When we’re upset or worried, advice from both outside and within can tell us to think about our situation in a more positive light. Some research suggests that this isn’t always a good thing — unless you can’t change your circumstances.
Photo by Vinni.
The technique of cognitive reappraisal — specifically readjusting your mindset to alter the emotional impact of a situation — can be very beneficial. However, the effects can turn negative if you have the ability to change your circumstances, but just adapt to feel better about the crummy conditions instead:
“For someone facing a stressful situation in which they have little control, such as a loved one’s illness, the ability to use reappraisal should be extremely helpful — changing emotions may be one of the only things that he or she can exert some control over to try to cope,” Troy notes.
“But for someone experiencing trouble at work because of poor performance, for example, reappraisal might not be so adaptive. Reframing the situation to make it seem less negative may make that person less inclined to attempt to change the situation.”
The study actually found that those who excelled at reappraisal in situations they could change actually had a higher correlation with depressive symptoms. Subjects who were better at reappraisal in uncontrollable circumstances, however, correlated with fewer depressive symptoms. While it’s not entirely clear if one causes the other, in general it may be a good idea to assess what you can change before trying to just be happy about a bad situation.
Cognitive Strategy May Sometimes Do More Harm Than Good [Psych Central]