New research finds that while some people believe they will change in the future, expecting ourselves to remain mostly the same over the next 10 years is strongly related to being happier later in life.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) discovered that when thinking about the future, some people think they will change, and others expect they might remain the same.
In the new study, investigators found that expecting ourselves to remain mostly the same over the next ten years is strongly related to being happier later in life. The research appears in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Researchers have consistently found that people who are connected to their future selves are better able to save for the future, delay gratification, and take care of their health, compared to people who feel less connected to their future selves.
Therefore, one would assume that if people make optimistic predictions about the future, such as “thinking they will become more compassionate and intelligent in the future,” as Dr. Joseph Reiff (UCLA) suggests, “they would end up becoming happier in the years that follow.”
Surprisingly, this is not what Reiff and colleagues discovered.
“The more people initially predicted that they would remain the same — whether predicting less decline or less improvement across a number of core traits — the more satisfied they typically were with their lives 10 years later,” says Reiff.
Reiff, Drs. Hal Hershfield (Anderson School of Management, UCLA) and Jordi Quoidbach (ESADE) analyzed a ten-year longitudinal dataset (N = 4,963) to estimate how thoughts about one’s future self in an initial survey predicted life satisfaction 10 years later.
They found that people who expected to be better off in 10 years and those who expected to be worse off both reported less satisfaction 10 years later. However, people who expected to remain the same typically were the most satisfied 10 years later.
Their research builds on a growing body of psychological literature suggesting that perceiving similarity to the future self is generally beneficial for long-term decisions and outcomes.
When it comes to future research, “We are now interested in understanding why some people think they will remain the same and why others think they will change,” says Hershfield.
“What life events, for example, cause people to shift the way they think about their future selves?”