonstrated that controlling for mood before
writing, the main effect of writing about one’s BPS was
significant, F(1, 74) for the main effect for BPS = 22.95, p<
.001. Writing about one’s BPS was associated with a sig-
nificant increase in net positive mood. This main effect
and a marginally significant main effect for writing about
trauma, F(1, 74) = 3.45, p< .07, indicating lowered net PA
for writing about trauma, were qualified by a significant
interaction. The means in Table 1 show that the control
group, those who wrote about their BPS, and the combi-
nation group were all significantly happier than those
who wrote about trauma only.
Participant ratings of essay content. It had been pre-
dicted that writing about BPS would be rated as less
upsetting than writing about traumatic life events.
ANOVAs were performed on participants’ ratings of
writing as important, emotional, difficult, and upsetting.
With regard to importance ratings, a significant main
effect for trauma, F(1, 76) = 6.73, p< .02, was qualified by
a significant interaction of trauma and BPS writing,
F(1, 76) = 12.23, p< .001. Post hoc examination of the
means for this interaction indicated that all three of the
experimental groups differed significantly from the con-
trol group (Tukey’s HSD p< .05; Ms for the trauma only,
BPS only, and combination groups = 3.23, 2.96, and 2.89,
respectively, vs. Mfor control = 2.34). With regard to how
difficult the writing process was, a significant main effect
for trauma, F(1, 76) = 5.60, p< .02, was qualified by a sig-
nificant two-way interaction, F(1, 76) = 12.15, p= .001.
Post hoc comparison of the means (using Tukey’s HSD,
p< .05) indicated that the trauma-only (M= 3.20) and
BPS-only (M= 2.95) groups rated writing as more diffi-
cult than the control group (M= 2.34). The combination
group did not significantly differ from any groups (M=
2.85). For ratings of how emotional writing was, again
main effects for trauma, F(1, 76) = 2.35, p< .02, were
qualified by a two-way interaction, F(1, 76) = 12.84, p= .001.
Post hoc comparisons of the cell means demonstrated
that the trauma-only (M= 3.23) and BPS-only (M= 2.97)
groups differed significantly from the control group (M=
2.34), whereas the combination group did not differ
from the other groups (M= 2.87). Finally, for ratings of
how upsetting the writing experience was, significant
main effects for trauma, F(1, 76) = 26.05, and BPS, F(1,
76) = 19.87, both ps < .001, emerged. For trauma, this
main effect was in the direction of traumatic writing
being more upsetting (Ms = 1.86 vs. 2.95), whereas for
BPS, writing was less traumatic than the control topic
(Ms = 2.97 vs. 2.01). These main effects were qualified by
a significant two-way interaction, F(1, 76) = 118.99, p<
.0001. In this case, writing about trauma only (M= 4.39)
was significantly more upsetting than writing about the
control topic (M= 1.01), the BPS-only topic (M= 2.55),
and the combination topic (M= 1.51).
Essay content. Next, analyses examined differences in
the content of the essays as judged by raters. Table 2
shows the results. Essays that pertained to trauma
(whether alone or in the combination condition) were
generally rated as more emotional, negative, more
attributing responsibility to others, less positive, less opti-
mistic, and less attributing of responsibility to self. The
only rating in which no significant difference emerged
was for insightfulness.
To summarize, analyses thus far indicate that writing
about one’s future BPS and writing about a trauma are
similar in some ways. Both tasks are engaging—
participants rate them as important, emotional, and
challenging activities. However, as expected, writing
about one’s BPS was significantly less upsetting than writ-
ing about trauma. With regard to raters’ content ratings
of the essays, the trauma-only essays emerged as more
emotional and negative and less positive and optimistic
than writing about one’s BPS. In addition, individuals
writing about trauma were more likely to attribute
responsibility to others, whereas individuals writing
about their life goals were more likely to attribute
responsibility to themselves. Thus, the writing instruc-
tions seemed to have worked: The trauma writers tended
to really get into writing about negative emotional
events, whereas the BPS writers tended to be more posi-
tive, optimistic, and less emotional. It is also noteworthy
that with regard to mood, writing about BPS was actually
related to increased net positive mood—and that writing
about trauma was related to the lowest net PA of all
groups. Analyses next considered the main predictions
of this study—the potential benefits of writing about
one’s life goals for psychological and physical well-being.
