Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Nostalgia, realism and rose-coloured spectacles

Older people are often thought to be nostalgic and to look back at their past through rose-coloured spectacles. However, a survey of 3,000 adults in the U.S. by researchers at Pennsylvania State University has painted a more subtle picture of how people view their past and their future. The survey found that younger and middle-aged people tended to underestimate their past happiness and over-estimate their future happiness whereas older people were more accurate in recalling their prior and future life satisfaction. The study found that most people's life satisfaction changed very little over the years. The results of the survey also showed that it was better to have a more realistic view of the past and the future than either an overly-optimistic or pessimistic one. Those participants who more accurately perceived their past and future happiness tended to suffer less depression and enjoy better health.

Lachman, Margie E. ... [et al] - Realism and illusion in Americans' temporal views of their life satisfaction: age differences in reconstructing the past and anticipating the future Psychological Science 19(9), 889-897

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