It’s a cliche to say that living in the present moment is the key to happiness. But like a lot of cliches, it might contain a kernel of scientific truth.
Psychologists call how you relate to the past, present and future your time perspective. And according to a recent study, people’s time perspectives correlate with life satisfaction, anxiety and depression.
In the study, researchers from Greece asked 413 participants to complete several surveys looking at the participants’ time perspectives and overall wellbeing.
When they looked at the data, it turned out that people who were more satisfied with their lives tended to have a more hedonistic attitude toward the present – that is, they were more focused on experiencing pleasure in the present moment.
According to the authors, this finding suggests that “the tendency to take risks and to fulfill one’s desires may lead to experiencing pleasure in a ‘seize the day’ approach to life.” You thought carpe diem was just a catchy phrase, but if this research holds up, it might turn out to be a scientific prescription for happiness!
If people who live in the present are more satisfied with life on average, the opposite seems to be true for those who dwell on the past.
Specifically, the study found that people with more depressive symptoms and higher levels of anxiety tended to be more focused on the past and to have a more fatalistic view of the present. When you think about the fact that rumination can be a big part of both anxiety and depression, this finding starts to make sense.
The researchers interpreted the result as meaning that “feeling hopeless, or dwelling on bad moments from the past may be largely related to feeling depressed and anxious.” If living in the present is the secret to an happiness, feeling hopeless and being stuck in the past seems like just as sure a recipe for unhappiness!
That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that the researchers weren’t looking at which way the causation goes. It could be that living for the present moment makes people happier, or it could just be that being happy makes makes people more prone to live in the present. Or, quite possibly, some mixture of the two is at play.
Still, it probably can’t hurt to look for the little (or big) things we can do to make the present more enjoyable. Seizing the day has rarely made people less satisfied with their lives!