Not the same! On being (un-)happy in the Past, Present, and Future

Are you happy? That´s a rather easy question to answer, don´t you think? Well, turns out it´s not that easy. Because it really makes a difference what you are thinking about while trying to answer this question. What are the standards you use while evaluating your ‘human condition’?

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In Positive Psychology, there are (at least) three different perspectives on this issue and they center on the timeframe that is used for evaluating one´s happiness. It is literally possible to be (un-)happy in the past, present, and future – and there´s considerable evidence that these perspectives are separate from each other (albeit closely related).

When talking about ‘happiness in the past’, we usually refer to the construct of satisfaction with life which is a global cognitive evaluation of one´s life (so far). To date, it is the most widely used measure of psychological well-being.*

When talking about ‘happiness in the present’, we usually refer to what you do when actually ask somebody “How do you feel (right now)?” How much positive or negative affect do you feel in this moment? In terms of measurement, the most widely used instrument is the so-called PANAS (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule).

And finally, there´s ‘happiness in the future’ which is concerned with our optimism. How happy do you expect to be at time X in the future?

Now the interesting thing is: all three aspects will to a certain extent determine how happy you are today. And they can be tackled and improved separately (but that´s not today´s story…)

For today: if you would like to find out how you´re doing in the past, present, and future, you can take tests at Martin Seligman´s homepage. They can be found (among others) in the menu questionnaires.

 

*I´ve also used that one in the study that my book is based on.

Foto credit: Pamela Moore – www.istockfoto.com

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