Happy Friday! Time Perspective Inventory

Happy Friday, Everyone!  

Kitty PoP scores high on the present hedonism - and we love him all the more for it.

Kitty PoP scores high on the present hedonism – and we love him all the more for it.

Our Happy Friday posts will delve a bit deeper into our views on happiness, and how that influences our philosophies on the other two top priorities in our lives – money and kittens. Some of these posts might be quick reflections on something that brought us joy, while others might be an exploration or discussion of research we come across in the “science of happiness”.  Click here for past Happy Friday posts.  


I ran across a piece in the Wall Street Journal this week called A Different Therapy To Find Greater Happiness, in which Elizabeth Bernstein discusses a new type of cognitive therapy.  That’s right – it’s talking about shrinking your way to greater happiness, but in a way that I found new and useful! 

“The method, called Time Perspective Therapy, involves figuring out which of six different outlooks a person has:

  • past-positive (you love the past);
  • past-negative (you have regrets and bad things happened in your past—or things that you now exaggerate as bad);
  • present hedonism (you enjoy the present and like to reward yourself);
  • present fatalism (you feel that events are beyond your control, so why bother?);
  • goal-oriented future (you plan ahead and weigh the costs and benefits of any decision);
  • transcendental future (you live a good life because you believe the reward is a heaven after death).”

I think what intrigues me so much about these ideas is how simple and direct they seem compared to the potential outsized influence they might have on our own perceptions of happiness.

In fact, Phillip Zimbardo, psychologist and researcher at Stanford (and also author of The Time Paradox, which I’ve now requested from our awesome local library) has created two relatively quick and painless diagnostic exams for evaluating your time perspectives with respect to those six different time perspectives above (past-positive, past-negative…).  They are:

Why the transcendental future outlook requires its own quiz, I’m not entirely sure.  But either way it takes just a few minutes to take both.

Once you’ve taken your own “Time Perspective* Inventory”, you can stack your results against what Zimbardo describes as the objectively “best” time perspective profile.  This ideal time perspective consists of “a blend of a high level of past-positive, a moderately high level of future orientation and a moderate level of selected present hedonism. In other words, you like your past, work for the future—but not so hard that you become a workaholic—and choose when to seek pleasure in the present.”

I’m hoping that in Zimbardo’s book he expands more about the ideal time perspective and the research and ideas behind modifying our own time perspectives.  But while I wait for said book, I went ahead and took the diagnostic tests to see how my own time perspectives lined up.

The results were both unsurprising and surprising all at once.

Mrs PoP’s Time Perspective Results

The Past – I’m moderately past-negative and pretty neutral in terms of past-positivity.  This, for me, is progress.  Even while taking the test I could tell questions that I would have had stronger negative reactions to a few years ago were muted.  I know I still need to work on this area, but am pleased to realize I have made progress.

The Present – I’m oddly kindof “meh?” when it comes to the present moment.  In hindsight, perhaps this is in part influenced by the fact that I took this test at my work desk during my lunch hour, a “present” activity that I’m fairly ambivalent toward.  Nonetheless, I’ll definitely be keeping this in mid as these two results were the most surprising (I am <= 1% of respondents in both present time perspectives.)

The Future – Here I’m off the charts when it comes to how happy planning for something in my concrete future makes me (and have precisely 0 plans for any sort of hereafter).  Is this surprising?  Hmmm…  Perhaps only in how extreme I was on both ends of this scale (> 99% of respondents for concrete future, and < 1% for transcendental future).

Mrs PoP's TP values are the pink stars, while the "ideal" TP values are the red dots.

Mrs PoP’s TP values are the pink stars, while the “ideal” TP values are the red dots.


Mr PoP’s Time Perspective Results & His Comments

Stuff like this is always interesting to me, but I always question the results. The guy on the website is clearly trying to sell his book (not that there is anything wrong with that!), but if you take this at face value I should be more hedonic in the present, and also have more spiritual believe to maximize my happiness.  I could crank up the hedonism a bit, but how would I go about improving my faith in an afterlife? Even if it would make me happier, I don’t see myself going to church anytime soon…

Mr PoP's time perspective scores are the blue stars; again, red dots are the "ideal".

Mr PoP’s time perspective scores are the blue stars; again, red dots are the “ideal”.


I think what appeals to me so much about this concept is that our time perspectives are not set in stone.  I know mine have changed and I hope that I can continue to make active changes to them (though I doubt that’s an easy process) in order to keep increasing my happiness.


