Making plans can be fun. Mapping out a future vacation, figuring out dinner plans with family for the weekend, buying tickets to see an afternoon movie. It’s exciting to think about where you’ll stay, who you’ll go out with, what you’ll eat.
Anticipating the event can be almost as enjoyable as the experience. In fact, numerous studies, including research in the “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,” show that looking forward to an event can actually lift your mood and lower your stress.
“Anticipation also affords us control and optimism, which are deeply meaningful, positive experiences,” says Deborah Serani, psychologist, professor at Adelphi University, and author of the forthcoming book “Sometimes When I Worry.”
To add more joy to your days, start anticipating upcoming experiences, big and small, with these six ideas.
Small, pleasing activities might seem insignificant, but they can help you appreciate the day, Serani says. Think about which activities and simple pleasures you enjoy. You can even add them to your planner for the week. If you love having a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, think about how much you’ll enjoy it before you go to bed. Plan to walk with friends during lunch, or schedule time to catch up with a family member. Each day, take a minute or two to reflect on your feelings of excitement.
Take out your planner and brainstorm several special occasions or events. As Serani says, “Make it a common practice to arrange meaningful celebrations, travel experiences, or even staycations throughout the year.”
Once you’ve booked an event, boost your anticipation with a countdown. Mark off passing dates on a calendar with stickers, or simply check them off. Or similar to a Christmas Advent calendar, do something special each day to countdown the month prior to the event.
Going to a snowy wonderland for the first time ever? Grab a bunch of wintertime books from the library to read. Heading to the beach this summer? For a few weeks before you go, watch your favorite films that take place at the ocean.
To deepen your anticipation, close your eyes for several moments and picture the events you’re looking forward to doing. Use your five senses to enhance your visualization. During the upcoming experience, what will you be seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting?
Consider the benefits.
Reflect on why you’re excited about an upcoming event or experience. For example, what do you enjoy about your walks, morning break, or catch-up sessions? How does each experience you’re looking forward to add to your life? If you’d like, jot down these benefits, which also helps promote gratitude—another powerful mood booster and stress reliever.
Anticipation isn’t always all positive. Sometimes we’re excited but also nervous (called anticipatory anxiety). The key, according to several studies, is to relabel your anxiety as excitement, which helps you adopt an opportunity-focused mindset versus a threat-based perspective. For example, you might change “I’m so worried about running into heavy traffic on my trip” to “I’m excited to listen to several podcasts while traveling.” “Using this approach allows you to anticipate problem solving instead of anticipating failure,” Serani says.
Expand your outlook.
Some of us are afraid of anticipating good outcomes or looking forward to an event, because there’s a chance we’ll be disappointed. You might think that whenever you have fun plans, something goes wrong, or the weather might ruin your trip to the beach.
What can help? Try to replace your perfectionism and unrealistic expectations with a curious, flexible, and more nuanced outlook. “Measuring an experience in all-or-nothing terms takes away from the fact that while it may rain during your trip,” Serani says, “there may be other memories, moments, and outcomes that arise from that disappointment that are truly magical and meaningful.”