Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Time perspective and happiness
What is the relationship between time perspective and happiness?
Overview[edit | edit source]
Different perceptions of the world exist in the way people recall past events, make decisions in the present, and plan for their future. Known as time perspective, Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd propose six different time perspectives and accompanying character traits. Views about one's past can influence attitudes and feelings experienced in the here-and-now, in turn impacting the way the individual relates to their future.
Definition[edit | edit source]
In 1890, American philosopher William James wrote about the perception of time, taking a particular interest in how a past experience comes to be a memory separate from the present moment. Metaphorically representing experiences as individual beads on a string, or trains on a railway, James explained that a sequence of events with clear starting and ending points failed to depict the influence of memories in the present moment. Instead, the author proposed another metaphor: a stream of consciousness.
This concept suggested that all present experiences consist of both past and future elements, such that the lingering body of water could not be separated from the incoming stream. In other words, both past experiences and future consequences influence the attitudes and behaviour applied to current events. Likewise, present experiences may come to change one's perception about one's past memories and future outcomes.
Measures[edit | edit source]
Two separate inventories were developed by Zimbardo and Boyd as methods of measuring individual perception of time: the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) and the Transcendental-Future Time Perspective Inventory (TFTPI).
The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI)[edit | edit source]
In 1999, Zimbardo and Boyd proposed the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) as a scale measure for time perspective and associated individual traits. The ZTPI presents participants with a total of 56 statements, against which they are required to rate their personal character. The ZTPI is aimed to assess how one views their personal world, by evaluating feelings and beliefs attached to past experiences, decision making and goal-setting. (Click here to find out your time perspective)
The Transcendental-Future Time Perspective Inventory (TFTPI)[edit | edit source]
Boyd and Zimbardo suggested a separate inventory for attitudes surrounding life after death. Like the ZTPI, the Transcendental-Future Time Perspective Inventory (TFTPI) consists of a series of statements which one subjectively rates as being either 'very true' or 'very untrue' based on their personal attitudes. The TFTPI considers scientific and spiritual extremes as lower and higher scores, respectively . (Click here to measure your transcendental-future orientation)
Time Perspectives[edit | edit source]
The time perspective inventories designed by Zimbardo and Boyd highlight six different time perspectives: Past-positive, past-negative, present-hedonistic, present-fatalistic, future, and transcendental-future.
Past-positive[edit | edit source]
People who score high in 'past-positive' attitudes and beliefs tend to view their past experiences in a positive light. This time perspective allows individuals to gain greater self-insight and opportunities to grow, such that they tend to make the best out of any situation. Associated personality traits are that of warmth, happiness, resilience and optimism.
Past-negative[edit | edit source]
Like in the 'past-positive' time perspective, people who obtain higher 'past-negative' scores tend to base their current thoughts and attitudes on memories of their past. However, individuals with a 'past-negative' time perspective tend to focus on painful experiences, which mostly creates feelings of guilt, regret, sadness and lack of motivation.
Present-hedonistic[edit | edit source]
High scorers in 'present-hedonistic' attitudes are usually extremely social beings and invest most of their time in pleasurable and thrilling activities (eg. parties and sports). Individuals who possess this time perspective are often viewed by others as being full of life, creative, humorous and adventurous. This time perspective can however lead to risky and impulsive behaviour, such as gambling, speeding, alcohol and drug use, and unprotected sex.
Present-fatalistic[edit | edit source]
A high score in 'present-fatalistic' attitudes is associated with a regard for life's occurrences as being out of one's control or influence. As such, individuals with a 'present-fatalistic' time perspective often experience apathy, a lack of concern for safety, and depression.
Future[edit | edit source]
People with high scores in the 'future' focused time perspective are regarded as being extremely organised and goal-oriented. They tend to centre their plans around long-term benefits and achievements. As such, 'future' oriented individuals show great concern for the consequences around their actions.
Transcendental-Future[edit | edit source]
High scores in the 'transcendental-future' time perspective is associated with beliefs that actions in one's current life can have an impact following death. Individuals who hold this view are likely to partake in routine and spiritual activities in order to be granted a desirable after-life, such as the Christian entry into Heaven.
