Are Timon and Pumba Right?

One of the more important decisions humans make on a day-to-day basis is how to react to negative outcomes. Sometimes it’s helpful to say “Hakuna Matata,” tell yourself it’s not so bad, and move on without dwelling on the situation. Alternatively, sometimes it’s important to carefully consider the situation so you learn how to prevent the negative outcome from occurring again.

In a new study Erin O’mara, James McNulty, and Benjamin Karney attempted to discover when each strategy is ideal by interviewing newlyweds about their stressful experiences. The researchers found that over a four year period spouses who formed positively biased appraisals of their experiences (the “Hakuna Matata” response”) tended to exhibit fewer depressive symptoms when faced with mildly stressful experiences, but more depressive symptoms when faced with severe experiences.

The implication is that positively biased appraisals are not a panacea for enhancing well-being. For example, the other James McNulty probably would have been better off if he took more time to examine his very serious problems in an accurate and negative light. On the other hand, when the situation lacks severity, like when a traffic jam makes you late, it’s probably best to just say “Hakuna Matata.”

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