Most people believe their lives will improve in the future — and so do most people who are depressed, according to research published in Clinical Psychological Science. This counterintuitive finding that depressed people expect their future to be better has important implications for attempts at therapeutic intervention in depression, wrote the two psychologists from Canada’s Brock and Acadia universities who authored the study.
The researchers used data gathered from the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) survey, a nationally representative sample of non-institutionalized, middle-aged, English-speaking Americans who were interviewed twice, ten years apart. Predictably, the researchers found that people who’d been identified as the most depressed generally reported lower levels of “Life Satisfaction” than did non-depressed individuals. They also found that those depressed people tended to regard their past and current circumstances in more negative ways, while non-depressed people tended to feel as if their lives had been steadily improving overall. However, both groups had the same degree of expectation that their level of Life Satisfaction in the future would rise.
“That the negative thinking patterns characteristic of depressed individuals do not translate into anticipating a dark or darker future relative to one’s past and present lives (but rather an improved future) provides startling new evidence concerning the pervasiveness of this belief,” wrote the researchers.
Could this positive expectation about the future among depressed people actually be a cloaked form of hopelessness, like a hopeful vision against which depressed people then judge themselves and their present, asked the researchers. “Although it may seem counterintuitive to interpret an inclining subjective trajectory as a sign of hopelessness, in nonclinical samples, steeper upward trajectories are, in fact, linked with lower levels of dispositional hope and greater dispositional pessimism, which is itself strongly linked with hopelessness,” they commented. “Thus, among depressed individuals, visions of a much improved personal future may be a form of escapism or wishful thinking rather than a reflection of one’s confidence in achieving a more satisfying future.”
The researchers wrote that the findings suggested that helping depressed people develop “realistic and concrete plans” for achieving their anticipated future could be therapeutic. “Such an approach may be particularly useful in therapies that focus on behavioral activation, goal setting, and commitment to self-change through effective self-regulation.”
(Abstract) Do (Even) Depressed Individuals Believe That Life Gets Better and Better? The Link Between Depression and Subjective Trajectories for Life Satisfaction (Busseri, Michael A. and Peck, Emily. Clinical Psychological Science. Published online before print October 17, 2014. Doi: 10.1177/2167702614547265)