09: Emotional Forecasting

We identified an emotion regulation strategy, which can be termed emotional forecasting, being forecasting of emotions to regulate emotions here and now. This strategy is especially relevant for people and groups with a strong focus on and belief in an afterlife, which will be surrounded by more positive emotions. We see emotional forecasting as a subtype of cognitive reappraisal, as cognition about another emotional future is the means for emotional regulation in present time.

The concept emotional forecasting is, to our knowledge, a new concept, introduced by us as an emotion regulation strategy. Earlier research and concepts that have thematized forecasting of feelings have inspired this concept. Earlier research has highlighted that humans would like to be able to predict their future level of happiness (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). The term affective forecasting was defined by Wilson and Gilbert (2003) as “people’s predictions about their future feelings” (p. 345). Research on emotional impact bias has described how humans often overestimate the level of future emotions (Van Dijk et al., 2012), and the concept affective forecasting biases is likewise used to describe the phenomena that people systematically overestimate both the intensity and duration of future feelings (Miloyan & Suddendorf, 2015). Also, we were inspired by the point made by Averill, that people can have real expectations of emotional experiences in the afterlife (Averill, 1996).

Emotional Forecasting of Happiness

Being a JW is not connected to expectations of happiness only, as this informant stated: “It is not just like, ‘I am a JW. Consequently, I have peace, or consequently, I am happy every day’ ” (YW). Among JWs, evil and hardship in life are explained with Satan being the ruler on earth, until Jehovah wins the war of Armageddon. Among informants, acceptance of negative emotions is combined with expectations of future happiness, being an emotional forecasting activity. This informant said she has the knowledge necessary to reappraise, and having that leads to more positive emotions being connected and having been given order and safety, even if the world is at its end:

I feel it [to be a JW] provides safety as well. Looking at the news, there is one catastrophe after another. Does it all lead in the wrong direction? Now, I know it will. But then it will end well. There is a solution. It gives a little more order to many things also. It is very safe and good [to be a JW]. (OW)

A younger JW gave words to the group expectation of happiness in the future being stronger than the level of happiness possible today, as “real life” will be in Paradise: “We are happy. But then we await life because we see this life as temporary. We look forward to the real life in Paradise” (YM).

Today, we must accept hardships, but as JWs explain, the situation will end. Having access to the reappraisal tool, knowing that, before Armageddon, things will get worse before better, gives a feeling of safety today together with expectations of future happiness.

Among informants, the forecasting of more happiness in the future is reported to regulate emotions today. For example, as already highlighted, JWs often prioritize working for Jehovah, and this work is experienced as involving negative emotions, even when regulated with the cognitive reappraisal strategies earlier described. An additional reappraisal strategy is emotional forecasting:

[Regarding thinking about life in future Paradise]: That is what motivates me, motivates going out doing recruitment work and things like that. I motivate myself by thinking of positive things. It will be good when I can just go out feeling the good weather and totally relax with no stress. And just pick fruit from the trees, and eat well. No stress. I hope it occurs in the not too distant future. There are many who suffer today. (OM)

Forecasts of Paradise are motivators to accept negative emotions, described in the last quote with the terms “stress” and “suffering”. Simultaneously, forecasting of more positive emotions in a future Paradise are reportedly influencing and regulating emotions here and now. To have a positive future prospect contributes to the down-regulation of difficult emotions through the reappraisal process of using emotional forecasts. The strategy of emotional forecasting, using mental images of Paradise, is advised to members of the religious community of JWs. One woman said: “We are encouraged in a way to try and picture it. Paint it in front of our eyes” (OW).

Happiness is the dominant forecasted future emotion, and the duration is expected to be forever for the survivors. The informants reported a variation of emotionally positive activities they will do in Paradise, due to personal preferences or interests, as this man described: “It could be as banal as a trip to the mountains to snowboard from the peak or sailing around the world” (OM). The future prospect is an endless time filled with positive emotions and personally preferable activities.

The informants forecasted that, in Paradise, their body will be restored and become a young adult: “And our parents will look as young as us,” as one woman (OW) stated. Illnesses are reported to disappear in the forthcoming Paradise, along with handicaps and physical difficulties. Mental health is also forecasted to improve radically:

I am pleased to think about friends being critically ill are going to get their freedom back. That is part of Paradise. You do not need to feel psychic imperfect, and that must be lovely. You will no more think like “Oh why did I do that stupid thing?” (OW)

Negative feelings will disappear, as stated by another JW: “And at times, I think about how good it will be [in Paradise] not to become tired as we are now. We become easily tired, stressed, sad and the like” (OW).

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