Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Program Name/Specialization

Social Psychology


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Dr. Anne E. Wilson

Advisor Role



In Western society we encounter contrasting prescriptions for how to live a happy life. Some argue the key to life satisfaction is living in the moment (e.g., seize the day), while others herald the importance of focusing on the future (e.g., pursuing goals, following one’s dreams). We suspect, however, that these prescriptions do not work the same for everyone. The goal of the present research is to examine whether the relation between temporal focus (focusing on a present versus future goal) and life satisfaction (LS) might be moderated by participants’ implicit theories of change and stability (Dweck, 1999). Incremental theorists believe that they can change with time and effort, whereas entity theorists believe their core attributes are relatively stable over time. We hypothesized that, because incremental theorists may feel more control over personal change and future outcomes, they may derive more immediate satisfaction from prioritizing future goals over present ones. In contrast, entity theorists may feel less certain about ‘what may be’ in the future and are likely to feel more satisfied with life when pursuing more assured present rewards instead of striving for the unknown proceeds of the future. In Study 1, we examined these concepts correlationally. We measured willingness to sacrifice the present for the future, implicit theories and life satisfaction. We found that, as predicted, incremental theorists felt more LS when they endorsed a willingness to sacrifice the present for the future, whereas entity theorists felt more LS when they were less willing to sacrifice present goals for future ones. In Studies 2 and 3 we experimentally manipulated the tension between present and future focus. We asked participants to describe a recent decision where they either chose to pursue a future goal (over a present one) or they chose a present goal (over a future one) and then they indicated their overall satisfaction with life (e.g., Diener et al., 1984). Study 3 used a more controlled set of goals (spending and saving goals) and demonstrates that incremental theorists were more satisfied when they chose to pursue the future goal over the present one whereas entity theorists showed the reverse pattern; but this effect only occurred among those with lower initial life satisfaction. In Study 4, we directly examined the relationship between implicit theories and feelings of personal control over future goals, a likely process variable. We found a significant relation between implicit theories and feelings of certainty of future goal attainment: incremental theorists were more certain about future goal attainment. Moreover, certainty about future goal attainment mediated the relationship between implicit theories and life satisfaction. In Study 5 we sought to manipulate this process variable (goal certainty) as part of establishing a causal link between feelings of future goal controllability and life satisfaction. We elicited feelings of perceived control (or lack of control) of a future goal outcome and found that participants were generally more satisfied when the future was made to feel controllable than when it was made to feel uncontrollable. Additional exploration of the data suggested that low-LS entity theorists might still have difficulty deriving satisfaction even from controllable future goals. Overall, the findings suggest that implicit theories of change and stability importantly moderate the satisfaction in life that people may feel when deciding whether to live for today or sacrifice immediate gains to pursue their future.

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