An interesting new research study finds a positive attitude about the future transcends into a healthier diet, while being happy right now may result in more inches around the belly.
Hopeful people were compared to happy people with the latter group preferring to eat candy bars, while the hopeful group preferred fruit.
In the past, researchers have focused on the relationship between a sad emotional state and a poor diet. In fact, many believe emotional eating in response to stress is a principal factor driving the spread of obesity.
However, researchers from Penn State and Texas A&M wanted to know why we would choose unhealthy food when we are happy.
In the new study, a temporal concept or view of time appears to make a difference in choice of diet, as researchers discovered “positive emotions focusing on the future decrease unhealthy food consumption in the present.”
Still, the question remained as to why an individual who feels positive would be more likely to eat a candy bar rather than a piece of fruit. According to the authors, the difference is that positive feelings come from that thinking about the past or the present (pride and happiness) while hope is a projection to the future.
In the authors’ first study, hopeful participants consumed fewer M&Ms than people who experienced happiness.
In a second study, the authors found that consumers who were more focused on the past chose unhealthy snacks, even if they felt hope.
In the third study, the researchers shifted the time frame of the positive emotion (having participants feel hopeful about the past or having them experience pride in the future). “That is, if someone is anticipating feeling proud, she prefers fewer unhealthy snacks than someone experiencing pride,” the authors wrote.
Finally, the authors compared future-focused positive emotions (hopefulness, anticipated pride) to future-focused negative emotions (fear, anticipated shame). They found that the combination of positivity and future focus enhanced self-control.
The lesson to be learned may be that the next time you are feeling good about yourself, don’t dwell on the past but stay positive and focus on all the good things that will happen in the future.
And, if the authors are correct in their assumptions, you may even drop a few pounds.