So take the tests yourself!  What are your time perspectives?  Do they match up with your perception of yourself?  Anyone out there with the “ideal” time perspective for happiness?  


* If you’re now sick of seeing the words “time perspective”, I apologize.  I tried replacing most of them with “TP”, but felt like I was writing about toilet paper!

29 comments to Happy Friday! Time Perspective Inventory

  • Thanks for sharing! I love psychology and topics like this, really interesting. Philip Zimbardo is also pretty cool – I saw him speak at a conference once. Before taking the test I figured my pasts would score high as well as the future. I ended up being right, but my past negative was in the 3s. I don’t think I dwell on the past much though. They didn’t really ask the frequency with which you think about things that happened in the past either. I did score high for the future and in the 2s for present. Also not surprising because I really need to work on enjoying the moment and experiencing what life has to offer today.
    E.M. recently posted..What Our Day Trip Cost UsMy Profile

  • Thomas | Your Daily Finance

    My mom is all about transcendental future whereas I would say I am a healthy mixture of past positive and goal oriented future. I know there are somethings I didn’t like in the past but in the end I believe they all came because of the choices I have made. Which is one of the reasons I am so focused and positive about the future. Really enjoy these kinds of posts.
    Thomas | Your Daily Finance recently posted..Grocery Shopping List: How I Save Money on GroceriesMy Profile

  • Ha! Here are my results:
    Past-negative: 3.20
    Past-positive: 3.22
    Present-fatalistic: 2.44
    Present-hedonistic: 3.73
    Future: 3.85
    I’m all over the place!
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  • I only took the first test, but here are my results:

    Past-negative: 2.50
    Past-positive: 4.56
    Present-fatalistic: 1.78
    Present-hedonistic: 2.87
    Future: 3.23

    Interesting, though I’m not exactly sure what it means. I like the theory here but I always have problems with these kinds of tests because as a reader you pretty much know what you’re “supposed” to answer.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Accomplish the Important Things in Life by Holding Yourself AccountableMy Profile

    • “as a reader you pretty much know what you’re “supposed” to answer”

      I think that’s a problem that you can run into with pretty much any tests like these – when intelligent people take it they can generally interpret the goal behind specific questions. For something like this where the only person who might gain from it is me, it’s in my best interest to answer honestly and not try to game it, so that’s what I go for.

    • PS – It totally seems like you are off the charts nostalgic for the past. =)

  • Meg

    From what I’ve read, going to church makes you happier if you believe in the religion. If you’re an atheist, while that may be unhelpful from a mental health standpoint, you’re not going to reap real benefits by showing up to services every Sunday. That makes sense to me, though I assume if you’re an atheist, you might still reap social benefits from attending religious events, particularly if you didn’t otherwise attend social functions or have a lot of relationships in the community.
    Meg recently posted..Fiscal Friday: Poor, Sad Net WorthMy Profile

    • I would guess the sense of community many get from organized religion would fall into appreciating the present or past, but my guess is that the happiness associated with thinking about a transcendental future is along the lines of my grandmother’s experience. She’s quite old and most of her generation has died long ago – so she’ll often mention how much she’s looking forward to spending time with them again in heaven. She’s really not afraid of death at all and I think the strength of her faith plays a big role in that.

  • Is this a test about toilet paper? Ha!

    Mine was very strange….my past negative, past positive, present hedonistic and future were all super high…. Not surprisingly, my Present Fatalistic was nearly zero.

    I think people who would actively seek out financial websites would not be very fatalistic, so that doesn’t surprise me….but the fact that I can be pessimistic about the past, happy about the past, revved about the present and looking forward the the future makes me feel more than a little schizophrenic.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Top 5 Financial Superheroes Who Never WereMy Profile

    • Debbie M

      I think it just means you’re open minded and can see lots of perspectives at the same time.

    • I agree with Debbie’s assessment. Also, it seemed like some of the questions about the “past” were directed specifically toward your childhood, but now you’ve got a whole other set of childhood’s that’s now in your past (your kids!) to be nostalgic about since they’ve just left for college.

