Emotions

Why looking on the bright side can sometimes hurt

Dec. 3, 2013 at 6:36 PM ET

Negative emotions serve a purpose: They help you adapt to a tough situation.
Felipe Hellmeister / Getty Images stock
Negative emotions serve a purpose: They help you adapt to a tough situation.

Ouch: Looking on the bright side hurts, according to new research from Franklin & Marshall College.

When people struggling with stressors under their control — such as a poor review at work — coped through a technique called cognitive reappraisal (when you imagine the best), they felt more depressed than those who didn't.

Thinking positively about events outside of your control — like your wife being sick — can tank stress levels. But in other situations (such as that poor work review), rose-colored shades can mislead you, says Loyola University Medical Center psychologist Kate Goldhaber, Ph.D. That's because negative emotions serve a purpose: They help you adapt. Ignoring the tough stuff prevents you from attacking and addressing your weaknesses. (Click here to learn how to save your life by combatting negative feelings.)

Use the bumps in the road to improve, says Goldhaber. For example, if you score badly on a performance review, encourage your boss to be straight with you and lay out his expectations. People with realistic notions about their own performance are better able to handle rough spots — and are less likely to be depressed, according to a recent study in the journal Emotion.

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