From a survey of over 3000 American adults conducted at two time points spaced nine years apart, Margie Lachman and colleagues found that younger and middle-aged people tended to underestimate their past happiness and to overestimate their future happiness - probably because to do so helps motivate them to strive for a better life.
By contrast, older people (aged over 65) were more accurate in recalling their prior and future life satisfaction - in this case, to do so probably reflected their need to accept their life as it had been lived, combined with their greater understanding of our capacity to adjust emotionally to
whatever life throws our way. Indeed, in line with the predictions of the older participants, most people's life satisfaction, in this study and others, actually changes very little through the years (in Western democracies, at least).
Lachman's team also looked out how adaptive it was for people to have either rose-tinted or darkly clouded views of their past and future. The results showed that at whatever age, it is beneficial to have a more realistic view of the past and future. Those participants who more accurately perceived their past and future happiness tended to suffer less depression and enjoy
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