Why Dreams Make You Happy…Until They Come True

By Shlomo Maital


 The lovely blog called Babbage, on science and technology, in The Economist, wrote on April 5 about a neat piece of behavioral research.  It is by a team led by Eugene Caruso, Univ. of Chicago, and will appear in Psychological Science.

    Here is the experiment: “323 volunteers [recruited through Mechanical Turk, amazon’s micro-job portal] were divided into two groups. For one group, a week before Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14), they were asked how they planned to celebrate it.   A week after Feb. 14, the second group reported how they HAD celebrated. “

   Both groups had to describe how near the day they felt, on a scale of one to seven.

    Those describing future plans were far more likely to report it as “a short time from now”.   Those who already experienced it tended to report “a long time ago”.

    Conclusion: “Something happening in one month feels psychological closer than something that happened a month ago”.

     Does this jibe with YOUR experience?  Do you get much enjoyment out of anticipating future pleasures, like vacations, purchases, family events?  Do past events, purchases, etc., somehow feel distant and perhaps a bit ho-hum? 

    Caruso speculates that depression may occur because people who feel the past as being closer may ruminate about the bad things that occurred to them.   Babbage thinks politicians should talk more about future plans than about the past. (I think they already do this, but boringly).  

     For individuals: Perhaps we should emulate the Japanese.  Americans, when they buy something on-line, want it NOW!  Japanese don’t mind waiting two weeks, because they like to anticipate the purchase’s arrival during the waiting period.   It’s pretty simple.  Keep a host of pleasant future events lined up in your mind, and replenish the list from time to time; take the list out when you’re a bit down, and go over it in your mind.  Reap the sunshine it brings.  Don’t count on all the old stuff you bought to keep you happy; it fades quickly.   Dreams themselves make us happy; once they come true, well —  perhaps they fade a little.   So—dream on!