The poorest people in China are very happy, not because of their current circumstances but because of the hope and optimism that have for a happier future.
As it turns out, those rose-colored glasses everyone tries to get you to take off are actually good for your health and happiness. According to a recent study that looked at more than 10,000 people over a period of almost a decade, people who had the most optimism and hope about their future were the happiest.
Professor Paul Frijters, the lead author of the study, explains, “People systematically over-estimate how rosy the future should be and this is crucial for their wellbeing. People are much less affected by regret than previously thought, and they do not tend they tell themselves the future will be bad so that the future will turn out to be a pleasant surprise.”
When it comes to health and happiness, how a person thinks about their future health has nearly 20% the impact on their current state of happiness as their actual current state of health. Income had very little to do with happiness. Frijters explains:
“We found that the poorest group was the happiest. People in the countryside had incomes less than a third of that of people in the cities, but still 62% of the rural respondents said they were happy or very happy, while only 56% of the urban respondents were at least happy.”
The research revealed that even when people double what they earn, if they leave behind the lifestyle they enjoyed in order to do so (i.e., move to the big city to get the job), their level of happiness inevitably declined.
People who see doom and gloom in their future are more likely to be unhappy compared to those who hold onto hope. In order to bring hope – and therefore happiness – into your mental horizon, proponents of positive psychology suggest using positive thinking to help change your mindset. By taking an active role in how you see the future, you can impact your level of happiness in the present.
Positive expectations of the future does not require you to ignore negative aspects of your life; it simply addresses the inner dialogue you have with yourself about situations as they arise. By paying attention to your inner dialogue and challenging the negativity in it, you can transform your outlook and impact your happiness.
Positive expectations offers additional health benefits, such as reducing depression and anxiety, improving your immune system, lengthening life, lowering your risk of heart disease, and making it easier to manage stress. It is this ability to handle stress more effectively that may make you better able to cope with whatever the future brings – regardless of how rosy your future looks from the here and now.