I have to confess, I’ve never been a big believer in talking about your problems. It always seemed like rehashing something bad that happened to you could only make it worse. Research, though, has begun to convince me otherwise.
One study asked participants to either write, talk or think about their worse life experience for 15 minutes a day for 4 days. Afterwards, students who wrote or talked about their negative experience were happier and had better health than the group that thought about the event. The same pattern held 4 weeks later. Interestingly, the opposite pattern was found when participants were asked to write, talk or think about their happiest experience. Participants who thought about their happiest moment were happier than the groups that wrote or talked about that moment.
Why Is This the Case?
Another study shed some additional light on this phenomenon. They had participants either write or think about their happiest moment. This time though, half of each group was told to analyze the event, while the other half was told to replay the event over and over. The researchers found that the thinking-replaying group was the happiest, while the writing-analyzing group was the least happy. Overall, it seems that analysis (facilitated by writing and talking) dampens emotions, both positive and negative. The researchers described the process as follows,
The process of writing or talking about a traumatic event requires that words be organized into a coherent story. This inherent structure-making function of writing or talking about a trauma may have allowed students to make sense of the experience and “let go” of the negativity surrounding it. In contrast, thinking about a traumatic event tends to be relatively more image-based and chaotic and does not lend itself as easily to organization and structure.
Analyzing positive events will also dampen those memories and make it more likely that you will let them go (which you likely don’t want).
So, if you catch yourself ruminating about a negative event, either find someone to talk to about it or write down your thoughts on the subject. Hopefully this process will allow you to make sense of the event and let the thought go. Feel free, though, to think about positive events. It will only make you happier!