Fond Memories of the Past Make for a Happier Present

People who let go of regrets were more satisfied with life, study finds

TUESDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- People who remember the past fondly are more likely to experience greater happiness in the present, according to a new study.

Similarly, researchers found that people who tend to focus on regrets and negative experiences are not as satisfied with their lives as those who maintain a rosier view of the past.

The study is published online and in the June print issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Personality has a lot to do with how one recalls the past, according to the study, which examined how people's levels of extraversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness relate to their attitudes and life satisfaction. The study's findings suggest that people with certain personality traits are happier than others because of the way they think about their past, present and future.

"We found that highly extraverted people are happier with their lives because they tend to hold a positive, nostalgic view of the past and are less likely to have negative thoughts and regrets. People high on the neurotic scale essentially have the exact opposite view of the past and are less happy as a result," Ryan Howell, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, said in a university news release.

Over the past three decades, many studies have suggested that personality is a powerful predictor of a person's life satisfaction. The latest findings help explain why: People who are able to change or "reframe" how they perceive painful past memories might be able to enhance their own happiness and sense of satisfaction with their lives, the study authors suggest.

"Personality traits influence how people look at the past, present and future, and it is these different perspectives on time which drive a person's happiness," said Howell.

More information

The American Psychological Association provides details on happiness-sustaining strategies.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: San Francisco State University, news release, May 2, 2011

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