  • What a cool concept. I hadn’t considered looking at myself from a past/present/future & positive/negative way before, but it makes sense. Here are my results:

    Past-negative: 3.80
    Past-positive: 3.22
    Present-fatalistic: 2.44
    Present-hedonistic: 3.33
    Future: 4.31
    Done by Forty recently posted..How We Negotiate, Part IMy Profile

  • Debbie M

    I expected to be close to ideal in past and present, and close to you guys in the future. Here’s what actually happened:

    Past-negative: 2.10 (exactly ideal–it helps that nothing bad happened to me)

    Past-positive: 4.00 (ideal is lower: 3.67; I’m not nostalgic for my childhood, but things really did go quite well for me; I am nostalgic for my grad school days, but they didn’t ask any questions about those!)

    Present-fatalistic: 1.67 (exactly ideal: I think luck is an important factor but that that I have a fair amount of control–basically, you’re more likely to get what you want if you try for it, but there are no guarantees–and getting things done early, by doing lots of planning, gives me flexibility in case things come up later)

    Present-hedonistic: 2.60 (ideal is much higher: 4.33; I’m happy where I am; it’s hard to imagine being more hedonistic without being a complete idiot)

    Future: 4.00 (ideal is lower: 3.69)

    Transcendental-future: 2.30 (ideal is much higher: 3.4–I think that when you die, you’re totally dead, but I also can’t say for sure that there are no spirits or souls or whatever or that evolution explains everything because it doesn’t explain how matter came into existance in the first place)

    These results imply that I’m probably pretty happy, and I am. But I think it’s mostly because a) my life has gone great compared to so many other lives around the world and through time, b) I actually have a broad enough knowledge base to know that my life compares well, and c) I’m allowed to be the way that I want to be; I would not be good in a situation where I have to fight in wars, make decisions that affect millions without having enough data, do what one of my parents does for a living, etc. The icky things I have to do in my time and culture are all things that I CAN do.

  • Not very close to their ideal:

    Time Perspective

    Past-negative: 3.10
    Past-positive: 2.89
    Present-fatalistic: 1.78
    Present-hedonistic: 2.47
    Future: 4.38

    I’m off the charts with the Future… go me? Maybe I’ll live forever. :)
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    • We’re pretty far from the ideal as well, which is why I’m eager to crack into his book, since I feel pretty happy most of the time. (I certainly don’t feel like I should be in the 1%-ile for present hedonistic!)

      Would you really want to live forever?

  • Past-negative: 2.80
    Past-positive: 3.78
    Present-fatalistic: 2.33
    Present-hedonistic: 3.47
    Future: 3.77
    Interesting! My results don’t surprise me too much. I think fondly on my past even with a very difficult childhood. I think in terms of present tense without going overboard, and plan for my future but I don’t overplay and set a billion goals.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Don’t Quit/Link LoveMy Profile

  • Past-negative: 3.10
    Past-positive: 3.67
    Present-fatalistic: 2.11
    Present-hedonistic: 4.33
    Future: 3.90

    Huh, living it out in the moment and enjoying every bit of it, or so it would seem from the results :)

  • Karen

    Not sure what this says about me – ha! Neutral, indecisive, eh-whatever attitude?

    Past-negative: 1.60 (My memory sucks, I don’t remember most of my childhood ;-))
    Past-positive: 3.44
    Present-fatalistic: 1.56
    Present-hedonistic: 2.73
    Future: 3.31

  • Mama Pop

    Past-Negative 1.3 = I don’t have many bad memories.
    Past-Positive 5.0 = In fact, I love the past a lot ☺.
    Present Fatalism 1.56 = This may reflect my desire to control events rather than think that I can’t be in charge.
    Present Hedonism 3.33 = I need to have more fun in the present if I am going for the perfect scores.
    Future 4.08 = A bit above the mark on future but not too much (I am a planner at heart).
    Transcendental Future 2.9 = That’s pretty much accurate.

    To summarize, I think that these results indicate that I may need to increase my hedonistic tendencies! Interestingly, most of those who posted their scores here scored lower than the “perfect” score. I guess I will need to read the book to learn how the researchers determined perfection.

    This blog post may be related to today’s topic: http://www.thinkproductive.co.uk/simple-things-you-can-do-today-that-will-make-you-happier/ In the conclusion, Wendy Smith notes, “As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to grow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, …” Maybe my age has a bit to do with my scores on the past negative and past positive areas!

  • Thanks for the great link, Mama PoP!

  • […] was reflecting on Mrs PoP’s recent Happy Friday post where she discussed Time Perspective Therapy. Readers posted their scores on two online Time Perspective exams that they took to gain insight […]