A new study suggests that individuals who live in the present, look warmly at the past, and anticipate the future are probably happiest.
San Francisco State University researcher Ryan Howell, Ph.D., and his colleagues discovered that having this sort of “balanced time perspective” can make people feel invigorated, thankful, and more satisfied with their lives.
The study findings are reported online in the Journal of Happiness Studies.
“If you are too extreme or rely too much on any one of these perspectives, it becomes detrimental, and you can get into very destructive types of behaviors,” Howell said. “It is best to be balanced in your time perspectives.”
Howell believes a balance of past, present and future is necessary to optimize a sense of well-being.
“If you’re really dominant in one type of perspective, you’re very limited in certain situations,” he added. “To deal well when you walk into any situation, you need to have cognitive flexibility. That is probably why people with a balanced time perspective are happiest.”
Perseverating or spending too much psychological time in any of the time dimensions can limit an individual’s ability to move forward.
It can be fine to have fond memories of childhood, for instance, but spending too much time remembering the past can keep you from enjoying the present. It might be great to treat yourself to a nice dinner, but “living in the moment” like that every night could keep you from achieving future goals.
Although research is lacking, experts believe that people can actively “rebalance” their time perspectives. “If you’re too future-oriented, it might be good to give yourself a moment to sit back and enjoy the present,” Howell suggested. “If you’re too hedonistic and living for the moment, maybe it’s time to start planning some future goals.”
Howell directs The Personality and Well-Being Lab. He and his graduate students at SF State are collecting data on time perspectives through their Beyond the Purchase website. They hope their results will help individuals to extend the benefits of a balanced time perspective into the area of consumer choice.
The site contains a variety of short quizzes and surveys on purchasing habits and values and how they relate to happiness.
“The site is open to anyone who wants to learn more about their spending habits,” Howell said, “and put themselves in a place where they can make better consumer choices.”
From the consumer side, marketers would expect that people with certain time perspectives would be much more likely to make purchasing decisions that match their perspective.
Source: San Francisco State University