Today’s positive psychology exercise is designed to help you build a skill that will strengthen your relationships: responding positively when good things happen to others.
“Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow.” – Jacques Deval
Many of us intuitively know that it’s important to reach out for support when things go wrong – but it turns out that the way other people respond when things go well is just as, if not more, important for our well-being. Today’s exercise promotes the process of capitalization, in which we communicate positive experiences to others. Sharing positive events with others promotes well-being that goes above and beyond the benefits of the event itself, including increases in positive affect and strengthened interpersonal relationships. It is theorized that sharing positive news with others promotes well-being through several mechanisms: it provides opportunities to remember and re-experience the positive event, sharing the event with others promotes elaboration and rehearsal of positive memories, and others’ positive responses encourage “positive reflected appraisals” – when others are happy for us, we are also happy for ourselves! Moreover, this process does not just benefit the person sharing the good news – responding positively to others’ good fortune also promotes well-being for the person doing the listening.
Capitalization is enhanced when the responder (the person receiving and responding to the good news) provides a particular kind of response to the information disclosed by the capitalizer (the person sharing the positive event). We can characterizes responses on two dimensions: The first dimension characterizes active the response is. An active response is engaged with what the person has said, and builds on the content of the speaker’s comment, while a passive statement demonstrates limited attention or engagement. The second dimension is how constructive the response is. A constructive response builds on the news in a positive way, while a destructive response fails to acknowledge the news – or, worse, introduces negative or disparaging content. Based on these two dimensions, we can classify responses to positive news in four categories. As an example, imagine that you share with a friend that your professor gave you very positive feedback on a project for a psychology class. Consider four different ways your friend might respond:
Unsurprisingly, active-constructive responses promote the greatest benefits for well-being – for the capitalizer, the responder, and relationships. One way of enhancing your relationships is by practicing responding actively and constructively when others share good news with you. As today’s study shows, it is possible to become a more active-constructive responder. For today’s positive psychology exercise, I encourage you to practice responding actively and constructively when others share good news with you. You can also increase opportunities to benefit from others’ active constructive responses by deliberately sharing good news. Consider pairing up with a buddy to for some active-constructive responding “batting practice” – take turns sharing good news with one another, and responding positively to your partner’s news. Not sure who to share your good news with? I’d love to hear about the positive things going on in your lives!
Today’s Positive Psychology Exercise: Practice Active-Constructive Responding
For today’s exercise, practice sharing good news with others – and responding actively and constructively to others’ good news. You can allow this to happen naturally, and keep an eye out for opportunities to respond positively when others share good news with you. You might also consider doing some deliberate practice to hone your active-constructive responding skills. Take at least 10 minutes to share good news with someone. Make sure both partners have opportunities to share good news, as well as to respond to the other person’s positive events. Remember the four types of potential responses, and practice making your own responses as active and constructive as you can!
- Active-Constructive: The responder engages enthusiastically and thoughtfully with the good news. The response builds on the positive information shared by the capitalizer.
- Passive-Constructive: The response is positive, but does not engage with the content of the good news and does not provide opportunities for engagement or continued interaction. Often takes the form of a brief, positive comment (e.g., “That’s great!”) without further elaboration.
- Passive-Destructive: The response provides minimal acknowledgement of the good news. Often takes the form of changing the subject or redirecting the topic of conversation to the responder’s experiences (e.g., “Cool, that reminds me …”).
- Active-Destructive: The response engages with the capitalizer’s news while introducing negative or damaging feedback. Often takes the form of a negative interpretation of the event.
Woods, S., Lambert, N., Brown, P., Fincham, F. & May, R. (2015). “I’m so excited for you!” How an enthusiastic responding intervention enhances close relationships. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 32(1), 24-40. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407514523545
Abstract: The positive impact of active–constructive responding (i.e., showing enthusiasm) to the sharing of good news (i.e., capitalization attempts) on relationship well-being is well documented. The objective of this research was to determine whether individuals in a close relationship benefit from training to increase active–constructive responding to partner capitalization attempts and to document its impact on relationship well-being. Compared with a joint activity control group, individuals who received training in providing active–constructive responses perceived a greater amount of gratitude from their study partner and perceived their study partner as having greater relationship satisfaction; however, there were no significant differences in reported relationship satisfaction or gratitude expression. Gratitude receipt from a study partner mediated the relationship between experimental condition and perceived study partner relationship satisfaction. These results are discussed in terms of their potential impact on interventions and future research.