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How We Can Help Ourselves and Others Enjoy the Holidays

 by Tatiana Pavlova-Coleman

Empirical research has shown that positive relationships might be the single, most important source of life satisfaction, emotional well-being, and sense of success and accomplishment. A longitudinal study, conducted by psychologists at Harvard University, examined the life experiences of 268 men—their relationships, careers, education, life circumstances, etc. The research concluded that family life and relationships, community, and commitment to others, and in addition, spirituality and ideals that matter, are the most important, deciding factors for well-being and success in life.


As attorneys we meet and communicate with people all the time. How we experience our relationships with the people close to us or with everyone at the office, with our clients, etc. has a great impact on our well-being and, ultimately, on how well we do our jobs and how satisfied we are.


The Holidays are a great time to reflect and think about how we connect with others and come up with ways to deepen our relationships.


The term capitalization refers to making the most out of, or capitalizing on, positive events (Langston, 1994). How do we do that? In everyday life positive events happen more often than negative at a ratio of least three to one (Gable & Haidt, 2005). Research on capitalization or sharing positive events has investigated the consequences of the act of sharing, as well as the effect on us of the response of the person with whom we choose to share with. A common finding is that when people share positive events with others, they experience even more positive effect, well-being, self-esteem, and less loneliness. In addition, the more people we share with, the better the outcomes.


The way the “listener” of the positive event responds is an important part of the effectiveness of the process of sharing. There are four types of reactions to capitalization attempts:


• Active-constructive responding involves the expression of sincere excitement or enthusiasm and the shown desire to learn more about the shared positive event.

• Passive-constructive responding conveys positive reaction to the event, but it is subdued as the responder says little to nothing as a reply.

• In active-destructive responding the responder is engaged in his reaction, yet the feedback is negative.

• Finally, the passive-destructive responding simply does not acknowledge the event at all: the responder changes the subject or redirects the conversation to a personal for him event.


How do you respond when someone shares a positive event with you? Do you engage in what the person is sharing with you, do you perhaps dismiss what the person is saying, or maybe start talking about yourself instead? Studies have shown that what predicts a positive relationship is active-constructive responding. Being aware of how we talk to others, sharing even seemingly unimportant good events that have come our way (“I just had a great lunch”), and being active in inviting people to share their good news with us will elevate ours and others positive effect, will help us develop better personal and professional relationships and assist us in improving our prosocial skills.


In a larger scale, as attorneys and professionals we need to consider that impaired positive relationships lead to changes in decision-making regarding risk in non-social domains. On the contrary, capitalizing and supportive responding increases the likelihood of goal attainment, and encourages processes such as creativity, flow, and intergroup cooperation.


This Holiday season focus on capitalizing on the good things happening in your life: share your positive experiences with the people around you. And also, don’t forget to listen and be a good active-constructive responder. When someone shares with you what a great gift they have received or what they are thankful for – engage them, help them enjoy even further.


Tatiana Pavlova-Coleman is WLALA's UCLA Student Liaison.  Ms. Pavlova-Coleman has a law degree from Bulgaria and has a Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology from UPenn.