A Boost Of Happiness – How Sharing Positive Experiences Affects Your Happiness
The joy of happiness! Who doesn’t like being happy, right? In my office, one of the most desired end goals is for someone to feel happier at the end of their hypnotherapy sessions. That may means overcoming anxiety and panic, increasing confidence and self-esteem or any other host of aims and issues, yet within this and as part of this is the desire to feel happier in ourselves and in our lives.
I’ve written before about the benefits of gratitude for boosting your happiness and self esteem and potentially protecting you from anxiety and depression. Noticing and appreciating the good stuff in your life really can make you happier (perhaps not the shock of the century is it?!). Research really does demonstrate that people who deliberately notice and appreciate positive aspects in their life and their world tend to be happier, more optimistic, have positive self-esteem and are more positive in general.
All great stuff, yet can we derive even more positive feelings, happiness and even life satisfaction from our positive experiences? Could sharing our positive experiences with others give us a boost of positive feelings and emotions? Can we get a boost of happiness by telling others about the positive events in our lives?
Sharing Positive Experiences
Before looking at what the research says about the benefits of sharing your positive experiences with others, I can draw upon my own very recent personal experience.
The other Sunday I headed over to sunny Suffolk to run in a 10km race at West Stow. Like many other runners, I always experience a subtle mixture of excitement and nervousness about a race. However much (or little) preparation you have done, there is always that uncertainty about how it will go and how you will do. This particular race was on trails through the forest – wonderfully scenic yet far removed from the mainly road running I’ve been doing in training!
So I was particularly delighted to set off feeling good and to use every psychological trick I could think of to keep me pushing on and moving forward, especially in the heat and along the (seemingly frequent) leg sapping sandy footpath sections. I can’t even describe how happy and relieved I felt when I crossed the line and could rest and breathe!
And, of course, a bit of nice bling makes all that effort more than worthwhile:
I was pretty happy when the results were published and I found out I’d somehow managed to come fourth out of 100 finishers:
And what’s the first thing you do when you have good news, like completing a race or getting a pleasing result? That’s right, straight over to social media to tell everyone! (Or in the case of us runners, to tell anyone who will listen!). And let’s be honest, sharing positive news feels good doesn’t it? It’s like a way of getting extra bang for your buck when people click on the thumbs up or leave a nice comment. It makes you feel good and somehow enhances that positive experience (which is not too dissimilar from when you may post negative news and you hope that the support and encouragement of others will help you find the resilience you need).
Yet not only do we know that it feels good to share our positive experiences with others, we also have the research that demonstrates that sharing positive experiences heightens our positive feelings as well as our happiness and even life satisfaction.
Happiness: Sharing Positive Experiences
When faced with distressing or stressful events, it’s a very normal human reaction to seek out social support from others. When faced with stress you may want to unburden yourself of distressing thoughts and feelings, to seek help that may assist with coping or you may simply seek out comfort and reassurance from someone supportive. That process of wanting to share distressing and stressful things is motivated by a desire to try and lessen the distress you are experiencing.
And whilst there are benefits to sharing stressful events, there is also a wealth of research and evidence that supports the benefits of sharing more positive news and experiences. This is often referred to as ‘capitalization’ which is the process of informing another person about the occurrence of a personal positive event and thereby deriving additional benefit from it.
Way back in 2004, Gable, Reis, Impett and Archer (2004) found that positive affect and life satisfaction were significantly higher in days in which participants shared the occurrence of their most positive event of the day.
“Communicating personal positive events with others was associated with increased daily positive affect and well-being, above and beyond the impact of the positive event itself and even other daily events. Moreover, when others were perceived to respond actively and constructively (and not passively or destructively) to capitalization attempts, the benefits were further enhanced” (Gabel et al (2004)).
In fact, they also found that “close relationships in which one’s partner typically responds to capitalization attempts enthusiastically were associated with higher relationship well-being (e.g. intimacy, daily marital satisfaction).”
Sharing positive events and experiences leads to increased positivity, well-being and life satisfaction for the person sharing the news, and can even benefit your relationship with your partner. And the research showed that the benefits were observed with events that varied greatly in both subjective and objective importance.
