06 Dec Scientific study: Key to happiness is a balanced perspective of time
Do you spend a lot of time worrying about the future, living in the “good old days” or just “live the moment? How we subjectively perceive the past, present and future may play a role in how fulfilling our lives are and finally how happy we are at the end of the day.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (April 2012), Comparing Three Methods to Measure a Balanced Time Perspective: The Relationship Between a Balanced Time Perspective and Subjective Well-Being, by San Francisco State University researchers: Jia Wei Zhang, Ryan T. Howell and Maciej Stolarski, if you can look fondly at the past, enjoy yourself in the present, strive for future goals and hold these time perspectives simultaneously (and don’t go overboard on any one of them) you’re likely to be a happy person.
Their research is based on previous exploratory studies (see Gonzalez and Zimbardo 1985; Zimbardo and Boyd, 1999; Zimbardo and Gonzalez 1984), Zimbardo and Boyd (1999) that argued that there are five time perspectives that are important in predicting attitudes, feelings, and behaviors: past positive (having a sentimentally good view of past events), past negative (remembering the past as distressful), present hedonistic (enjoying immediate pleasures), present fatalistic (believing that there is little relation between the present and future), and future (striving for long-term goals). Recent studies have demonstrated that this five factor structure is consistent even across culture.
Researcher Ryan Howell mentions:
“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.”
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.
There is some evidence that people can “rebalance” their time perspectives, Howell said, while noting that “there hasn’t been a lot of work that’s tried to change time perspectives explicitly.” But in general, “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.”