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Keeping the Magic Alive: How Social Sharing of Positive Life Experiences Sustains Happiness


Life is full of triumphs and defeats. When people experience positive life events, they often share the news, allowing them to savor and capitalize on their good fortune. Sharing positive life experiences with others has been shown to increase the intensity of positive emotion (Gable & Reis, 2010). However, research has yet to address several important questions about the benefits of social sharing and the processes that produce them. Namely, does social sharing increase the duration of positive emotion as well as its intensity? What types of responses from listeners serve to increase positive emotion?

The first aim of this dissertation was to investigate whether sharing increases the duration of positive emotion. The second aim of this project was to uncover processes by which sharing increases positive emotion, an issue that has received little empirical attention (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004). I hypothesized that sharing sustains positive emotion because enthusiastic responses lead to an increase in the sharer’s appraisal of the importance of the event. I also hypothesized that enthusiastic responses may sustain positive emotion because they emphasize remarkable and unique aspects of the emotion-eliciting event. Emphasizing such features may slow the sharer’s tendency to “explain away” positive events and the resulting decrease in emotional response.

Two studies tested these hypotheses. Study 1 followed students after they received a desirable exam grade. Sharing was associated with longer emotional episodes, more time spent thinking about the grade, and slower fading of emotion across time. Emotion intensity and duration were highest when the sharing targets were perceived as highlighting the importance and remarkability of the event. Study 2 experimentally manipulated responses to sharing after participants received a high score on a creativity test. Although no differences were observed across experimental conditions, for those who shared, the amount of sharing was associated with emotion intensity and duration. This effect was mediated by changes in appraisals of importance and remarkability.

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