Psychological well-being. A 2 (trauma vs. no trauma) ×2
(BPS vs. no BPS) ANOVA was performed on the compos-
ite psychological well-being measure. A main effect for
writing about BPS emerged, F(1,77) = 3.93 p= .05. Means
for this effect indicated that individuals who wrote about
their BPS were higher in psychological well-being than
others (Ms = .22 vs. –.26).1
Physical illness.2No significant differences were pres-
ent among the four groups 3 months prior to writing,
F(3, 68) = 0.95, p> .90. A 2 (trauma vs. no trauma) ×2
(BPS vs. no BPS) ANCOVA was performed on health
center visits at 5 months controlling for illness visits for
the 3 months prior to writing. A significant interaction
emerged, F(1, 67) = 4.62, p< .04. The means for illness
visits for all groups for the pretest and 5-month measures
are shown in Table 3 and Figure 1. Protected ttests indi-
cated that the BPS-only and trauma-only groups were sig-
nificantly lower than controls in illness visits at posttest,
t(30) = 2.60, p< .01, for BPS and t(30) = 2.18, p< .04, for
It might be noted from examining Figure 1 that the
control group tended to increase in illness diagnoses
over the course of the study. This difference between
pretest and posttest means was not significant, t(14) <
1.0. The difference from pretest to posttest was signifi-
cant for the BPS-only group, t(18) = 2.19, p< .05, and was
marginally significant for the trauma-only group, t(17)=
1.84, p< .09. In any case, the pattern shown in Figure 1 is
typical of past writing studies.
Finally, analyses were conducted to examine whether
the emotional experience of writing about trauma or
goals interacted with the conditions to produce health
effects. A hierarchical regression equation was com-
puted predicting illnesses at the 5-month follow-up from
the main effects of trauma, BPS, and net PA after writing
(converted to a mean deviation score), entered on the
first step, and all of the two-way interactions of these vari-
ables, entered on the second step (Aiken & West, 1993).
Only the main effect of writing about BPS contributed
significantly to the equation (β= –.47, p< .02). The main
effect for writing about trauma was marginally signifi-
cant (β= –.32, p< .10). The interaction of trauma and
BPS was also marginally significant (β= .42, p< .09). No
significant main effects or interactions were found for
mood after writing. Similar analyses were performed for
participant ratings of the essay writing as important and
upsetting. Results were essentially the same as for mood.
Neither the importance nor the upsetting nature of the
task related to illness.
Results indicate that writing about life goals is another
way to enjoy the health benefits of writing without the
emotional costs. Indeed, writing about one’s life goals
TABLE 2: Content Ratings for Essays
Writing Condition
Trauma BPS
Content Dimension Only Only Combination F(2, 53)
Emotional 2.56a1.47b1.83b23.33**
Negative 2.96a1.22b1.94c80.71**
Positive 1.31a2.80b2.25c62.57**
Optimistic 1.23a2.50b1.86c24.24**
Insightful 1.80 2.02 1.60 2.42
to self 1.98a2.42b1.75a6.09*
to others 2.10a1.46b1.61b7.54*
NOTE: BPS = best possible self. Means with different subscripts within
rows are significantly different using Scheffe’s test (p< .05).
*p< .01. **p< .001.
was associated with feeling less upset, more happy, and
getting sick less often. It is important to note that the
physical benefits of writing about one’s BPS were equal
to or better than writing about trauma, whereas writing
about a traumatic life event also entailed feeling upset
and experiencing lowered mood. Obviously, these
results require replication, but they do suggest a provoc-
ative extension on the traditional writing paradigm. It
may be possible to enjoy the benefits of writing without
necessarily writing about trauma at all.
The distress caused by writing about trauma was short
term. No prolonged effects were found in terms of the
subjective well-being measures given 2 to 3 weeks after
the writing intervention. It is notable, however, that writ-
ing about life goals was, in fact, associated with a small
increase in subjective well-being over the 3-week follow-
up. Thus, writing about life goals is not only physically
beneficial but may have psychological benefits as well.
