No doubt about it. We live in a world of immediate gratification – instant messaging, instant movies and music, instant meals. But are we missing out on the benefits that can come from anticipatory pleasure? Anticipating future pleasure may be an underrated experience. Such anticipation gives you the chance to imagine and revel in upcoming joys, to see new possibilities in your mind’s eye, to feel yourself on an upward spiral. In fact, just by anticipating future laughter you are boosting your health-promoting hormones and reducing your stress.
Anticipatory pleasure has another benefit. It builds up a tolerance for difficulties. As Paul Rozin, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, points out: “If you’re used to snapping your fingers and getting what you want, you’ll have problems when you face something that takes hard work.” Consider a classic experiment in delayed gratification. A researcher offered hungry four-year-olds a marshmallow. The children were then told that if they could wait until the researcher returned before eating the marshmallow, they could have two marshmallows. It turned out that when the children were revisited decades later, those who had delayed their gratification experienced a whole slew of positive life outcomes in comparison with those who had gone for immediate gratification. This included more successful marriages, higher incomes, greater career satisfaction and better health.
Even if you are the kind of person who would scarf down the marshmallow right away, you can increase your joy level by learning to add more anticipation to your life. Here’s how:
- Remember the past: When you recall past pleasures, you are training yourself to adopt a positive mindset. This positive mindset sets the stage for anticipating future positive experiences. So the next time a new experience presents itself, you are more likely to anticipate it with pleasure and positive expectations.
- Describe it. Psychological studies show that if you can describe what you’re looking forward to, you’re more likely to enjoy the actual experience. If you want to increase your anticipation of an upcoming event, take the time to talk about what you like about the event, what outcomes you expect, and how you anticipate feeling. And if there’s no one to listen, articulate it to yourself in writing.
- Be open to rewards. You can experience more anticipatory pleasure when you are aware of the benefits that come from everyday life experiences. Rather than dismiss the mundane routine of your life as devoid of pleasure, try to spot the benefits that await you. For example, anticipating the pleasure of listening to your new audio book on the train ride home from work will change the way you experience your upcoming commute.
- Don’t over-plan. Planning ahead has its benefits, but over-planning may be driven by a desire to control the future. This often results in missing out on surprises and unexpected experiences. If you have a tendency to over-plan, let someone else take the lead. When you know nothing or very little about an upcoming event, you won’t be able to expect or prepare too much. Instead, you’ll have an opportunity to look forward to a surprise.
And here’s an experiment you might consider. Try prolonging the time you have between your favorite activities. Savor the anticipation of the upcoming event. When it’s time to indulge, be sure to savor the present moment. Double your joy with both the anticipatory pleasure and actual enjoyment of the event!
Psychologies, January 2010, pp. 83-85.