Happiness Now or Happiness Later?

Recently, researchers from the US and Australia conducted a series of studies to understand how our ideas about happiness affect our decisions and well-being. The study found that our beliefs about happiness can influence our actions and impact how happy we feel.

The researchers asked 298 students to think about an important goal they wanted to achieve. They then asked them questions about whether they thought it was worth sacrificing short-term happiness for long-term happiness or if they believed in enjoying the present moment. The researchers also looked at how much time the students spent working on their goals and how often they did fun activities instead.

Living in the moment can make us happier

The results showed that those who believed in delaying happiness spent more time working on their goals and felt anxious and regretful when they did other activities instead. On the other hand, those who believed in living in the moment did more fun activities and felt more competent, fulfilled, and optimistic.

Another study with older participants confirmed these findings and suggested that delaying happiness could lead to a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Our beliefs about happiness can change

The researchers also wanted to see if they could change people's beliefs about happiness. They asked participants to read a fake newspaper article that either talked about happiness as something that grows over time or as something that comes and goes. They found that people's beliefs about happiness could be influenced by what they read, and this affected their behaviour.

In a final study, participants kept a diary for twelve days. They wrote down their goals, how much time they spent working on them, and how happy and satisfied they felt. The results showed that people with different beliefs about happiness pursued their goals differently and had different emotional reactions. Those who believed in living in the moment focused more on enjoyable activities, while those who believed in delaying happiness focused more on their goals.

Both delaying happiness and living in the moment can both lead to happiness

These studies suggest that both beliefs about delayed happiness and living in the moment can lead to happiness and well-being when people act according to their beliefs.

The researchers suggest that it's important to have a flexible approach and recognize the benefits of both short-term pleasure and long-term goals to be happier.

In conclusion, the study highlights the importance of our beliefs about happiness and how they can shape our decisions and well-being. Being aware of different perspectives on happiness and finding a balance between immediate pleasure and long-term goals can help us lead happier lives. We don't have to decide between happiness now or happiness later: We can have both.


Park, L. E., Fujita, K., Naragon-Gainey, K., Radsvick, T. M., Jung, H. Y., Xia, J., … Valvo, A. (2023). Happiness—To Enjoy Now or Later? Consequences of Delaying Happiness and Living in the Moment Beliefs. Emotion, 23(1), 138–162. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000850

Reynolds, E. (2023) Is it better to be happy now, or happy later? BPS. Available at: https://www.bps.org.uk/research-digest/it-better-be-happy-now-or-happy-later (Accessed: 20 July 2023). 

Image by Katharine O'Brien on fineartamerica

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