The mechanisms that underlie this result are not clear;
however, it might be that individuals who actively focus
on and write about their best possible futures actually are
able to more effectively pursue these goals. Research on
visualization has shown that individuals who can imagine
themselves accomplishing tasks are often better able to
do them (e.g., Pham & Taylor, 1999; Ruvolo & Markus,
1992; Sherman, Skov, Hervitz, & Stock, 1981). Perhaps
the 4 days of writing served as an imaginative exercise in
which participants were able to visualize themselves suc-
cessful at their valued goal. Interestingly, Taylor and her
colleagues (e.g., Pham & Taylor, 1999; Rivkin & Taylor,
1999) have shown that process, not outcome, simula-
tions are associated with superior coping and goal prog-
ress. Yet, the present manipulation would seem to be an
outcome-focused manipulation. Further research might
include variations on the BPS instructions to examine
the health effects of these different orientations.
One problem of this study is that no goal-related
dependent measures were given to participants to exam-
ine the mechanisms of the change promoted by writing.
It would be interesting to track whether this kind of writ-
ing actually leads to a clearer sense of one’s goals, less
conflict, and so forth. Certainly, future research might
examine the motivational consequences of writing
about goals.
The results of this study beg the question of what
other topics might be posed to individuals to examine
through writing. Obviously, one possibility would be to
look at intensely positive experiences. Another might be
to ask questions about individuals’ most meaningful life
experiences and their philosophies of life. It is impor-
tant to remember that writing about one’s life goals was
shown here to be a somewhat dispassionate experience.
Thus, writing that is not emotional but that promotes
awareness of one’s goals, priorities, and so forth might
be used to foster self-regulation.
It is worth mentioning, of course, that the control
group did not show any health benefits from their quite
unemotional writing. Yet, the control assignment, to
write about one’s plans for the day, might be seen as
remarkably close to the life goal topic used. It may be
that writing about very low level goals does not provide
the same opportunity for integration that is provided by
considering higher level concerns. In addition, it may be
that asking participants to write about their future BPS
accessed fantasies that would not be mentioned in the
mundane to-do lists produced by control participants.
Obviously, future work might explore the parameters of
this effect by examining different kinds of motivationally
relevant writing topics. It is important to note also that
participants in the BPS condition judged the task as diffi-
cult, emotional, and important—it was simply not upset-
ting. Thus, it may be that to benefit from writing, the
assigned topic must be meaningful, engaging, and even
challenging. The topic must be one that can capture and
TABLE 3: Means and Standard Deviations for Health Center Illness
Visits After Writing by Writing Topic, Controlling for Pre-
vious Illness Visits
5 Months
Best Possible Self
No Yes
No .29 .00
(.72) (.01)
Yes .05 .10
(.23) (.22)
Figure 1 Residualized health center visits for illness as a function of
writing topic.
NOTE: BPS = best possible self.
maintain the individual’s attention for a considerable
amount of time.
What is it about engaging writing that promotes physi-
cal health? A possible candidate seems to be the influ-
ence of such writing on self-awareness and self-
regulation. The activities of writing about extremely
negative emotional events as well as somewhat unemo-
tional life goals share, for the writer, the opportunity to
learn about the self. These activities may serve to inte-
grate life experience into a larger, more sensible frame-
work. They may allow the person to gain a feeling of con-
trol over his or her emotional life or valued outcomes.
Words may limit experience and transform the world
into a more comprehensible whole. Importantly, this
translation of chaotic experience into comprehensible
text does not require that one be writing about a person-
ally devastating experience. Apparently, thinking seri-
ously about an important topic is essential to the health
benefits of writing, but emotional anguish is not.
A peculiar result that warrants some discussion is the
lack of strong results for the combination writing group.
