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Think about what might NOT have been

It’s very human to think about the “what might have beens.” Nearly everyone I know has one. When we focus on those, we often get depressed.

It turns out that doing the opposite, thinking about what might NOT have been, can actually be good for you. The article:

Koo, M., Aigoe, S., Wilson, T., & Gilbert, D. (2008, November). It’s a Wonderful Life: Mentally Subtracting Positive Events Improves People’s Affective States, Contrary to Their Affective Forecasts. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 95(5), 1217-1224. Retrieved November 1, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.

Reports on a study where people were asked to reflect on how their lives might have been different if not for a key event in their lives. Call it the “It’s a Wonderful Life” reflection. Or, in the more academic terms of the article:

The authors hypothesized that thinking about the absence of a positive event from one’s life would improve affective states more than thinking about the presence of a positive event but that people would not predict this when making affective forecasts.

One experiment involving people thinking about their romantic partners concluded:

Internet respondents and university staff members who wrote about how they might never have met their romantic partner were more satisfied with their relationship than were those who wrote about how they did meet their partner.

So if you’re feeling down, give this a try.

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