It's called "cognitive reappraisal" when something makes us feel bad and we re-tell ourselves the story in a way that makes it feel less painful; looking for that silver lining. For a long time, this approach has been thought to be a healthy way to cope. Recently, that idea has changed. A new study suggests that this "silver lining" attitude might be helpful in some situations and, in others, can actually be detrimental. Cognitive reappraisal moderates our emotions but doesn't actually change the situation. itself. But what if that bad situation...stressful job, unfulfilling relationship, the unhealthy habits...could be improved? In those situations, cognitive reappraisal might reduce our motivation to make the necessary changes we long for. Previous research has shown that those of us who are skilled at cognitive reappraisal are less depressed, but only if the stressors in our lives are controllable. Not surprising, a recent study revealed, was that people who have a greater sense of well-being; ie, higher self-esteem and less depression, tended to use cognitive reappraisal more in situations that were uncontrollable rather than in the ones that weren; they strive to always make things better. As the well-being scores decreased in that study, however, that pattern flipped.
“'When a situation can be directly changed, reappraisal may undermine the adaptive function of emotions in motivating action,' the researchers write. If managing our emotions becomes a substitute for taking action toward a better life—for ourselves or for others—it isn’t doing us any good. Negative emotions shouldn’t always be reasoned away; they can provide the indication and the fuel to make a change." So, it seems, that if you're feeling unhealthy or out of shape, it's better to change your eating habits...or go to the gym...than to tell yourself that it's just the way it is, or it's your genetic fate, etc.
There is no one-size-fits-all advice regarding the silver lining approach to happiness. I guess the best way to sum it up would be that cultivating happiness probably requires flexibility. There are multiple techniques to use. The skill is in knowing which one to use when. I still believe that living in the moment...mindfulness...is the best way to cope with a bad situation; if it can be changed, then do it. Otherwise, ride it out and know that it won't last forever, even when it seems it will. Life is a series of ups and downs. We may not like our "downs" but they are a fact of life. I have found that accepting "what is" is the best way to move through any negative circumstances. Live is ever-evolving and so are we. And that is the best silver lining of all!
I hope you'll join me back here tomorrow for a look at The History of the New Year's Resolution. Until then, I wish you a peaceful day.