King and Miner (2000) found that individuals in their
combination group—participants who wrote about a
trauma and then about the positive benefits of that
trauma—did not benefit from writing. In the present
study, the combination group showed lowered illness vis-
its, but these benefits were not significantly different
from controls. Although this finding replicates the null
results of King and Miner, it is no less puzzling. It seems
logical that if two types of writing are beneficial, then
combining them should be at least as beneficial. One
possible explanation is that the switching of topics inter-
rupted the flow of participants’ disclosure. When indi-
viduals in the trauma-only group begin to come to a
sense of closure about the topic, they do so naturally and
in their own time. In our combination group, partici-
pants have been forced to change horses in midstream
and may therefore find the situation uncomfortably
forced. In addition, it may be that participants gauge
themselves in the course of any writing study to peak at a
particular time. Participants in this study knew the study
would last 4 days because they signed up for 4 days at the
initial meeting. It may be that individuals expected to
write about trauma over the course of those days and had
paced themselves accordingly. It would be interesting to
examine this possibility in participants led to expect var-
ied numbers of days of writing.
A limitation of this study is that it relied completely on
an undergraduate sample. Students are a particularly
convenient group in that they are available for the writ-
ing portion of the study and they use the student health
center—allowing relatively easy access to health data.
However, it is important to note that the college sample
presents some problems as well. First, students tend to be
in relatively good health. It might be interesting to exam-
ine these interventions in a group of individuals who are
more at risk for serious illness. In addition, the life goal
instructions we used might have very different meaning
in the context of an individual in middle or old age.
Finally, young, healthy individuals enrolled in a private
university may be more optimistic about their futures
than individuals in less advantaged situations. Thus, writ-
ing about the future may be more upsetting or less uplift-
ing for individuals in less hope-filled life situations.
Future research should examine the benefits of writing
about goals in a more diverse population.
To conclude, it is not difficult to see why the earliest
studies of the benefits of writing focused on very negative
events. In terms of compelling topics that warrant exami-
nation, these are probably the most obvious. The prac-
tice of examining negative events from the past seems to
resonate with a view of psychology that might even
appeal to participants—as if dwelling on the negatives of
the past is what psychologists ought to do. Forcing indi-
viduals to delve deeply into extremely negative life expe-
riences is certainly one way to harness attention and fos-
ter self-regulation. An interesting implication of the
present results is that past disclosive writing studies have
been beneficial in spite of, not because of, the topics
assigned. The act of writing down our deepest thoughts
and feelings is key to the benefits of writing. However,
and importantly, the contents of our deepest thoughts
and feelings need not be traumatic or negative. Quite
the contrary, examining the most hopeful aspects of our
lives through writing—our best imagined futures, our
“most cherished self-wishes” (Allport, 1961)—might also
bestow on us the benefits of writing that have been long
assumed to be tied only to our traumatic histories.
1. Results for SWLS and LOT analyzed separately produced similar
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sures, the difference for the composite would seem the most reliable
measure available.
2. A 2 (trauma vs. no trauma) ×2 (BPS vs. no BPS) ×2 time (before
and after writing) repeated measures ANOVA was significant F(1, 68) =
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Received June 2, 1999
Revision accepted July 17, 2000
... Other forms of therapeutic writing that focus on positive thoughts and feelings include writing about one's "best possible future self" (King, 2001) or positive life experiences (Burton & King, 2009). The instructions in Box 2 were used in a study of health college students, where the writing group reported significantly fewer health complaints, relative to a control group, 4-6 weeks later (Burton & King, 2009). ...
... Conversely, writing about positive experiences tends to improve mood immediately after writing (Burton & King, 2004King, 2001). For example, college students writing about their most positive life experience had significantly higher positive affect and significantly lower negative affect, compared to a control writing group, immediately post writing (Burton & King, 2009). ...
... Writing about one's best possible self has also been found to lead to greater increase in positive affect, and no difference in negative affect, compared to controls (Nazarian & Smyth, 2013). The promising results of these preliminary studies examining health effects of writing about positive experiences (Burton & King, 2004King, 2001) have led researchers to question whether, for some PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. ...
and Keywords Expressive writing (EW) was developed in the 1980s by Pennebaker and colleagues, who defined it as "writing focusing on traumatic, stressful or emotional events, and the feelings inspired by these." There have been developments in terms of process, covering a range of instructions, target groups, and writing conditions and, more recently, benefit-finding writing (BFW) about benefits derived from stress or traumatic situations. EW has now been trialed across a broad range of situations, involving mental and physical health domains. Results from meta-analyses find small but significant improvements more related to physical health than mental health parameters. It is thought to be best suited to people with mild-to-moderate psychological distress who are addressing stress-related conditions and situations. The chapter describes common forms of EW and explores the place of BFW. Some mechanisms for expressive writing are discussed, but these are still speculative.
