15 Oct Happiness and mindfulness – is happiness in the past, present or future?
Where and when is happiness? Now, yesterday or tomorrow? Read this great review of what seems like a great book on a fascinating topic…
by Jeremy McCarthy, IPPA Newsletter Writer, (bio)
Positive psychology has been dabbling in time travel. Maybe not in the same sense that H. G. Wells envisioned when he dreamed up a time machine that could take a man to any point in the past or the future(2004). And not in the sense that Stephen Spielberg had when he imagined a Delorean sports car with a _ã–flux capacitor_ã that allowed it to fly backwards through time (1985). But researchers have been investigating how we move through time psychologically, and how our perspectives of time can have a powerful effect on our well-being.
Research from the past several years has shown us how our well-being is greatly impacted by our optimism about the future and our styles of explaining the past (Seligman, 2006). Hope about the future (Lopez et al., 2004; Snyder, Rand, & Sigmon, 2005) and gratitude towards the past (Bono, Emmons, & McCullough, 2004; Emmons & Shelton, 2005) have been two of the strongest areas of research that positive psychology has produced to date. For example, both writing down life-goals for the future (King, 2001), and writing down the things we are grateful for (Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005), have shown increases in happiness among research participants.
Researchers continue to discover new links between time and well-being. In one recent study, (creatively entitled _ã–Back to the Future_ã), researchers found a causal relationship between using the imagination for _ã–positive mental time travel_ã into the future and positive well-being (Quoidbach, Wood, & Hansenne, 2009). In another recent study, psychologists found that while critically thinking about past events stimulated interest, replaying the events, as a form of mental time travel, led to increased pleasure and positivity (Vitterso, Overwien, & Martinsen, 2009).
Philip Zimbardo, who published _ã–The Time Paradox_ã last year (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008), suggested a balanced approach to time perspective (Boniwell & Zimbardo, 2004). _ã–Some present orientation is needed to enjoy life,_ã said Zimbardo, _ã–Too much present orientation can rob life of happiness_ã (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008, p. 100). Like Langer, Zimbardo also encourages a sense of mindfulness towards the present: _ã–When you are mindful, you are aware of your position and your destination,_ã he said, _ã–You can make corrections to your path._ã (p. 261).
But his research indicates that mindfulness should also be balanced with a healthy future time perspective. People with this perspective are more likely to do the things today that will bring them success and health in the future. They will study more, work harder, exercise more, eat better, drink less, smoke less, and take other preventive health measures more often than their more present-oriented counterparts (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008). Martin Seligman also sees the future as an important part of the well-being puzzle that science has failed to tap into. _ã–Human beings are pulled by the future rather than being pushed by the past_ã, he said at the 2009 IPPA World Congress.
While everyone seems to agree on the unhealthy time perspectives people can have: worrying about the future or stressing about their evaluations of the past (Seligman, 2006; Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008; Langer, 2009), the time pathways to well-being remain ambiguous, and are a fertile ground for additional future research. As positive psychology continues to explore these questions, we may be developing a better understanding of what Zimbardo called a _ã–holistic present_ã, where time does not exist linearly, but past and future are both happening in this very moment (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008, pp. 110-111). Like H. G. Wells_ã_ time machine, or Spielberg_ã_s Delorean, positive psychology is taking us on a journey that bends the very fabric of the universe in ways we can only begin to imagine.