Meagan Ramsey is a doctoral candidate in the Life-Span Developmental Psychology program at West Virginia University. Her research interests focus on the development and regulation of positive emotions throughout the life-span, as well as the connections between positive emotions and close relationships.
ElderBranch interviewed Ms. Ramsey to discuss her recently published paper, “Age Differences in Subjective Well-Being Across Adulthood: The Roles of Savoring and Future Time Perspective,” which she wrote with Professor Amy Gentzler, also of West Virginia University.
Why did you decide to study the impact of savoring and future time perspective on well-being in adults as they age? Why is this topic important?
Savoring occurs when people actively try to increase their positive emotions using certain strategies, such as being absorbed in a positive moment or sharing a positive event with another person. People who savor more also tend to have higher levels of emotional well-being (which includes high satisfaction with life, experiencing positive emotions often, and having fewer negative emotions), so savoring is a desirable behavior.
Future time perspective refers to how long people perceive they have left in life, and this is often measured by examining how much people focus on the opportunities available to them compared to the limitations they perceive. In general, older adults tend to perceive that they have less time left in life and focus more on their limitations and less on their opportunities than adults of younger ages. A person’s future time perspective is important because it may influence what types of goals they have for themselves and what types of experiences they seek out. For example, an older adult who perceives that they have only limited time left in life may choose to focus more on spending time with loved ones and enjoying he or she has left. Research has found that, partly because of this type of time perspective and the goals that they set, older adults often report greater emotional well-being than younger adults.
Additionally, we often find age differences in how adults regulate their negative emotions, with older adults tending to be more skilled at down-regulating their negative emotions, but we know little about how adults of different ages regulate their positive emotions through savoring. Therefore, this research provides us with greater knowledge of older adults’ positive emotional experiences. Additionally, studying these topics is important because if we can understand how adults of different ages savor and perceive their opportunities and limitations, and how these factors contribute to their emotional well-being, we will have greater insight into why some people are better able to savor and can use that information to help people try to savor more, thus increasing their overall emotional well-being. We may also be better able to help those who have very low emotional well-being because we will know some of the barriers that they might need to overcome.
Please describe your study. What were your in-going hypotheses?
Our study consisted of a simple online survey. Adults of many different ages answered a number of questions about their savoring, their future time perspective, and their emotional well-being.
Based on previous research, we expected that older adults would savor more, in part because older adults generally perceive themselves as having less time left in life, and this might spur them to try to better enjoy the time they have left. However, this is not what we found.
What were the key findings from your research?
Instead, the study found that younger adults were more likely to savor positive events. This was because younger adults focus more on the opportunities they have in life rather than their limitations. Older adults, on the other hand, were more likely to focus on their limitations, which seems to be detrimental for savoring.
What implications do these findings have for older adults?
Focusing on your opportunities in life rather than your limitations may have many benefits, including helping you to better savor and enjoy the positive events that you experience. Furthermore, savoring can help adults of all ages to experience greater emotional well-being and happiness.
What are the next steps in terms of furthering research in this area? Are there questions that still need to be answered?
The next steps include figuring out why older adults do not savor as much. Is it only because older adults are more likely to focus on limitations rather than opportunities, or is there something else preventing older adults from savoring as much as younger adults do? For example, are older adults less motivated to savor than younger adults? If we can determine other potential barriers to savoring for older adults, this would help us better understand how people could overcome those barriers, allowing older adults to have easier access to savoring strategies and thus further increasing their experience of positive emotions and their overall emotional well-being.
Another important line of research will include developing and testing savoring interventions (for example, teaching people how to use savoring strategies more effectively, or actually teaching people different savoring strategies) for adults who are more focused on limitations. This is because, based on this research, we might expect that savoring interventions would be most beneficial for adults who focus more on their limitations. Developing savoring interventions that can fit to different people’s needs, and knowing who the interventions are most effective for will be very important as we continue to try and determine how we can help people improve their overall emotional well-being.