Deferred Gratification[edit | edit source]
The Stanford Marshmallow experiment[edit | edit source]
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Walter Mischel and colleagues organised an experiment at Stanford's Bing Nursery School. The sample consisted of over 500 participants of preschool age. Subjects were given the choice between one immediate reward (ie. marshmallow, cookie or pretzel) or two rewards if they were able to wait an additional 15 minutes. The researchers found that only about one third of participants waited long enough, deferring gratification, to receive a second reward.
Longitudinal studies[edit | edit source]
Decades later, studies were undertaken to compare individual differences between subjects who had participated in the original Stanford Marshmallow experiment. Walter and colleagues remarked that subjects who had deferred gratification displayed a higher sense of self worth, cognitive ability and better coping mechanisms. The researchers summed their report by stating that greater willpower and self-control leads to healthier and more desirable psychological development.
Happiness in Time[edit | edit source]
Although happiness can be recalled from the past or directed toward the future, it can only be experienced in the present. This temporary cognitive distraction, although positively energised, can lead to missed opportunities or lack fulfillment in one's present life.
In their book, 'The time Paradox: Using the new Psychology of Time to your advantage', Zimbardo and Boyd explore some difficulties one may face in their search for happiness. Unfortunately, happiness cannot be maintained and is generally experienced for shorter amounts of time than negative feelings, such as sadness and pain.
Happiness is an important aspect of life, however it is not regarded as urgent and therefore falls behind other priorities in life. Further, previous events that led to a pleasurable feeling may not work in the same way again, and as such happiness is not always predictable.
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
Past experiences provide valuable knowledge, which influences personal motivational and emotional processes. The attitudes and feelings that one associates with previous experiences can have a direct influence on the present, such that a negative recollection of events can lead to feelings such as regret, guilt, sadness and depression. These emotions can also lead to a negative generalisation of the world, such that an individual will no longer feel motivated to change or even lose concern for their own safety.
However, partaking in risky behaviour can also be attributed to pleasure seeking. People with these tendencies are usually after immediate gratification and have little concern for their future. Demonstrated through the famous Stanford Marshmallow experiment, this behaviour limits psychological development, in areas such as cognition, self esteem and willpower.
On the other hand, individuals who display self-control when presented with gratifying situations, focusing their thoughts on their future and goals. In doing so, these individuals tend to lead more successful and stable lives.
A balanced time-perspective is thought to be ideal, such that both negative and positive attitudes towards past experiences can bring about positive change in one's present life, as long as the individual does not lose their current focus into their past life. If proven to be beneficial, attitudes, feelings and beliefs derived from one's experiences can be utilised in building one's ideal future, and thus happiness.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
Zimbardo, P. G., & Boyd, J. N. (1999). Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1271-1288. doi: 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1991
Boyd, J., & Zimbardo, P. (1997). Constructing time after death: The transcendental-future time perspective. Time Society, 6(1), 35-54. doi: 10.1177/0961463X97006001002
Zimbardo, P., & Boyd, J. (2010). The time paradox: Using the new psychology of time to your advantage. London: Rider.
Mischel, W., et al. (2011). 'Willpower' over the life span: decomposing self-regulation. SCAN, 6, 252-256. doi:10.1093/scan/nsq081
[edit | edit source]
- The Time Paradox - The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life (The Time Paradox)
- The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) (The Time Paradox)
- The Transcendental-Future Time Perspective Inventory (TFTPI) (The Time Paradox)
- Zimbardo, P., & Boyd, J. (2010). The time paradox: Using the new psychology of time to your advantage. London: Rider.
- James, W. (1890). The perception of time. The Principles of Psychology, (pp. 605-642). New York, USA: Henry Holt and Company.
- Zimbardo, P. G., & Boyd, J. N. (1999). Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1271-1288. doi: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.521
- Boyd, J., & Zimbardo, P. (1997). Constructing time after death: The transcendental-future time perspective. Time Society, 6(1), 35-54. doi: 10.1177/0961463X97006001002
- Mischel, W., et al. (2011). 'Willpower' over the life span: decomposing self-regulation. SCAN, 6, 252-256. doi:10.1093/scan/nsq081