How looking forward may help you experience a more joyful life

Taking the dog for a walk this morning I was delighted to see little green blades of grass pushing through the dust bowl that had been left by a long hot summer. I have been looking forward to autumn this year and the few days of rain made such a difference to our surroundings and my mood.

This had me musing about the role of anticipation in contributing to our psychological well-being. A little bit of searching showed that there is good research evidence for the link between anticipation and happiness.

Outcomes of five experiments, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General in 2007, found that people reported more intense emotions when anticipating an event, than they did when recalling an event after it had happened.

More recent studies in a real-world context have shown anticipation of an enjoyable event boosts happiness and reduces symptoms of depression. Lucky Dutch vacationers continued to feel happy after their return home, but only those whose holiday was “very relaxed” and unfortunately only for a short time (about two weeks). The stresses of everyday life don’t go away when we do!

So, what does this mean for us?

When we are feeling down, planning for something positive in the future can be a good thing to do.

Before you go ahead and purchase a yearly planner which you can gleefully fill with things to look forward to, there are a few caveats.

Firstly, make sure you enjoy the process at least as much as “the big event”. Sit back and imagine what fun you’ll have. Put up a screensaver of the places you will be travelling to, or the things you might be doing.

The tricky part is balancing anticipation with reasonable expectations – after all things don’t always go according to plan.Be prepared to go with the flow when the time comes to go away, or take part in the activity you have been waiting for. Accept what happens and find the joy in this.

Of course, pleasurable anticipation doesn’t have to be limited to any one event or be about something that will happen in the distant future. As well as daydreaming about the holiday which you hope will happen in a few years, relish the anticipation of going to a concert in a few weeks’ time (yes, remember the tickets on your pin-up board!) or plans to visit Hahndorf for some German sausages on the weekend.  

Looking forward to positive things that happen in your daily life is a great way to improve your mood. Plan a meal you’ll enjoy, or what about the TV programme you’re looking forward to watching tonight? The key is to think positively about this during the day when you might otherwise be bogged down in your routine activities. It doesn’t hurt too, to reflect on these events after the event – gratitude is a subject for another blog!

There may be times when it feels too hard to find the energy or motivation to plan for good things to happen, or you may be overwhelmed by events out of your control. If this is the case, you may find it helpful to talk to one of the experienced Psychologists at Attuned Psychology. Feel free to call our friendly reception staff  to make a time to come into see one of us.

Dr Angela Crettenden

Clinical Psychologist

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