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Disappointed in love or, um, legislation? Try packing your troubles away

Disappointed about something? A relationship that went wrong? An award that passed you by?

Disappointed about something? A relationship that went wrong? An award that passed you by? A financial deal that soured?

Or, perhaps, a piece of legislation that didn’t go your way?

Well, according to a new study from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, you may be able to help yourself feel better about the situation if you place something related to the disappointment (a wedding ring? the program from the awards ceremony? a dollar bill? a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag?) in a box or envelope and then seal it up.

The study [PDF], which appears in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science, was actually a series of four experiments, all involving college students. The experiments found that the act of physically enclosing written materials related to either a personal regret or to an unpleasant event in the news left the students feeling much less negative afterward. Sealing up the materials also created what the researchers called “psychological closure.”

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“It is known that the body is closely tied to the processing of emotional information,” the researchers wrote. “Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that bodily experience may play a pivotal role in soothing emotion.”

This study also suggests (as does other research) that our metaphors are intricately involved with our emotions. As the authors note,

Anger is bottled up, anxieties are kept inside, and sorrows are buried. These metaphors suggest that referring to physical acts, such as putting things in a container, may help people to understand abstract processes of emotion regulation. Seeing emotion-laden items enveloped may provide psychological relief or a sense of taking emotions under control.

Sure, the study was small and involved only college kids. Who knows if something as simple as sticking things in envelopes would help ease the regrets and disillusionments experienced by the rest of us?

But maybe, given the huge amount of angry disappointment expressed this week over passage of health care legislation, some people might want to give the sealing-it-up-in-an-envelope a try.

Just a thought.