Building upon this research into the benefits of sharing positive experiences, Reis et al (2010), found that “it is not merely the act of recounting a positive event that boosted ratings but rather a process of interaction in which personal disclosures are responded to and encouraged by a listener whose enthusiasm implies interest and appreciation.”
That research found that sharing positive news with others increased the perceived value of those events, especially when others respond enthusiastically and that such enthusiastic responses to shared good news promotes the development of trust, liking and pro-social orientation towards the other person. This applied for interactions with strangers and within everyday close relationships.
Thus sharing positive events is a good thing to do to increase positivity and happiness although the response of the person you share that news with can impact on those benefits (which of course will also apply to how you respond when others share their own positive news and events with you).
Happiness: A Boost Of Positive Affect
Further support for the benefits of sharing positive experiences comes from Lambert et al (2013). They found that “sharing the positive experience heightened its impact on positive affect…those who shared their positive experiences increased in positive affect, happiness, and life satisfaction.”
Whilst research has shown that there are benefits to your mood from writing about positive experiences, for example in a gratitude journal, this research demonstrated that people who shared their positive event reported higher positive affect than those who simply wrote about their positive event. Positive affect and life satisfaction were higher on days in which they told a partner (romantic partner or a close friend) about a positive experience.
“Participants who had shared their positive gratitude experiences with a partner reported significantly more satisfaction with life, happiness, and positive affect than participants in either control condition. This consistent pattern of results across five studies indicates that there is something unique about not just dwelling on, but sharing with another person one’s positive experiences on positive emotion, including happiness, positive affect, life satisfaction, and vitality” (Lambert et al).
The research demonstrated that a causal relationship exists between sharing positive experiences and positive mood, that boosts in mood are not due to simply savouring the experience by thinking or writing about them and that those boosts in mood are not due to merely having a positive interaction with a partner.
However, as mentioned above, the response of the listener is important. Positive affect, happiness and life satisfaction reach a peak only when participants share their positive experiences and when the relationship partner provides an active-constructive response. An enthusiastic, supportive response is likely to boost commitment, satisfaction, intimacy and trust (in this research, where partners did not provide an active-constructive response, the positive emotion experienced was less than half as large as the positive emotion of the participants whose partners did respond with enthusiastic support).
And as the research authors conclude,
“Our research suggests that the sharing of positive life events had a greater impact in terms of positive emotion benefits than writing or having a neutral interaction. Positive emotion, such as happiness and life satisfaction, reach a peak only when participants share their positive experiences and when the relationship partner provides an active-constructive response”.
The Benefits Of Sharing Positive Events
All of which research suggests that it is a good idea to share your positive events and experiences with others. It’s likely to lead to you feeling more positive and happier, as well as experiencing more well-being and life satisfaction.
And whilst there are certainly benefits to be had in thinking about and writing about your positive experiences, there seems to be an additional boost from sharing these things with another person. Sharing positive experiences, like how you came fourth on a 10k run (in case you’d forgotten that snippet of good news!), leads to experiencing more positive emotion.
However, the response of your listener (or you if someone else is sharing their positive news with you) matters. To get the full benefit, your listener needs to be supportive and constructive (rather than passive or destructive) and, if they are, this can boost your relationship and social interactions.
So it really is worth getting out there and sharing your positive experiences if you want to feel happier, and be sure to talk to supportive people and to make sure you are encouraging and supportive yourself.
To your happiness,
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Lambert, Nathaniel M., A. Marlea Gwinn, Roy F. Baumeister, Amy Strachman, Isaac J. Washburn, Shelly L. Gable, and Frank D. Fincham. “A boost of positive affect: The perks of sharing positive experiences.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 30, no. 1 (2013): 24-43.
Reis, Harry T., Shannon M. Smith, Cheryl L. Carmichael, Peter A. Caprariello, Fen-Fang Tsai, Amy Rodrigues, and Michael R. Maniaci. “Are you happy for me? How sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits.” Journal of personality and social psychology 99, no. 2 (2010): 311.
Gable, Shelly L., Harry T. Reis, Emily A. Impett, and Evan R. Asher. “What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events.” Journal of personality and social psychology 87, no. 2 (2004): 228.
Gable, Shelly L., Gian C. Gonzaga, and Amy Strachman. “Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures.” Journal of personality and social psychology 91, no. 5 (2006): 904.