... To establish a causal link, an experimental manipulation of optimism is essential. The Best Possible Self (BPS) imagery and writing task (King, 2001) has repeatedly and successfully been used to induce state optimism (Peters et al., 2010;Hanssen et al., 2013;Boselie, et al., 2014;Basten-Günther et al., 2021), leading to lower pain ratings (Hanssen et al., 2013, but not in Basten-Günther et al., 2021Boselie et al., 2014), as well as to changes in facial expression of pain, attentional preference and executive functioning (Boselie et al., 2014;Peters et al., 2016;Basten-Günther et al., 2021). ...
... Optimism induction. Situational optimism was induced with the BPS manipulation, a positive future-thinking technique based on work by King (2001), which has been repeatedly and successfully used before in experimental studies (Peters et al., 2016;Traxler et al., 2019;Basten-Günther et al., 2021). Participants were instructed to carry out a writing and imagery exercise. ...
Full-text available
Introduction: Situationally induced optimism has been shown to influence several components of experimental pain. The aim of the present study was to enlarge these findings for the first time to the earliest components of the pain response by measuring contact heat evoked potentials and the sympathetic skin response. Methods: Forty-seven healthy participants underwent two blocks of phasic thermal stimulation. Contact heat evoked potentials (CHEPs), the sympathetic skin response (SSR) and self-report pain ratings were recorded. Between the blocks of stimulation, the Best Possible Self (BPS) imagery and writing task was performed to induce situational optimism. Results: The optimism manipulation was successful in increasing state optimism. It did, however, neither affect pain-evoked potentials nor the sympathetic skin response or self-report pain ratings. Discussion: These results suggest that optimism does not alter early responses to pain. The higher-level cognitive processes involved in optimistic thinking might only act on later stages of pain processing. Therefore, more research is needed targeting different time frames of stimulus processing and response measures for early and late pain processing in parallel.
... Given these recent concerns about the reliability of the effects of previously developed PPIs, we generated a new PPI, the Best-Self PPI (BS-PPI), to examine two largely untested properties, which were (1) combining domains to potentiate the effect sizes and (2) directly targeting of a cognitive construct. As such, we based the BS-PPI on elements from previous interventions involving optimism (e.g., the Best Possible Self intervention; King, 2001), coherence (e.g., the Life Narrative intervention; Corsten et al., 2015), and character strength (e.g., the VIA Character Strengths Assessment; Niemiec, 2012). No previous PPI has combined three positive variable domains (i.e., according to Gorlin et al., 2018, at most, PPIs target two domains). ...
Full-text available
Positive psychological interventions (PPIs) are activities that target positive variables (e.g., gratitude or kindness) to elicit a positive response in a population, such as improving adaptive functioning, promoting well-being, reducing depression, or enhancing quality of life. Despite several decades of evidence, a meta-analysis by White et al. (2019) concluded that the effect sizes of PPIs may be smaller than previously recorded and that their effects on depression may be generally nonsignificant. In the current study, we created a new PPI, called the Best-Self PPI (BS-PPI), to provide a proof-of-concept of two relatively unexplored properties of PPIs that may enhance effect sizes, which are: (1) combining PPI domains (i.e., multiple targeted positive variables) into a single intervention and (2) designing PPIs to target cognitive mechanisms of change. Using a double-masked procedure, we randomly assigned undergraduate students (n = 133) between the ages of 18 and 32 (Mage = 19.97, SD = 1.66; women; n = 85, 63.9%; White: n = 87, 65.41%) to complete either the BS-PPI – containing elements of meaning, character strengths, and optimism – or a control condition before completing measures of depression, psychological well-being, and affect. One day later, the participants completed a measure of affect and the Self-Referential Encoding Task, a behavioral measure of self-referential processing bias, which is the strength and the valance of the words one uses to describe oneself, to test the potential of targeting a cognitive mechanism of change. One week later, participants completed measures of depression, psychological well-being, and affect. The results suggest the BS-PPI did not affect depression, well-being, or affect compared to the control group despite the consistency of this study with many other PPI studies (e.g., sample size, design, and population), which aligns with the White et al. (2019) meta-analysis. We discuss the implications of this failed proof-of-concept for PPI research and recommendations for moving forward with these relatively unexplored properties.
