Our Minds Would Rather Look Forward to a Thing Than to Actually Do It
“I don’t think she said, ‘The waiting is the hardest part,’ but it was something to that effect: ‘Everything else is just waiting.’ And so that’s where that came from.”
Waiting can be dreadful. Indeed, this is true if you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, the license branch, or for a table at your favorite restaurant, but could it be possible that anticipation of positive occasions is better than the actual event?
“Anticipation of experiences was linked to greater happiness, more pleasantness, more excitement and less impatience than was anticipation of material possessions. Looking forward to a vacation or other such experience was also more positive overall than not thinking of any new purchase.”
In my life, it seems to be true that anticipation is better than the event itself. How about for you?
Going on a Much Needed Vacation
If you’ve been working hard, you look forward to a vacation. Whether it’s a staycation or a trip that changes locations, you likely spend a lot of time thinking about the trip. What will you take with you? You plan the perfect outfit for a special occasion or the right beachwear. If it’s a couples trip or a family trip, you talk about the travel differently.
Maybe the kids are old enough, and you’re escaping for some couple time. You’re probably talking with each other about late nights and early mornings without the kids, what you’re going to wear or not wear, and the things you can do without the kids.
A family trip involves a lot of “I can’t wait until we go,” kind of conversations, especially from the kids, and the excitement mounts as the number of days decrease before your departure. Likely, you’ve planned for pets to be boarded or cared for in your absence and the home to be looked after by a neighbor. The kids have packed their favorite entertainment for the trip and anticipate leaving until you get in the car and the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” questions come repeatedly.
I remember hiking El Camino de Santiago, and we studied in preparation for the experience. Excitement grew as we planned our adventure. What trip have you anticipated? Perhaps an anniversary, birthday, or holiday?
Holidays are Better Before They Arrive
Judging from personal experiences, holidays are always better before they get here, especially as an adult. Kids have the wonder and awe of special events. They draw pictures, imagine, and dream about how good the special day will be. They hunger for the food, the cookies or cake in the oven. Children salivate for the event, like Pavlov’s dogs, and hunger for the occasion in a way adults can hope to do.
One study says that children have the ability to think about the future with intensity and passion. As adults, we look back and consider the carefree nature children have as they hope and desire with abandon. Many times our mature perspective taints the goodness with an awareness of life and circumstance. We seek to create unforgettable moments for kids hoping that we can remember what we had, and desire to reclaim some of the goodness through their joy.
The Next Big Purchase
You look forward to the next purchase as you would a new car. Consider the times you’ve purchased new furniture, gotten a new bedding set, or bought a bigger television for better home viewing. Perhaps you saved money and planned the delivery for a special occasion: birthday, milestone, or holiday gathering.
The new table to seat the extended family is finally coming to fruition. Or the bigger tv to watch sports with the guys is coming. The kids eventually left the nest, and the furniture you’ve always wanted is on its way. You look to buy a bigger house for the grandkids to come and play, or look to buy a smaller place so you can visit the kids wherever they go.
Science says you’re only temporarily happy unless you buy things that match your personality. You can purchase items that society thinks will make you happy, but the delight lasts longer when the things you purchase amplify the pleasure of the way you already live. If not, your exuberance is short-lived, even spoiled.
Don’t Offer a Spoiler, Unless It’s a Tease
It can be desirable to offer a teaser or enhance joy for someone else. Ever been reading a book you’ve been looking forward to, and someone says something like, you’re going to love the ending; it’s unexpected? Suddenly you’re more excited and find time to turn the pages even faster to get to the good part. The converse is true when someone spoils the ending. Now the desire to finish the story is gone. You may as well put the book back on the shelf because someone spoiled the ending.
The same can be true for a new movie release. Maybe you’ve been looking forward to seeing the book you love played out on the big screen, but a coworker spoiled the movie when you casually mentioned you were going to watch it. It’s similar to reading the reviews before viewing the production. You want to make up your own mind. Some of the best conversations about books and movies happen after you’ve viewed them, but seldom before you’ve enjoyed the experience. Spoilers taint the experience unless you add to someone’s anticipation.
You may have had it backward all along. Looking back, it’s not the event itself that is the best part. Just like a kid on Christmas morning, it’s the anticipation of a thing, before it happens, that brings the most immense pleasure. Afterward, you can look back on the experience, and it’s often a letdown of all that you’ve hoped for. Look forward to the things you enjoy and try to stay away from ways events might be spoiled. Waiting is the best part, not the hardest part. The joyful anticipation is better than the thing itself. Don’t you agree?