Today’s misery and yesterday’s happiness: Differential effects of current life-events on perceptions of past wellbeing

Negative events – such as romantic disappointment, social rejection or academic failure – influence how we feel and what we think. Either component can influence evaluations of our past life, but in opposite ways: when sad feelings serve as a source of information, they give rise to negative evaluations; when current events serve as a standard of comparison, they give rise to positive evaluations. Because comparison requires applicability of the standard, its benefits should be limited to the domain of the event. Consistent with this rationale, three experiments showed a robust paradoxical effect: people who experienced romantic disappointment (Experiment 1), social exclusion (Experiment 2) or academic failure (Experiment 3) were more satisfied with their past romantic, social, or academic life, but less satisfied with all other domains of their past. The negative influence in unrelated domains was mediated by mood, whereas the positive influence in the event domain was not. Thus, last year's social life looks good compared to today's social rejection, but all other aspects of last year's life suffer.