Life events happen to everyone – they’re the sort of thing you get on the phone to people about – “I just broke up with someone”, “I’m moving house” etc. They can range from something with a big impact like emigrating to the other side of the world, where pretty much everything is going to change for the person to something much more commonplace like starting a new job. In general life events research tends to focus on negative events – most measures of life events don’t really include positive ones! This means there’s a lot of evidence to show that negative life events, like bereavement or a serious illness can lead to mental health problems like depression and anxiety. This is especially true if people might be socially isolated or have low self-esteem – they don’t feel able to pick up the phone and tell someone about what’s happened.
Lots of the important things that happen in life are positive – things like passing exams or winning a lot of money – but despite this there’s less research looking at their effects. These sorts of events bring about positive change by either creating new opportunities (like being able to apply for the job you want) or reducing a difficulty (like not being able to pay your bills). The lack of research into their impact doesn’t mean that they’re any less important than negative events. In fact not only do positive events increase feelings of wellbeing and life satisfaction, they also help people recover from depression and anxiety.
As I mentioned before, one of the reasons research is skewed towards negative life events is that lots of measures don’t include the positive ones. We’re developing a checklist of positive life events and testing its association with symptoms of depression or wellbeing. If you’re interested in helping us you can complete it (anonymously) here: https://mdxl.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_dhbZ1zjBeJC335s
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