... Participants in our study were also required to engage in homework activities which included writing and reflecting on intrinsic goals. This method has been shown to decrease orientations towards extrinsic values in past research (King, 2001;Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006;Sheldon et al., 2010A). The aim of the intervention was to test whether these readings and activities focused on collectivistic and intrinsic values (and which also critiqued individualistic and extrinsic values) would lead to increased psychological wellbeing (H1) and quality of life (H2). ...
... Table 1 shows the key characteristics of the included studies. Ultimately, 26 full-text articles were included in the analysis (Amiri et al., 2019;Ashley et al., 2011;Baikie et al., 2012;Burton & King, 2008;Chu et al., 2019;Creswell et al., 2007;Danoff-Burg et al., 2006;Graves et al., 2005;Harvey et al., 2018;King, 2001;King Lichtenthal & Cruess, 2010;Low et al., 2006;Lu et al., 2017;Lumley et al., 2011;Lyubomirsky et al., 2006;McCullough et al., 2006;Norman et al., 2004;O'Connor et al., 2011O'Connor et al., , 2013Segal et al., 2009;Stanton et al., 2002;Zhou & Zhu, 2014). ...
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Aim: To evaluate the efficacy of expressive writing (EW) versus positive writing (PW) in different populations focusing on mood, health and writing content and to provide a basis for nurses to carry out the targeted treatment. Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Methods: This study was conducted according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Twelve electronic databases and references from articles were searched. All randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing EW and PW were included. Statistical analyses were executed using Stata 15.0 software. Results: Twenty-four RCTs and a total of 1558 participants were analysed. The results showed that for the general population, PW was more positive on mood than EW and could offer more changes in cognitive mechanisms. Among patients, although PW was more conducive to generating positive emotions, EW could stimulate cognitive changes more. Nursing staff should clarify the mechanism of PW and EW, combine the advantages of both and implement intervention according to the characteristics of different populations. No patient or public contribution: It does not apply to your work because this study is an analysis of published studies and does not involve patients or the public.
Dışavurumcu yazmanın (DY) psikolojik işlev üzerindeki etkisini inceleyen çalışmalar, duyguların yazı ile açılmasının zihinsel ve fiziksel sağlığa fayda sağlayabileceğini göstermiştir. Araştırmada, dışavurumcu yazma uygulamasında katılımcıların olumlu duygulara yönlendirilmesinin veya yönlendirilmemesinin katılımcıların edindiği fayda ile ilişkili olup olmadığı incelenmiştir. Araştırmaya gönüllü olan katılımcılar, seçkisiz atama yöntemi ile yönlendirilmemiş (duygu odağı belirtilmeyen) ve yönlendirilmiş (olumlu duygu odaklı) iki müdahale grubuna atanmıştır. Katılımcılar, birer hafta aralıklarla üç dışavurumcu yazma uygulamasını tamamlamış, aynı zamanda her bir uygulama seansında yazma deneyimlerini ve psikolojik streslerini ölçen araçları cevaplamıştır. Çalışmaya 86 lisans öğrencisi gönüllü olsa da çoğunluğu kadınlardan oluşan (kadın = 60, erkek = 6) 68 katılımcı (Myaş = 20.38; SS = 1.67) çalışmayı tamamlamıştır. Çalışma hipotezlerinin test edilmesinde büyüme eğrisi modeli (growth curve modelling) kullanılmıştır. Çalışmanın sonuçları, yönlendirilmiş ve yönlendirilmemiş gruplar arasında başlangıçta bir fark olmadığını gösterirken uygulama sonucunda yönlendirilmiş grup katılımcılarının psikolojik stres puanlarında istatistiksel olarak anlamlı derecede azalma olduğu görülmüştür. Ek olarak yazma deneyiminin her iki grupta da psikolojik stres ile ters orantılı olduğu gözlenmiştir: Yazma deneyimi puanlarındaki artışın psikolojik stres puanlarındaki düşüş ile ilişkili olduğu gözlenmiştir. Özellikle, yönlendirilmiş olumlu duygu odaklı dışavurumcu yazma uygulamalarının önemli bir müdahale aracı olabileceği gözlenmektedir.
