Emotions: How the Future Feels (and Could Feel)

Roy Baumeister

Emotions, you might assume, are mainly in the present. So one might conclude that the future doesn't matter. With emotion we might finally have a class of phenomena to which future events, and prospections in general, are largely irrelevant. But emotions may involve the future. In this chapter we examine the relevance of future events to present emotions—and the relevance of anticipated future emotions to present events.

Consider the example of a man making a decision. He ponders several options, which means he imagines performing particular actions that bring about certain consequences, whereupon he does other things, and further consequences ensue. How does emotion enter that process? He may have some emotional states in the present while he is thinking about the future. His thoughts about the future may also predict that he will have future emotions (e.g., "I'll be sorry if X happens").

The present and future emotions may not be entirely independent. They may even be highly correlated, if present emotions sometimes arise as foretastes (especially warnings and promises) of future emotional states. Anticipating a hot romantic date might bring pleasure in the present, but this is likely linked to the expectation that the date itself will bring positive emotions.

There is, in fact, a theoretical case to be made for the overlap between present and future emotions, albeit with somewhat different forms of emotion. The next section summarizes this theory.

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