Two Techniques for Turning Bad Experiences Into Good Ones

Be it an illness, injury, job loss, relationship breakdown, or just an embarrassing social blunder, stressful experiences can have a lasting effect on happiness and well-being. So, an important question is: Can one feel more positively about past negative events—perhaps even view them as having been beneficial?

Yes, according to research published recently by VanEpps and Truncellito in Current Opinion in Psychology. The paper argues that the techniques of cognitive reappraisal and storytelling can help us cope more effectively with negative experiences.

Neutralizing the Bad: Cognitive Reappraisal
Let us begin by discussing cognitive reappraisal, which is also a potential mechanism behind the effectiveness of storytelling (discussed in the following section).

One way to “neutralize” past unhappiness is to reframe it more positively. This process, known as cognitive reappraisal, often involves giving the upsetting occurrence a new meaning or deemphasizing its stressful properties.

To see how this works, imagine you experienced a life event that was painful, embarrassing, or upsetting. Say you went through a nasty breakup, and as a result, you cannot stop thinking negative thoughts, such as “I got dumped by my soulmate” or “I will never recover from this.”

Cognitive reappraisal helps change your feelings about the breakup by changing your assumptions and interpretations. For example, it can help you reframe the breakup as a learning experience or an opportunity for something positive, such as self-discovery, growth, and a more committed and fulfilling romantic relationship in the future.

Changing the interpretation of a stressful occurrence makes it possible to reduce its negative emotional impact.

But can we do even better?

Beyond Neutralization: Redeeming the Past With Storytelling

An extension of the above technique is using storytelling.

Storytelling helps repackage unfavorable experiences and “redeem the past.” Consequently, it can influence future decisions.

To illustrate, imagine you are planning a worldwide adventure. Furthermore, imagine you have psychic powers and can see, in full detail, a couple of negative things that will happen during the trip.

With that in mind, what is your likelihood of going on this adventure? It’s probably not as high as it was before.

Yet, what such a cost-benefit analysis overlooks is the storytelling value of the trip.

In other words, it ignores the potential benefit of recounting the adventure, including the unpleasant, painful, and embarrassing occurrences.

But what if it was not just a couple of things but a whole lot of them that did not go as planned? Again, no problem. After all, what is a good story without tension and conflicts? Challenges and difficulties can make for even better narratives.

Storytelling is a surprisingly versatile technique because not all good stories serve the same function: Some inform, whereas others persuade or warn. Some provide entertainment, whereas others promote bonding or motivate and inspire.

So, there is value in sharing the story of your experiences, both positive and negative ones.


One way to change how a past stressful event makes us feel is to use cognitive reappraisal and change how we think about the event.

To cite a personal example, this is what a friend of mine did after going on a rafting trip that, well, did not go as planned.

My friend (let’s call him Joe) wanted to try something new, so he went on a rafting trip.

Though the trip was led by expert guides, Joe still felt afraid. But he pushed through the fear. Overall, the trip went well and was enjoyable for the most part, but things did not go smoothly.

Specifically, Joe told me he lost balance twice and once fell out of the raft. And once he was so frightened when the raft hit a large rock that he peed his pants a little.

When these things happened, he was well aware of his tendency to think negative thoughts (e.g., harsh self-judgment). So, he tried to use some emotion regulation techniques.

Let me end with how Joe applied the techniques of reappraisal and storytelling to reduce negative emotions.

  • Downplaying the importance of the undesired occurrence. Joe reminded himself that losing one’s balance and stress incontinence are quite common and no big deal. Furthermore, there were a lot of positive things about the adventure that he could focus on instead.
  • Reframing the experience and giving it a new meaning. The trip was an amazing learning experience—an opportunity for Joe to challenge himself, expand his hobbies, and refine his skills. He reminded himself of how grateful he was to take part in this adventure.
  • Storytelling. Recounting the experience of facing his fears gave him a sense of accomplishment and pride. To us (his friends), the tales of the unpleasant occurrences were quite informative and relatable, not to mention entertaining.

Note: It goes without saying that these techniques are not appropriate in every circumstance (e.g., dealing with trauma). After all, negative emotions can sometimes have a protective function. So, it is important to know when to challenge negative emotions and when to listen to their warnings. A therapist can help you work through these issues.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You might also like
where to buy viagra buy generic 100mg viagra online
buy amoxicillin online can you buy amoxicillin over the counter
buy ivermectin online buy ivermectin for humans
viagra before and after photos how long does viagra last
buy viagra online where can i buy viagra