This chapter introduces positive education as an innovative educational paradigm targeting students' traditional learning skills and well-being. By fostering crucial components of well-being, like the PERMA well-being model, positive education employs effective positive activities and practical exercises to directly promote student flourishing. Supported by strong empirical evidence, the effectiveness of positive education is underscored. The chapter also discusses the development of a unique positive education model, “6+2,” specifically tailored for China, which incorporates the positive-self module, the physical and mental health regulation system, and the character strength and virtue cultivation system into the PERMA framework. Furthermore, the chapter reviews existing literature on positive education and positive psychological interventions implemented within school contexts. This comprehensive examination contributes to the growing body of knowledge on the implementation and impact of positive education in educational settings.
Cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental research demonstrates that subjective well-being (e.g., positive emotions, life satisfaction) relates to, precedes, and leads to employee success on numerous work-related outcomes. We extend these findings by considering how organizations might improve worker well-being. Accordingly, we propose the Worker Well-Being Continuous Improvement Framework with three phases: (1) an initial phase with a pretest assessment of worker well-being; (2) a test phase, where a specific positive change to improve worker well-being is implemented; and (3) a concluding phase that administers a posttest assessment to examine the effectiveness of the change. We also discuss three important considerations to address when implementing the framework: (1) measuring employee well-being, (2) building thriving work cultures, and (3) deploying positive activity interventions. Consequently, organizations can rapidly test evidence-based practices to select the most relevant and effective positive changes for their employees.
The chapter reviews a variety of definitions and approaches to happiness. A model of happiness, including Engagement, Meaning, and Pleasure, is proposed. It then establishes some of the major myths and facts associated with happiness. Good positive psychology is scientific in approach and relies on robust research. Indeed, this is an alternative definition of the word “positive” from an objective, evidential perspective. Relevant studies demonstrate happiness matters for a wide variety of life outcomes and experiences, both from a qualitative and quantitative perspective. A review is then provided of 3 case studies of research-based pathways to achieving greater happiness, all building and broadening psychological strengths and personal resources. The first positive interventions in practise highlight the relationship between strengths and happiness among Indian students, using the Thriving Index. This is followed by the Strengths Compass study among students in the UAE, which demonstrated statistically significant advances among the individuals, their teachers, and parents. Finally, the impact of the Yanmu program is presented, aimed at building a growth mindset among a large number of male and female students in Saudi Arabia. In conclusion, the chapter demonstrates the sustainable impact of interventions that are adapted to the personal, social and cultural context of the individual concerned.KeywordsPositive psychologyPersonal happiness resourcesPositive interventionsYouth happiness programs
Creativity is usually seen as a good thing, but why? The Creativity Advantage first offers an overview of creativity studies with an emphasis on the little-discussed benefits of being creative. These include how creativity can lead to self-insight, help people heal, forge connections with others, inspire drive, and enable people to leave behind a meaningful legacy. Written in an engaging style and illustrated with interesting anecdotal material, this book offers a new perspective on creativity scholarship that can serve as an introduction to the field for newcomers or as a way to encourage new avenues for research.
