A few readings and thoughts. Quoidbach, Jordi, Berry, Elizabeth V., Hansenne, Michel, and Mikolajczak, Moïra Positive emotion regulation and well-being: Comparing the impact of eight savoring and dampening strategies Personality and Individual Differences Volume 49, Issue 5, October 2010, Pages 368–373

From the Abstract:

“…regulatory diversity (i.e., typically using various strategies rather than a few specific ones), was beneficial to overall happiness. Our findings suggest that there are several independent ways to make the best (or the worst) out of our positive emotions, and that the cultivation of multiple savoring strategies might be required to achieve lasting happiness.”

Useful “savoring strategies” included focusing attention on the present moment, engaging in positive rumination, and telling others about positive experiences. The authors conclude: “Hence, our findings contribute to the increasing body of evidence emphasizing the importance of the flexibility of biological and psychological processes for well-being…. our research suggests that practicing as many savoring strategies as possible, whilst avoiding the many faces that dampening can take, is likely the best way to regulate positive emotions.”

The bottom line: no one size fits all. Flexible use of diverse strategies is the way to go. The following meta-analysis came to a similar conclusion:

Aldao, A. Nolen-Hoeksema, S and Schweizer, S. Emotion-regulation strategies across psychopathology: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 217–237

From the Abstract:

“We examined the relationships between six emotion-regulation strategies (acceptance, avoidance, problem solving, reappraisal, rumination, and suppression) and symptoms of four psychopathologies (anxiety, depression, eating, and substance-related disorders).”

 The authors found in their review of 114 studies rumination and suppression generally made things worse, problem-solving and, to a lesser degree re-appraisal, made things better, and acceptance didn’t have much of an effect. They note that their “findings suggest that certain strategies (i.e., rumination, suppression, avoidance, problem solving) might be more strongly related to mental health than others (acceptance and reappraisal). The relatively small relationships between psychopathology and acceptance and reappraisal are surprising, given the prominent role of these constructs in two major therapeutic approaches: acceptance-based treatments and cognitive-behavioral therapy, respectively.” (232)

 The authors also found that “non-clinical populations showed less of a relationship between specific emotion-regulation strategies and psychopathology than clinical populations” and speculate this “is because the non-clinical populations are more likely to move flexibly between emotion regulation strategies, and this skill is at least as important as the use of any one strategy in determining psychopathology.” (233)

There it is again: flexibility. No one size fits all. Experiment and find out what works. Which brings me to the next study – hot off the presses:

Skorka-Brown, J. Andrade, J., Whalley B. And  May, J. Playing Tetris decreases drug and other cravings in real world settings  Addictive Behaviors Volume 51, December 2015, Pages 165–170

From the Abstract:

“…Previous laboratory research has found that playing Tetris reduces craving strength. The present study used an ecological momentary assessment protocol in which 31 undergraduate participants carried iPods for a week and were prompted 7 times each day, by SMS message, to use their iPod to report craving. Participants reported craving target and strength (0–100), whether they indulged their previous craving (yes/no), and whether they were under the influence of alcohol (yes/no). ...Playing Tetris decreased craving strength for drugs (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine), food and drink, and activities (sex, exercise, gaming), with a mean reduction of 13.9 percentage points, effect size f2 = 0.11. This effect was consistent across the week. This is the first demonstration that visual cognitive interference can be used in the field to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating.”

So playing Tetris is another useful strategy for increasing well-being. Like other animals, humans enjoy that rush of dopamine. I’m thinking that a little Tetris provides a sufficient dopamine boost to weaken cravings – a form of desire management.

Self-denial alone is rarely enough when dealing with unwanted impulses and desires. In addition to inhibition (“Just Say No!”), successful self-regulation often requires we replace what we want to change with something else, ideally something we find rewarding or pleasurable.

Inhibition without replacement tends to trigger “ironic processes” where the more we want a thought or emotion to just go away, the more it haunts us.