Members in the Media
From: Scientific American

Should You Immerse Yourself in Bad News These Days or Ignore It Completely?

APS Member/Author: Hal Hershfield

How can we possibly grapple with the onslaught of information about virus spread, stock market nosedives, canceled plans and uncertainty about the future? Some people wallow in the fear, anxiety and sadness, checking news sites and social media constantly. Others try to suppress it all and ignore the outside world (I’m guessing that Instagram has never seen so much traffic).

There’s a third option, though. Rather than fully immersing in the negative or ignoring it, we can do our best to experience joy alongside everything else that is sad in the world. In fact, research that I and others have conducted suggests that allowing the two different emotions to coexist may actually benefit us in the long run. 

Jeff Larsen and his colleagues coined something known as the “coactivation model of mixed emotions,” and the basic idea is that we may be able to grapple with, and learn from, negative emotions like sadness if we experience them concurrently with positive emotions like joy. Here, positive emotions provide a psychological buffer, making it easier for people to deal with the things they don’t want to confront.

Several years ago, my collaborator Jon Adler and I set out to test this exact idea. Specifically, we looked at a sample of adults who signed up for weekly mental health therapy sessions. Between each week, they reported the feelings they were having and also took a few questionnaires that were meant to assess their overall health. This design allowed us to examine how different emotional experiences would impact mental health in a longitudinal fashion, over the course of 12 weeks.

It’s worth noting first that everyone seemed to improve a bit as the weeks marched on: therapy helps and so does time. More to the point, though, mixed emotions at one time point were positively associated with improvements in psychological well-being at the next time point. The more of a mixture of, say, happiness and sadness someone experienced today, the better they’d fare next week.

However, when we looked at mixed emotions that were experienced in a given week, they weren’t associated with improved mental health in that same week. In other words, mixed emotions preceded increases in psychological well-being above and even beyond the influence of happiness and sadness, but this effect disappeared when examined at the same moment in time.

The true benefit from mixed emotions may not be instantaneous, but rather, prospective.

How to put these lessons into practice right now? Clearly, the solution isn’t about eliminating negative feelings. Nor is it about trying to just experience the positive in life. Rather, we may end up learning from the things we don’t want to face once we acknowledge that positive emotions can be felt at the same time.

Read the whole story (subscription may be required): Scientific American

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