Drawing on temporal and social comparison perspectives, we examined sources of the widespread belief that life gets better and better over time by determining how young adults evaluate their past, present and anticipated future life satisfaction (LS) relative to beliefs about normative others. We assessed whether patterns of subjective LS trajectories based on self-versus-normative other discrepancies varied as a function of self-esteem and whether such patterns were accounted for by hope, encompassing goal-related cognitions and motivations. University participants (n = 394) completed measures of their own and normative others' past, present and anticipated future LS, as well as self-esteem and hope scales. Results from latent growth curve analyses demonstrated that high-self-esteem and low-self-esteem individuals perceived normative others' LS as progressing on a similar upward subjective temporal trajectory; however, high-self-esteem individuals perceived self-improvement from past to present LS and self-consistency from present to future LS relative to others. Low-self-esteem individuals perceived self-consistency from past to present LS and self-improvement from present to future LS relative to others. These associations were accounted for by hope. This research highlights the utility of combining temporal and social comparison perspectives for understanding how people envision their LS unfolding over time. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.