Striving to Feel Good: Ideal Affect, Actual Affect, and Their Correspondence Across Adulthood

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The experience of positive affect is essential for healthy functioning and quality of life. Although there is a great deal of research on ways in which people regulate negative states, little is known about the regulation of positive states. In the present study we examined age differences in the types of positive states people strive to experience and the correspondence between their desired and actual experiences. Adults aged 18–93 years of age described their ideal positive affect states. Then, using experience-sampling over a 7-day period, they reported their actual positive affect experiences. Two types of positive affect were assessed: low-arousal (calm, peaceful, relaxed) and high-arousal (excited, proud). Young participants valued both types of positive affect equally. Older participants, however, showed increasingly clear preferences for low-arousal over high-arousal positive affect. Older adults reached both types of positive affective goals more often than younger adults (indicated by a smaller discrepancy between actual and ideal affect). Moreover, meeting ideal levels of positive low-arousal affect (though not positive high-arousal affect) was associated with individuals' physical health, over and above levels of actual affect. Findings underscore the importance of considering age differences in emotion-regulatory goals related to positive experience.

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