What Is the Optimal Way to Deliver a Positive Activity Intervention? The Case of Writing About One’s Best Possible Selves

Abstract

A 4-week-long experiment examined the effects of a positive activity intervention in which students wrote about their “best possible selves” (BPS) once a week. We manipulated two factors that might affect the success of the happiness-increasing activity—whether the positive activity was administered online versus in-person and whether the participant read a persuasive peer testimonial before completing the activity. Our results indicated that the BPS activity significantly boosted positive affect and flow and marginally increased feelings of relatedness. No differences were found between participants who completed the positive activity online versus in-person. However, students who read a testimonial extolling the virtues of the BPS activity showed larger gains in well-being than those who read neutral information or completed a control task. The results lend legitimacy to online self-administered happiness-increasing activities and highlight the importance of participants’ beliefs in the efficacy of such activities for optimum results.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Due to a website glitch, 19 participants from the online conditions were unable to complete baseline measures and therefore were not included in the demographic statistics or subsequent analyses. Further, 12 online participants were eliminated from analyses because they failed to log-in at the post-intervention time point. No significant baseline differences were found between participants who were included in the final analyses and those who only completed baseline measures.

  2. 2.

    We used analyses of difference scores as a straightforward and natural approach to test differences in change over time. Because we expected well-being to remain stable without our intervention, the underlying assumptions of difference scores (vs. covariance analysis) seemed appropriate (Wainer 1991). In addition, because we randomly assigned participants to condition—eliminating any baseline differences in well-being among conditions—covariance analysis had no advantages over difference scores (Maris 1998). Finally, Rogosa (1988) dispels the myth that difference scores are unreliable, particularly when the correlations between the Time 1 and Time 2 measures are moderate, suggesting that true change is present. Indeed, the correlations between the Time 1 and Time 2 scores in our study (mean r = .43) are moderate by conventional standards.

  3. 3.

    Two additional online participants did not answer questions related to positive affect at baseline but completed the need satisfaction items and were therefore included in those analyses. This resulted in the need satisfaction analyses having two more degrees of freedom than the positive affect analyses.

  4. 4.

    Due to the unequal sample sizes in the in-person condition (n = 50) and the online condition (n = 30) for this analysis, we calculated the relative loss of power (Rosenthal and Rosnow 2008) of the unequal-n design to the equal-n design as .06, which is comparable to losing a total of 5 participants in an equal-n design. Therefore, it is unlikely that these nonsignificant findings resulted from loss of power due to an unequal-n design.

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Correspondence to Kristin Layous.

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Layous, K., Katherine Nelson, S. & Lyubomirsky, S. What Is the Optimal Way to Deliver a Positive Activity Intervention? The Case of Writing About One’s Best Possible Selves. J Happiness Stud 14, 635–654 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-012-9346-2

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Keywords

  • Positive activity intervention
  • Happiness
  • Subjective well-being
  • Need satisfaction
  • Flow
  • Best possible selves
  • Testimonial
  • Online intervention