MIND
April 22, 2010

Pack Up Your Cares and Woes

If you are having trouble getting over a disappointment, it may help to seal up an emblem of it and throw it away.

Sometimes old songs turn out to be true. Take the one about packing up your cares and woes.

Researchers at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management have found that disappointments that people just can't get over, like a failed love affair or a financial disaster, become less overwhelming if people place something related to the disappointment in a box or envelope.

The researchers found that study participants had fewer negative feelings about the unpleasant event after sealing up a reminder of it.

This may sound silly, but in four separate experiments, the researchers found that people felt better after enclosing material related to an unpleasant experience, such as a written recollection of the experience, and sealing it up.

Of course, you can't do this to the people in your life. Not only would they get upset, it's absolutely illegal. But you could try it with a photograph of a person.

The researchers found that study participants had fewer negative feelings about the unpleasant event after sealing up a reminder of it. It's using enclosure as closure. They speculate that the process works for people who want to move on but can't because it doesn't explicitly try to control their emotions.

While the researchers only dealt with using devices like envelopes and boxes, a creative mind could probably come up some more interesting alternatives. Burial in the backyard or at sea comes to mind. Documents, photographs, clothing, music CDs or other memorabilia might make suitable items.

When something has been eating away at you for a long period of time and refuses to go away, it makes sense to test out any simple solution. Envelopes are certainly inexpensive enough.

The findings are scheduled to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

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