132 It’s a Wonderful Life

Based on research by Koo, et al 2008, written by Mara Rowcliffe, BS.

Can you put yourself in a good mood?   Thinking about a positive event in your life might help you feel better, but could thinking about its absence make you feel happier, and better appreciate what you have?

Psychologist Minkyung Koo and colleagues evaluated the differences between thinking about the presence or absence of a positive life event.  Participants either wrote about ways a positive event might have never happened and was surprising, or they wrote about how it became a part of their life and was unsurprising.  Although participants predicted they would feel happier discussing the presence of a positive event in their life, individuals who discussed the absence of the positive event reported feeling even happier.  In a second study, participants who wrote about how they may have never met their romantic partner were more satisfied with their relationship than those who wrote about how they met their partner.  These studies indicate that people feel better if they imagine how a positive life event may have never occurred.


Koo, M., Algoe, S. B., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). It’s a wonderful life: mentally subtracting  positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts.  Journal of personality and social psychology, 95(5), 1217.

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