Nav: Home

Life's transitions easier with a sense of a well-rounded ending, new study shows

February 25, 2019

We are more likely to have positive feelings about transitioning from one stage of life to the next if we have a "well-rounded ending"--or one marked by a sense of closure--finds a team of psychology researchers.

"Starting a new life phase in a positive and constructive way is often challenging, so we examined methods that could help people find a good start to a new job, a new relationship, or a new home," explains Gabriele Oettingen, a professor in New York University's Department of Psychology and the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Motivation Science. "We observed that how people end their previous life periods makes a difference. In fact, the more people feel that they have done everything they could have done, that they have completed something to the fullest, and that all loose ends are tied up, the happier they are later on, the less they are plagued by regrets, and the more constructively they enter the next life phase."

Previous scholarship on life transitions has focused on new beginnings and on what may be beneficial once people have started their new life--for example, after they have moved into a new home, started a new job, or begun a new relationship. By contrast, there is minimal research on how people deal with foreseeable endings and how it affects their feelings and actions in a subsequent life phase.

In the Motivation Science paper, the researchers, who included the University of Hamburg's Bettina Schwoerer and Nora Rebekka Krott, an NYU postdoctoral fellow, asked the following: How does the way people end a previous life phase influence emotional well-being and the transition into a new beginning?

In seven studies that included more than 1,200 subjects, the scientists sought to determine whether or not people benefit from ending a life phase in a well-rounded way--that is, with a feeling that all that could have been done was done and with a sense of closure.

Across all studies, the researchers observed that well-rounded endings were associated with positive affect, little regret, and an easy transition into the next life phase.

In some, subjects reported their thoughts and feelings surrounding specific transitions:
  • College exchange students who described the end of their time abroad as "well-rounded" were more likely to feel positive after the experience, less likely to express regret about having missed out on opportunities, and more likely to express an easier transition back home than those who did not have well-rounded endings.
  • German high school seniors who saw the end of their time in a well-rounded way reported feeling more positive about starting a new life, showed less regret toward any unfinished business during school, and more productively started to cope with the challenges of the adult world than did those who did not see the end of high school in this way.
In other studies, the researchers devised experiments that tested the value of well-rounded endings.

In one, they asked subjects to read a story about fictional characters who face foreseeable endings, such as moving away from one's hometown or leaving a best friend's wedding party. Those who were led to imagine ending these periods in a well-rounded way (e.g., throwing a goodbye-party or taking the effort of looking for the friend in the crowd of wedding guests and saying good-bye) felt more positive about the event, felt less regret about unfinished business, and were not compelled to think about or act on missed opportunities and undone actions than those who were not.

In another, the researchers found that a well-rounded ending can potentially improve cognitive function. In this experiment, they organized a 10-minute audio Skype conversation between two strangers. The subjects were told that they would have 10 minutes to get to know the other person. In one condition, subjects were told that they had only two minutes left in the conversation and that they should end the call in a way that felt well-rounded and completed; participants not in the well-rounded ending condition did not receive any warning.

Notably, those participants who were given the instructions on a well-rounded ending significantly excelled in a subsequent test measuring executive function skills--specifically, selective attention and cognitive flexibility--performing significantly higher than did the subjects who did not receive these instructions.

"Ending the various phases in our lives in a well-rounded way seems to be an important building block for sustaining emotional, interpersonal, and professional happiness," observes Oettingen.
DOI: 10.1037/mot0000126

New York University

Related High School Articles:

A third of high school students ride with drivers who have been drinking
One in three high school students reports riding with a driver who has been drinking, while nearly one in five was in a car where the driver had consumed marijuana, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.
AASM position: Delaying middle school, high school start times is beneficial to students
A new position statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) asserts that the school day should begin at 8:30 a.m. or later for middle school and high school students.
Student and school variables can predict high school dropout, study finds
The gap in the high school dropout rate among students of different racial and demographic backgrounds narrows when certain variables, such as socioeconomic status and school size, are the same, according to a Georgia State University study.
What triggers a high-school student to suddenly drop out?
Divorcing parents, a car accident, a job layoff or any other major stressful event can provoke adolescents to quit their studies, a new UdeM study shows.
Nearly half of today's high school athletes specialize in one sport
Youth single sport specialization -- training and playing just one sport, often year round and on multiple teams -- is a growing phenomenon in the US A new study presented today at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), found that 45 percent of high school athletes specialize in just one sport, two years earlier than current collegiate and professional athletes say they did.
Review suggests that teens benefit from later high school start times
A review of the scientific literature by a workgroup representing the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sleep Research Society, and American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine found that later high school start times are associated with positive outcomes among teens, including longer weekday sleep durations and reduced vehicular accident rates.
Study to examine value of ECG testing for high school athletes
UT Southwestern Medical Center heart specialists will study whether electrocardiograms (ECGs) are useful in identifying Texas high school student athletes who are at risk of suffering sudden cardiac death.
Blue-collar training in high school leaves women behind
What's the best way to prepare high schoolers for jobs in the 21st century?
Condom use among high school girls using long-acting contraception
High school girls who used intrauterine devices and implants for long-acting reversible contraception were less likely to also use condoms compared with girls who used oral contraceptives, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.
High school football helmets offer similar protections despite different prices
Despite prices, promises and even ratings systems, all helmets approved for high school football players appear to offer similar protection against concussion, according to a new study from the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus .

Related High School Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".