‘Not like rose-tinted glasses… like taking a pair of dirty glasses off’: A pilot intervention using positive emotions in expressive writing

Megan C Hayes, Kate Hefferon


Studies conducted in various contexts and with varied populations have found expressive writing enhances physical and psychological wellbeing. This pilot intervention study countered the predominantly quantitative evidence by adopting a qualitative methodology, exploring the experience of using positive emotions in expressive writing. Participants (n = 10), who all had previous experience in expressive writing, were asked to select one of ten positive emotion cards (PECs) each day for three days. Participants were then asked to write expressively through the ‘lens’ of their chosen emotion. Semi-structured interviews were conducted and experiences were evaluated using Thematic Analysis. The results identified two main themes that compared the experience of expressive writing both with and without the PECs. The first theme, Processing (without the PECs) contained three sub-themes: sense of relief, habitual perspective and reactive to experience. The second main theme, Progressing (with the PECs) contained three different sub-themes: sense of direction, changed perspective and interactive with experience. This study found that, for expressive writers, positive emotions may function in three ways: to relate to others or self-expand, to move past challenges cognitively or change unconstructive perspectives, and finally as a way to interactively link or ‘bridge’ from the written subject matter to constructive action, thus breaking cycles of reactive writing and rumination. Implications of the study on the practice of expressive writing and its potential as a positive psychology intervention (PPI) are discussed.


expressive writing, positive emotions, emotional processing, thematic analysis, positive psychology

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v5i4.435


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