When the children were young, we spent hours every summer bobbing around in our local pool. One of the games they loved was called, “Going to New York.” I was holding Mega Daughter in my arms one day, enjoying the cool blue water when I spontaneously said, “Let’s go to New York.” Then I made motor boat/ plane/ car noises while I carried her to another part of the pool. When we arrived in “New York”, I talked about everything we saw—the tall buildings, northern birds, men in suits, busses, yellow cabs. After I talked my way through “New York,” I’d chug over to another part of the pool and talk about some other exotic locale.
As the children got old enough to join the conversation, we added destinations of their choice, such as the feed store, the deer factory, Grandma’s house, Disney World, and the Queen’s Palace. I doubt if my children even remember this game, because they outgrew it as soon as they were able to leave my arms. When I played the game, I wasn’t consciously trying to teach them anything. However, now that I have hindsight and age in my favor, I hope I affected their ability to anticipate positive events while they visited the “world” from the safety of their tiny reality.
Recently, there has been some interesting research about the power of anticipating a positive event or experience. It seems people gain more happiness from planning for experiences than having the experience itself. Here are some interesting articles about this research:
- The Benefits of Anticipation
- Another Reason to Spend Money on Experiences Rather than Things
- Sometimes Its Good To Have To Wait
I heard about this correlation between anticipation and happiness on NPR just a couple of days before we confirmed our travel to Munich, Germany. Normally, I would have stifled some of my planning impulses for fear of being labeled obsessive, but since I knew it would add to my happiness, I went plan crazy! Here are some of the anticipatory moves which gladdened my heart. I…
- Purchased a Bavarian guidebook and a German phrase book from Rick Steves, my European Sensei.
- From Rick Steves’ website, I also bought packing cubes. I don’t know how I ever traveled without these inexpensive little gems.
- Did an extensive search for a new carry on suitcase, including looking at Consumer Reports.
- Took an afternoon to shop for said carry-on. I pulled on handles and lifted and checked the weights of bags. I finally purchased a 21” TravelPro, because it was the sturdiest and got excellent reviews.
- Watched YouTube videos about what Germany was like, gaining the perspective of people who are much younger than me. I really enjoyed hearing their ideas of what to do and not to do when coming to Germany. Here is the one I enjoyed the most, about the Werewolves and the Zombies.
- Researched and purchased tour tickets to some Bavarian Castles, Salzburg, Austria, and Dachau Concentration Camp.
- Bought a few “Easy Travel,” clothes. I always do this before a big trip, and it’s always enjoyable. This time I didn’t feel bad about it.
In addition to the research stating anticipation of an experience adds to happiness more than the experience itself, I posit the following: when we anticipate an experience, the planning we do actually makes the experience more enjoyable, therefore increasing our sense of happiness over the experience as a whole. I feel this was true for me. Because I did all of the things I wanted to do to get ready for the trip, we were stress-free when we arrived in Germany. I was able to sleep for a few hours on the flight over for the first time ever, and I know my preparedness played a role in my relaxed state.
The other anticipation I made sure to savor was the anticipation of coming home. When I was sitting on the airplane for the sixteenth hour in a row, trying to decide what my next movie was going to be (I watched six movies. Six. In a row.), I anticipated the feel of my bed, the whoosh of the ceiling fan, and the thumping tails of my dogs. I noticed the wildflowers, the cattle roaming across the gentle slopes of hills, and the sunniness of my homeland in the days after our arrival. Knowing that I was coming back to the experience of my everyday life gave me great satisfaction.
Now that I’ve experienced the power of positive anticipation for myself, I want to encourage you, dear reader, to think of an experience you want to have and spend some time anticipating that experience. It doesn’t have to cost money. “Going to New York,” didn’t cost us anything, but it was fun to talk with my children about the magic of faraway places.
And something we said to our children about anticipation must have stuck, because both our son and our daughter made their own trips to Europe in the month of March with their respective spouses. And we anticipated their pre-trip visits and phone calls home, their texts and emails during their trips, and the post-trip debriefings, which will take some time to finish. Our game of “Going to New York, Frankfurt, Brussels, Istanbul, and Paris,” isn’t over, and we anticipate playing it again with great joy.
[Note: What about when we anticipate a negative event? This research suggests our anticipation, or worry, doesn’t change the feelings the negative event produces, and the anticipation doesn’t soften the blow of the negative event when it occurs. It sounds like the only benefit of anticipation is when it’s over something positive. Of course, my Grandma could have told me that over a cup of coffee.]
What about you? What do you do when anticipating a positive experience? How did the anticipation add to your happiness?