Life is full of transitions. Finishing high school, starting college, starting a new job, marking a significant age.
For some people, transitioning through the life stages is easier, but for others it can be a time of difficulty.
Now researchers from New York University have found that having a “well-rounded ending” creates a better experience characterised by positive feelings.
The study, which appeared in the journal Motivational Science examined methods through which people could phase new life stages in a constructive way. The authors found that how people end the previous life phase makes a significant difference in how they then move into the next life stage.
Senior author Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at NYU said the inspiration for the study came from her own life experiences.
“Friends of mine and acquaintances of mine were struggling with the time our children left the home to go off to college. At that time I was observing that people handled this foreseen in a very different way. Some fell right into it and others were much more prepared for it,” she told Theravive.
Previous research on life transitions had largely focused on the new beginning, and how people could best cope in a new environment like a new job, new home or new relationship. Until now, there has been minimal research into what Oettingen refers to as foreseeable endings, and how such transitions can impact people.
In undertaking her research, Oettingen and colleagues studied 1200 participants and sought to understand how ending a previous life phase influenced the emotional well-being of a person as they embarked on a new life phase.
In one aspect of the research, participants were asked to reflect on their feelings towards particular transitions. College students who described the end of their time abroad as “well-rounded” were found to be more likely to have an easier transition when returning home, and were more likely to feel positive about the experience than those who didn’t feel they had a well-rounded ending.
Similarly, high school seniors involved in the study who saw the end of their schooling as well-rounded felt more positive about beginning a new life phase after school. They were also able to cope with the challenges after school more productively when compared with their peers who didn’t feel a well-rounded ending.
In another aspect of the study, researchers asked participants to read a fictional story where characters face a foreseeable ending. The participants who were asked to imagine a well-rounded ending to the story (like a farewell party before moving away) were more likely to feel positive about the event.
“We found that it’s important a foreseen ending in a well-rounded way, in a way you feel you’ve found closure and completion. That would give a more positive feeling… and you later on would have fewer regrets,” Oettingen told Theravive.
The researchers also found that having a well-rounded ending also had the potential to improve cognitive function. To study this, the researchers arranged for study participants to have a 10 minute skype conversation with a stranger. The participants were instructed they only had 10 minutes to get to know each other. In one pair, the participants were told they only had two minutes remaining in the conversation, and they should aim to end the call in a well-rounded way, the other pair received no warning.
The pairs who were given the opportunity for a well-rounded ending later excelled in a test measuring their executive function skills.
Oettingen says a well-rounded ending isn’t just a buzz word, but an important part of life transitions.
“The term well-rounded endings is just a metaphor for what it means to complete something, to feel closure to think “ok this is all I could have done,” she told Theravive.
She argues that having a well-rounded ending and through it a sense of closure provides an important foundation for emotional, interpersonal and professional happiness, as well as playing an important role in mental health.
Regrets from a lack of closure or well-rounded endings, Oettingen says, can be detrimental for mental health and prevent people feeling positive about the future.
“If we can make people aware that finding closure and finding completeness in foreseeable endings would actually reduce these feelings of regret and feeling of resentment for others… then we can actually help people to focus on the here and now, to focus on the future, to take action and actually make the best out of their present situation,” she said.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.