Pleasure Now, Pain Later: Positive Fantasies About the Future Predict Symptoms of Depression

Gabriele Oettingen, Doris Mayer, Sam Portnow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Though common sense suggests that positive thinking shelters people from depression, the four studies reported here showed that this intuition needs to be qualified: Positive thinking in the form of fantasies about the future did indeed relate to decreased symptoms of depression when measured concurrently; however, positive fantasies predicted more depressive symptoms when measured longitudinally. The pattern of results was observed for different indicators of fantasies and depression, in adults and in schoolchildren, and for periods of up to 7 months (Studies 1–4). In college students, low academic success partially mediated the predictive relation between positive fantasies and symptoms of depression (Study 4). Results add to existing research on the problematic effects of positive fantasies on performance by suggesting that indulging in positive fantasies predicts problems in mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-353
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • concurrent vs. longitudinal
  • fantasies
  • positive thinking
  • symptoms of depression
  • thinking about the future

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Pleasure Now, Pain Later: Positive Fantasies About the Future Predict Symptoms of Depression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this