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Keywords:

  • dispositional optimism;
  • life satisfaction;
  • lifespan development

Abstract

Dispositional optimism is typically conceptualized with respect to generalized positive expectancies for personal future outcomes. The present work draws on lifespan development theory to evaluate how dispositional optimists and pessimists from across the lifespan evaluate their past, present and anticipated future life satisfaction (LS). Using data from an American probability sample (n = 3871, ages = 30–84 years, 55% female), I compared dispositional optimists and pessimists across six age decades. Subjective LS trajectories reflected in mean trends in ratings of past, present and future LS were contoured by lifestage, revealing inclining trajectories among young dispositional optimists and pessimists and declining trajectories among older optimists and pessimists. After adjusting for age-specific normative trends, however, differences between dispositional optimists and pessimists in subjective LS trajectories were consistent across lifestage, revealing a single dissociative pattern wherein optimists rated their past, present and anticipated future LS more positively than did pessimists. Of the three temporal perspectives, evaluations of present (rather than past or future) LS were most consistently related to dispositional optimism. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.