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Meaning-based coping is the key to positive emotions occuring at times of great stress, enabling people to find value and purpose in their experience and so manage the situation
Work by Susan Folkman with partners of AIDS sufferers, those with spinal cord injuries etc has demonstrated that although they reported high levels of depression they also experienced high levels of positive emotion which enabled them to cope. The duality in their feelings is characteristic, the positive emotions generated sustain coping and recharge emotional resources.
Folkman identified four strategies employed by people who benefited from this approach:
- They revised their goals - substituting unrealistic hopes of cure with goals that are realistic and meaningful eg looking to celebrate the next anniversary.
- They worked to colour ordinary events with positive meaning, eg truly enjoying having a meal with their partner while they can.
- They always emphasised the benefits in the experience, eg how it had lead them to greater self awareness, to a greater understanding of suffering etc.
- They focused on developing priorities about what really matters in life.
Such a coping style shows that positive emotions can be associated with difficult periods in our lives and so clinicans need to focus as much on maintaining these good experiences as as much as on reducing negative emotions.