From Scientific American:
Does the language we speak determine how healthy and rich we will be? New research by Keith Chen of Yale Business School suggests so. The structure of languages affects our judgments and decisions about the future and this might have dramatic long-term consequences. There has been a lot of research into how we deal with the future. For example, the famous marshmallow studies of Walter Mischel and colleagues showed that being able to resist temptation is predictive of future success. Four-year-old kids were given a marshmallow and were told that if they do not eat that marshmallow and wait for the experimenter to come back, they will get two marshmallows instead of one. Follow-up studies showed that the kids who were able to wait for the bigger future reward became more successful young adults.
Resisting our impulses for immediate pleasure is often the only way to attain the outcomes that are important to us. We want to keep a slim figure but we also want that last slice of pizza. We want a comfortable retirement, but we also want to drive that dazzling car, go on that dream vacation, or get those gorgeous shoes. Some people are better at delaying gratification than others. Those people have a better chance of accumulating wealth and keeping a healthy life style. They are less likely to be impulse buyers or smokers, or to engage in unsafe sex. Chen’s recent findings suggest that an unlikely factor, language, strongly affects our future-oriented behavior. Some languages strongly distinguish the present and the future. Other languages only weakly distinguish the present and the future. Chen’s recent research suggests that people who speak languages that weakly distinguish the present and the future are better prepared for the future. They accumulate more wealth and they are better able to maintain their health. The way these people conceptualize the future is similar to the way they conceptualize the present. As a result, the future does not feel very distant and it is easier for them to act in accordance with their future interests.