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The power of attention

August 1, 2018

The cognitive process of attention allows us to focus our mind on information that we want to take in, without being distracted by everything else around us.

In other words, it’s concentrating your mind on something or paying attention. How we process the information around us, or what we pay attention to, greatly influences our experiences. Lyubomirsky (2001) proposed that life events or situations do not directly affect wellbeing but are mediated by cognitive processes. In other words: that situations are “processed”. For example, it was found that happy and unhappy individuals do not differ in the number of stressful and negative life events they reported experiencing but rather that happier people processed them differently than unhappy individuals (Lyubomirsky & Tucker, 1998). Happy people (when compared to unhappy people) rated positive events as making them happier, while unhappy people rated negative events as making them unhappier than did happy people (Lyubomirsky & Tucker, 1998).

The model of emotion proposes a similar explanation: situations we attend allow us to create “construals” (i.e. processing and evaluating), which leads to an emotional response (i.e. happy or unhappy) (Gross & Thompson, 2007). Attention plays an important role, since we cannot attend to everything and instead have to be selective. Isaacowitz (2006) has shown that there are individual differences in what people habitually attend to and that there is an interplay between wellbeing and attention: attention affects wellbeing, but wellbeing also affects attention (Fredrickson, 2013). The good news is that even if you are somewhat inclined to attend to negative things, you can train yourself to attend to more positive things. Studies attempting to reorient people to attend to more positive and/or less negative things have shown to have beneficial effects on wellbeing (Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2011).

At hiMoment, we believe that we can help you pay attention to the happy moments in your life.

  • Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why are some people happier than others? The role of cognitive and motivational processes in well-being. American Psychologist, 56, 239-249.
  • Lyubomirsky, S., & Tucker, K. L. (1998). Implications of individual differences in subjective happiness for perceiving, interpreting, and thinking about life events. Motivation and Emotion, 22, 155-186.
  • Gross, J. J., & Thompson, R. A. (2007). Emotion regulation: Conceptual foundations. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 3-24). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Isaacowitz, D. M. (2006). Motivated gaze the view from the gazer. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 68-72.
  • Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Positive emotions broaden and build. In P. Devine & A. Plant (Eds.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 1-53). Burlington: Academic Press.
  • Wadlinger, H. A., & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2011). Fixing our focus: Training attention to regulate emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 75-102.