Happiness is…balancing the past, the present and the future

Happiness is…balancing the past, the present and the future

As I’ve written about before, happiness comes at least partly from living in the moment (see this previous blog posting).

But as long as we do it right, happiness also comes from positive reminiscing and future planning (especially when the planning involes setting and working towards meaningful goals).

In this article from Psychology Today Art Markman writes about how “Your future happiness depends less on the present than you might think”. Here’s an excerpt…

You make a lot of decisions based on how you think they will make you feel in the future. Car dealers ask you to think about how happy you’ll be driving a beautiful new car. Ads for seafaring cruises ask you to think about how great you’ll feel after a relaxing vacation. On the flip side, people work hard for a new promotion believing that if they don’t advance in their career, they will be devastated.

The evidence is pretty clear, though, that big positive and negative events don’t have an enormous impact on people’s happiness. In a 1998 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dan Gilbert, Tim Wilson, and their colleagues found that college faculty being evaluated for tenure believed they would be quite unhappy if they were denied tenure. Several months after their tenure decision, though, college faculty who had been denied tenure were no less happy than those who had gotten tenure.

This finding, that we believe future positive and negative events have a bigger impact on our future happiness than they do, is called an affective forecasting error. One thing about these errors that is not well understood: Why don’t they go away over time? We all have experience with these errors. As a kid, I remember toys that I really wanted because I had seen them in a catalog. When I actually got one of those toys, though, it was never quite the life-changing experience I expected. So, why don’t examples like this get rid of affective forecasting errors?

This question was explored in a November 2010 paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology by Tom Meyvis, Rebecca Ratner, and Jonathan Levav…

…read more about this positive psychology, happiness related research HERE.