Live A Better Life: How Having Something To Look Forward To Makes It Easier to Get Through The Day
Sometimes scientists tell us things we already know. Here’s one: if you had a vacation coming up, you’d probably feel a little happier (Nawijn, 2011). It’s a finding that applies across the board: having something to look forward to makes us feel better. It can be something huge, like a vacation, or it can be something small like a new t-shirt or a tasty snack. Marketing is built on how happy anticipation makes us (Vichiengior et al., 2019): the fun of finding and buying new things is all about what we’re looking forward to. We look at a new jacket and imagine feeling confident, cool, and collected as we wear it out the door.
But looking forward to something good is something we can use, too. In fact, we can use it to make ourselves feel better.
Here’s the science. It turns out that anticipation—which just means “expecting something to happen”—is more emotionally powerful than memory. That’s true for positive expectations like holidays, negative expectations like loud, unpleasant sounds, and totally imaginary expectations like suddenly going on an ultra-luxury vacation (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007). How we’re feeling on any given day has a huge amount to do with what we think is going to happen next, and how we feel about it.
Other studies look at things a different way. They surveyed people about their “subjective well-being”—basically happiness—and a bunch of other factors like how much money they earn, how many friends they have, and so on. And then they asked people whether they tend to think good things are going to happen. Like, specific good things. Do you think you’ll do something fun with your kids this weekend? Is dinner going to be good? And we get the same result: happiness is pretty closely linked to having things to look forward to (MacLeod & Conway, 2005).
What does all this mean for us? Well, it means we need things to look forward to throughout the day to help us stay stable, calm, focused and happy.
For some people, that means gratitude journaling, or scheduling family time at the end of the day.
For others, it means something smaller, like a cigarette.
And for some, it means Terss.
Your Terss is a rush of gratification that you can carry in a purse or pocket; during low moments, or when you’re feeling down, remind yourself that you always have that opportunity to escape. To find a moment of calm, to satisfy your urge to smoke.
Pull out your Terss and take a minute. Breathe deep. Enjoy how it feels. Remind yourself that the satisfaction it gives you isn’t going anywhere.
Let it be a little ray of sunshine that you carry with you. Let it be just one thing that you know will go right. Trust the Terss, and if you still aren’t sure, well…trust the science.
MacLeod, A. K., & Conway, C. (2005). Well‐being and the anticipation of future positive experiences: The role of income, social networks, and planning ability. Cognition & Emotion, 19(3), 357-374.
Nawijn, J. (2011). Happiness through vacationing: Just a temporary boost or long-term benefits?. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(4), 651-665.
Van Boven, L., & Ashworth, L. (2007). Looking forward, looking back: Anticipation is more evocative than retrospection. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136(2), 289.
Vichiengior, T., Ackermann, C. L., & Palmer, A. (2019). Consumer anticipation: antecedents, processes and outcomes. Journal of Marketing Management, 35(1-2), 130-159.