The Happiness of Time Travel

By Laura Saslow, Kat Saxton, Aaron Shaw, Jason Marsh | May 28, 2010 | 0 comments

Summaries of new research on gratitude, "mental time travel," and happiness in the East vs. the West.

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* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, compassion, altruism, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we read the research so you don’t have to!


Mental Time Travel

"Back to the future: The effect of daily practice of mental time travel into the future on happiness and anxiety. "

Journal of Positive Psychology. Volume 4 (4), September 2009, Pages 349 – 355.

Researchers wanted to see if practicing “mental time travel” could make people happier. They found that after imagining specific positive future events every day for two weeks, people had greater increases in well-being than did people who’d imagined either negative or neutral events. So, according to the researchers, if you want to give yourself a boost of happiness, try to “imagine, in the most precise way, four positive events that could reasonably happen to you tomorrow.” This can include all kinds of events, “from simple everyday pleasures to very important positive events.” —Laura Saslow

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Gratitude Boosts Positive Emotions

"Gratitude and subjective well-being in early adolescence: Examining gender differences."

Journal of Adolescence. 32(3), June 2009, 633-650.

In a study on the effects of experiencing and expressing gratitude among adolescents, researchers found gratitude boosts positive emotions such as pride, hope, inspiration, forgiveness, and excitement, and increases life satisfaction, optimism, social support, and prosocial behavior. The adolescents reported how much they experienced and expressed gratitude, and the results showed that experiencing and expressing gratitude also decreased physical symptoms of illness. However, gratitude did not decrease negative emotions, suggesting gratitude may increase well-being but not decrease distress among adolescents. —Erica Lee

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Happiness East and West

"Happiness and Unhappiness in East and West: Themes and Variations"

Emotion. Vol 9(4), Aug 2009, 441–456.

Researchers asked American and Japanese participants to describe their ideas of happiness and unhappiness. They found that whereas Americans associated happiness with personal achievement, Japanese participants associated it with social harmony. Also, in discussing how they cope with unhappiness, Americans emphasized feelings of anger, frustration, and aggression toward others; Japanese participants focused on self-improvement. —Jason Marsh

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Support for Caregivers

"Cohort study of informal carers of first-time stroke survivors: Profile of health and social changes in the first year of caregiving"

Social Science & Medicine. Vol 69(3), August 2009, 404-410.

Caring for a friend or relative who has recently suffered a stroke can lead to psychological distress, such as stress or depression, in up to half of caregivers. Female caregivers developed distress earlier than males, even in anticipation of caregiving. Males developed similar levels of distress but only once they actually began caring for their spouse. The results suggest that family members of stroke victims should be screened for signs of distress before they start caregiving, to help indicate who would be in the greatest need of support. —Kat Saxton

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When are People More Likely to Share?

"Resource variation and the development of cohesion in exchange networks. "

Schaefer, David R. (August 2009). American Sociological Review. 74(4) 551-572.

Under what conditions are people more likely to share? This study randomly assigned undergraduates to positions in a social network, then had them negotiate to exchange resources. The experiment suggests that having resources which are transferable (able to be exchanged in multiple relationships) and duplicable (reproducible across exchanges so that no one retains exclusive control over them) is more likely to lead to sharing behavior. In other words, people may be more willing to share resources when doing so does not reduce the supply of resources, and does not prevent them from exchanging those resources at another time. —Aaron Shaw

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