Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the year ahead and about the future in general?
If your thoughts are somewhat bleak when you think about the future, this can lead to depression!
Some very interesting research has recently been published on the subject of the link between how we think about the future (known as prospection) and our mood states (Roepke and Seligman, 2015). Up to now there has been a generally accepted view that a pessimistic view of the future is a pointer for someone who is depressed – that depression causes a person to have negative expectations about the future.
However, it seems that it may also be the other way around – that if we harbour overly pessimistic views and expectations of our future, this could cause us to become (more) depressed!
So why is this new finding important?
Well, the good news is that if our thoughts influence our moods (and they do, according to Cognitive-Behavioural theory and Therapy (CBT), we can change these moods by altering our thinking! The implication of this is that our emotions are under our own control (to a certain degree).
How can prospection affect our emotions and possibly lead to depression?
These researchers have identified three ways this happens:
- Telling ourselves different scenarios about possible futures. If you think about your future, do you foresee good or bad things occurring? Are there more positive predictions than negative ones, or vice versa?
- Judging your possible future life in either a positive or a negative way. You might say, for example, that you predict that you either have a number of positive options which could enable you to have a bright future or you believe that you have few options for the future and that you will inevitably have nothing much to look forward to.
- Harbouring either positive or negative beliefs about the future. These would include beliefs or thoughts about a personal future, but also about the future of the country and the planet as a whole).
In my next post I will discuss ways in which our patterns of prospective thinking can be altered to become more positive and optimistic.
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