We didn’t need research to tell us that, in the wake of a breakup, most people spend a lot of time thinking about their ex-relationship, and that the tendency to mull it over again and again can cause distress. How much does our thinking impact us, exactly? Is all the talk of positive thinking just a glass half empty?
To find out, researchers at the University of Iowa recruited over 400 students to participate in 3 studies where they measured participants’ emotional and psychological states on a series of customized scales. The emotional states the researchers were interested in understanding included how often the students struggled to stop thinking of an ex-partner, how lonely or depressed they felt, whether they were experiencing a loss of self identity (or a rediscovery of it), and whether or not the students felt okay with the way their former relationships ended.
Most of the results fell in line with what previous research has shown: that as time goes on, we think less and less about our past relationships, and all the accompanying feelings – positive or negative – diminish. However, there was one surprising finding that held up consistently across the 3 smaller studies. While other studies tend to find that recalling positive memories from a past or present relationship makes us feel good, in this case, researchers found that recalling happy memories actually seemed to make people feel more miserable.