When a loved one shares with us about the challenges they may be facing, we tend to practise empathy and active listening. This can strengthen our relationships from being that reliable pillar of support for someone in need. However, did you know that it is equally, if not more important to respond well to good news?
Capitalisation, also known as the act of sharing and responding to each other’s good news, can potentially enhance our mental health and well-being, as well as relationship strength . When practising capitalisation, it requires us to be open to exercise self-disclosure with others.
Self-Disclosure on our Relationships
Self-disclosure can be considered the main reason that relationships can work healthily. It refers to revealing hidden aspects of ourselves to others , and it is a vital factor in healthy communication. In fact, Jourard (1959) contends that transparency allows another person to “see our whole selves, that is without disguises or facades” . Therefore, when a loved one tells us bad news, we can seek to display empathy and be present in the conversation to enhance perceived closeness and make them feel heard .
Capitalisation refers to the process where people take advantage of positive events to build closer relationships in their lives , normally through self-disclosure. Often, we may feel motivated retelling positive experiences to people whom we love, giving rise to a sense of belonging . Whenever we share good news, it creates an opportunity to re-experience the positive event. We are also able to remember the event better upon further elaboration .
In fact, it was found that the number of positive experiences in our lives outweighs the negative . This indicates the importance of capitalisation in self-disclosure, from which we are able to focus on the majority of positive experiences we have experienced. Furthermore, capitalisation is proven to enhance positive emotions and social bonds and increase self-esteem . Hence, we should also approach our friends and loved ones when things are going right, not just when we are troubled.
But what about responding to good news?
Responses to Good News
There are 4 ways to respond to positive news, and they exist along the active-passive and constructive-destructive scale. The passive-active scale describes the level of enthusiasm of the response. The destructive-constructive scale describes the level of support that the response provides. Figure 1 maps out the responses in a matrix.
The passive-destructive response is characterised by the lack of enthusiasm and support for the good news. Through this response, the good news does not get acknowledged, or the conversation is directed to another topic.
Imagine a scenario where you won a lucky draw for an item you have wanted for a long time, and you share the news with your friend. A possible passive-destructive response from your friend will involve them ignoring what you have said and asking you if you have heard about the new game they have downloaded.
The active-destructive response is characterised by enthusiasm, though it is often used to quash the event. The response may even come off as dismissive and condescending.
Using the previous scenario of the lucky draw, an active-destructive response sound something like, “Maybe you weren’t competing with that many people.” or “Seriously? I can’t believe such a thing can be the top prize in a lucky draw.”
Such a response may tend to lack encouragement or interest in the good news shared.
The passive-constructive response is characterised by a lack of enthusiasm, but with some level of acknowledgement and support for the event. The response, while generally supportive, may come off as insincere or show a form of disinterest to the event.
With the same example, a passive-constructive response would be something like, “Oh, good for you.” or “Cool.”
The most ideal response to good news is the active-constructive response, which usually indicates enthusiasm and support. It may even include follow-up questions to encourage more sharing.
Using the same example, an active-constructive response would sound something like “Wow, I’m so happy for you! Tell me more.” or “That’s amazing! You have always wanted something like this, isn’t it?”
The active-constructive response often allows the sharer to share more about their positive experiences. Furthermore, the sharer would feel genuine concern and interest from the responder, leading to increased intimacy .
Unsurprisingly, it is found that the active-constructive response is often positively associated with better relationship quality. On the other hand, the other responses were negatively associated with relationship quality. Hence, we can work towards an active-constructive response when reacting to the positive news of the people we care about.
Capitalisation in Our Everyday Lives
It is normal to approach our friends to share when things go right in our lives – sharing about a job offer, a nice friend you met recently or even sharing something that interests you. It helps us to keep count of the good things in our lives. Of course, practising capitalisation also comes with a level of discernment. If a friend appears troubled, it may not be the right time to share your good news.
Additionally, you would find that the active-constructive response is similar to using active listening skills. Even though it may seem obvious to practise active listening when responding to good news, the active-constructive response may not come as intuitively. The key to formulating such a response is to be mindful about the words we use. Otherwise, we may end up leaning towards the passive-constructive response.
While it takes effort to express our enthusiasm, we should strive to understand that the good news may mean more to the other person than it does for us. For example, getting a $5 reward can mean a lot to a child but to you, it may not mean much.
However, even when we cannot particularly relate to their experiences, we can always try asking a follow-up question to express our interest. More often than not, others wouldn’t hesitate to share more. Most importantly, if the other person is willing to share good news with us, it is never wrong to show our interest.
 Peters, B. J., Reis, H. T., & Gable, S. L. (2018). Making the good even better: A review and theoretical model of interpersonal capitalization. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 12(7), e12407.
 Compton, W. C., & Hoffman, E. (2019). Positive psychology: The science of happiness and flourishing. Sage Publications.
 Jourard, S. M. (1959). Self-disclosure and other-cathexis. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59(3), 428–431. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0041640
 Nugent, W. R., & Halvorson, H. (1995). Testing the effects of active listening. Research on Social Work Practice, 5(2), 152-175.
 American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology. (2023). Capitalization.
 Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology?. Review of general psychology, 9(2), 103-110.
 Lambert, N. M. (2021). Positive relationships. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. Retrieved from http://noba.to/z7bf68n5