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Research by Pennebaker and his colleagues supports the healing power of writing about traumatic events. This study explored the importance of writing about the perceived benefits of traumatic events as a factor in this process. The study included 118 participants who were randomly assigned to write about one of four topics in a 2 (writing about perceived benefits vs. not writing about perceived benefits)×2 (writing about trauma vs. not writing about trauma) factorial design. Participants also completed questionnaire measures of subjective well-being and released health center information for the year. Participants who wrote only about trauma or perceived benefits showed significantly fewer health center visits for illness 3 months after writing. In addition, 5 months after writing, the trauma-only and perceived-benefits-only groups maintained a difference from the control group. These results suggest that writing about perceived benefits from traumatic events may provide a less upsetting but effective way to benefit from writing.
Personal projects are extended sets of personally relevant action, which can range from the trivial pursuits of a typical Tuesday (e.g., “cleaning up my room”) to the magnificent obsessions of a lifetime (e.g., “liberate my people”). They may be self-initiated or thrust upon us. They may be solitary concerns or shared commitments. They may be isolated and peripheral aspects of our lives or may cut to our very core. Personal projects may sustain us through perplexity or serve as vehicles for our own obliteration. In short, personal projects are natural units of analysis for a personality psychology that chooses to deal with the serious business of how people muddle through complex lives (Little, 1987a).
This chapter explores the nature of confession and inhibition. Conversely, not confiding significant experiences is associated with increased disease rates, ruminations, and other difficulties. This pattern of findings has helped in developing a useful theory of active inhibition that shares many of the assumptions of learning theory, psychodynamic models, and more recent cognitive perspectives. The chapter examines the nature of confession per se. The chapter focuses on the physiological and psychological effects of confronting or actively avoiding past traumatic experiences. Based on a number of laboratory and field studies, it is clear that requiring people to write or talk about traumas is associated with both immediate and long-term health benefits. The chapter presents a formal theory of active inhibition. The links among the theory and Freud, animal learning, and cognitive perspectives are discussed in the chapter. The chapter describes the reexamination of catharsis, the development and breakdown of the self, and the role of psychosomatics in social psychology.
Possible selves are elements of the self-concept that represent what individuals could become, would like to become, and are afraid of becoming. These representations of the self in the future are hypothesized to be an important component of effective performance. In Study 1, subjects either imagined being either successful in the future because of hard work, imagined being unsuccessful in the future despite hard work, or were given a positive mood inducement. These imagery manipulations were intended to increase the accessibility of specific possible selves. On a task involving effort and one involving persistence, subjects who imagined being successful performed the best. In Study 2, subjects either imagined being successful, imagined being unsuccessful, imagined another person being successful, or were put in a good mood. The success imagery group was relatively fast to accept positive, success-relevant possible selves as descriptive, and also relatively fast to reject negative, failure-relevant possib...
Previous studies have found that writing about upsetting experiences can improve physical health. In an attempt to explain this phenomenon, 72 first-year college students were randomly assigned to write about either their thoughts and feelings about coming to college or about superficial topics for three consecutive days. Measures of language use within the writing samples and cognitive measures of accessibility and schematic organisation were collected in the weeks before and after writing. As in previous studies, writing about college was found to reduce health centre visits for illness and to improve subjects' grade point average. Text analyses indicated that the use of positive emotion words and changes in words suggestive of causal and insightful thinking were linked to health change. Improved grades, although not linked to these language dimensions, were found to correlate with measures of schematic organisation of college-relevant themes. Implications for using written language to understand cognitive and health processes are discussed.
Mental simulations enhance the links between thought and action. The present research contrasted mental simulations that emphasize the process required to achieve a goal versus the outcome of goal achievement. For 5 to 7 days prior to a midterm examination, college freshmen mentally simulated either the process for doing well on the exam (good study habits) or simulated a desired outcome (getting a good grade) or both. A self-monitoring control condition was included. Results indicated that process simulation enhanced studying and improved grades; the latter effect was mediated by enhanced planning and reduced anxiety. Implications of process and outcome simulations for effective goal pursuit are discussed.
For the past decade, an increasing number of studies have demonstrated that when individuals write about emotional experiences, significant physical and mental health improvements follow. The basic paradigm and findings are summarized along with some boundary conditions. Although a reduction in inhibition may contribute to the disclosure phenomenon, changes in basic cognitive and linguistic processes during writing predict better health. Implications for theory and treatment are discussed.