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Balanced Time Perspective Brings Maximum Happiness

Update Date: Apr 28, 2012 02:31 AM EDT
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Do you look fondly at the past, enjoy yourself in the present, and strive for future goals? If you hold these time perspectives in a balanced way, you're likely to be a happy person.

A new study conducted by researchers led by Ryan Howell, director of The Personality and Well-Being Lab at San Francisco State,  demonstrates that having this sort of "balanced time perspective" can help people feel more vital, more grateful, and more satisfied with their lives. 

"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."

While it may seem obvious that people who have a positive attitude about their past, enjoy the present, and focus on goals for the future would be the happiest, Howell said that a sense of well-being depends on the balance between these elements.

"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 alright 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 said. "If you're too hedonistic and living for the moment, maybe it's time to start planning some future goals."

The study appears online in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

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