Friday, January 4, 2013

Life is Change

A team of psychologists has published a new study that shows as clearly as any I have seen how fundamental constant change is to our lives. Their focus was on what people expect in their futures, and they found that while people clearly remember how much they have changed in the past, they expect that their future selves will be much the same. They are not.
“Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin,” said one of the authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. “What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”

Participants were asked about their personality traits and preferences — their favorite foods, vacations, hobbies and bands — in years past and present, and then asked to make predictions for the future. Not surprisingly, the younger people in the study reported more change in the previous decade than did the older respondents.

But when asked to predict what their personalities and tastes would be like in 10 years, people of all ages consistently played down the potential changes ahead.

Thus, the typical 20-year-old woman’s predictions for her next decade were not nearly as radical as the typical 30-year-old woman’s recollection of how much she had changed in her 20s. This sort of discrepancy persisted among respondents all the way into their 60s.
Of course, the future hasn't happened yet, and it is much harder to predict than to remember. In that sense asking people what they expect to be like in ten years is a foolish exercise. But it is worth remembering that whatever problems you have now will probably seem a lot less important in a decade, and your current triumphs a lot less important.

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