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Happy People Get the Big Picture

Good Mood Lets You Look Beyond Daily Grind

Good Mood, Bad Mood Experiments continued...

Students in a good mood were more likely to find academic goals important when they focused on the abstract why question. Students in a bad mood were more likely to find academic goals important when the focused on the concrete how question.

Next, 90 students were asked to free associate to 10 positive words, 10 neutral words, or 10 negative words -- a task known to put people in a good, neutral, or bad mood. Then the students watched one of two orange juice ads. One ad said you should drink orange juice because it's an investment in your future health. The other ad said you should drink orange juice because it would ensure your health today.

Sure enough, students in a good mood were more likely to say they'd buy orange juice after seeing the future-benefit ad. Those in a bad mood were more likely to buy based on the immediate-benefit ad.

Finally, the researchers asked 69 students to focus on either academic goals or friendship goals. Then the students were asked to re-experience the best or worst day of their lives. After undergoing a free-association task, the students were given a scenario in which a person must decide between studying for an exam the next day or seeing an old friend who is passing through town on the way out of the country.

When cued to think about academic goals, students in a good mood were more likely than bad-mood students to choose studying for the exam. But when cued to think about friendship goals, students in a good mood were more likely than bad-mood students to choose seeing their old pal.

Good Mood, Big Picture

Taken together, Labroo and Patrick say, the findings show that a good mood makes people see things in more abstract terms. A good mood will lead people to adopt general, long-term goals -- but only those long-term goals seen as accessible.

"We propose that a positive mood, by signaling that a situation is benign, might allow people to step back and take in the big picture," they write. "In contrast, a negative mood, by signaling not only danger but its imminence, might focus attention on immediate and proximal concerns and reduce the adoption of abstract future goals."

The study appears in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

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