Capitalizing on Positive Events

Use good news to strengthen your bonds with friends or family.

Duration: 5 mins Frequency: Variable Difficulty: Moderate

Time Required

At least 5 minutes. Try to make time for this practice at least once per week.

How to Do It

Ask a friend, family member, colleague, romantic partner, or other acquaintance to tell you about a good thing that happened to him or her today. It does not matter what type of event or how important it was, as long as it was a positive thing that happened to him or her and he or she feels comfortable discussing it.

As they share, listen and try to respond in an “active-constructive” manner, meaning that you:

  • Make good eye contact, showing that you are interested in and engaged in what they have to say.
  • Express positive emotion by smiling, or even cheering (if appropriate!).
  • Make enthusiastic comments—e.g., “That sounds great,” “You must be so excited,” or “Your hard work is definitely paying off.”
  • Ask constructive questions to find out more about the positive aspects of the event. For example, if the person tells you about receiving recognition at work for a project he or she completed, you could ask for more details about the project, of what aspects of the project he or she feels especially proud, and how it felt to receive recognition for it.
  • Comment on the positive implications and potential benefits of the event.  For example, “I bet this means you have a better chance of getting a promotion this year.”

Many people, when they first hear about this exercise, worry that when they try to do it, their responses will sound phony or scripted. However, once they start, people report that it feels natural and easy to do.

One strategy is to pick a specific aspect of the event that resonates with you and begin by commenting on that: “You seem really happy about what your boss said—tell me more.” Or, “It must have been satisfying to do so well on something you worked so hard for.”

Why You Should Try It

When people close to us—friends, family members, significant others—tell us about positive things that happened to them, these moments have the potential to make us feel significantly closer to one another—depending on how we respond. This activity offers tips for responding in a way that has been shown to nurture positive feelings on both sides of the relationship and to increase feelings of closeness and relationship satisfaction. 

Why It Works

The people close to us need our support when things go right, not just when they go wrong. Providing encouragement for another person’s positive event can not only increase the satisfaction they derive from that event, but it can also make them feel loved and cared about. Talking about a positive event together creates a shared positive experience that can enhance overall relationship satisfaction. 

Evidence That It Works

Gable, S. L., Gonzaga, G., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Social Support for Positive Events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 904-917.

During a laboratory-based interaction, romantic partners who responded to each other’s news of positive events in the active-constructive style described above reported greater relationship well-being and were less likely to have broken up two months later. 

Sources

Adapted from Gable, S. (2012) Capitalizing on Positive Events. In J.J. Froh & A.C. Parks (Eds.), Activities for Teaching Positive Psychology: A Guide for Instructors. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.

Quiz Description

Empathy is not just about commiserating; it can also be experienced in response to positive emotions like happiness and pride. In that way, sharing in other people's joy by Capitalizing on Positive Events is a form of empathy. How well do you feel and understand what others are feeling? Take our Empathy quiz to find out. 

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Summary

Science-based practices for a meaningful life, curated by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

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