Anticipated Happiness: Why Making Plans Is So Exciting

Have you ever felt more happiness when planning a trip, a date, or a vacation than when it actually happens? It seems that, sometimes, imagining gives you more joy than reality itself.
Anticipated Happiness: Why Making Plans Is So Exciting

Last update: 14 August, 2022

Anticipated happiness is like imagining the delicious taste of the chocolate cake you’re about to eat. It’s butterflies of excitement in your tummy before the date you have tonight. Or, it’s thinking of the great times you’ll have on vacation this year. Indeed, you don’t have to be a child to feel joy at an anticipated event.

However, we could almost say that anticipation is enjoyed more than the event itself. Because sometimes, life disappoints. Certainly, often what you imagined doesn’t turn out to be as good as you thought it’d be. In fact, future events frequently don’t turn out as expected.

Psychology teaches us that without those anticipatory thoughts, our happiness wouldn’t be as intense, satisfying, and life-giving. It’s that feeling that keeps you awake at night because it’s so difficult to fall asleep in the face of so many sensations, dreams, and desires. Furthermore, imagining that tomorrow will bring you the most enriching and positive events is key to your well-being.

Being able to get excited about future events is a highly positive resource for our mental balance.

Woman with closed eyes on the beach dreaming in anticipation happiness
Imagining the positive experiences that a future event can bring us is a healthy and recommended process.

Anticipated happiness: definition and characteristics

Anticipated happiness can be defined as the set of emotions and cognitions that you experience before the imminence of a future event. These internal experiences always have a positive valence. That’s because what your mind is anticipating is to your liking, as well as being really exciting and out of the ordinary.

Research conducted by the University of Washington indicates that this type of happiness directly influences our motivation and our behavior. This means that, during those days or weeks prior to the expected circumstance, your behavior may vary. You’re more open and hopeful and might even make more risky decisions.

It seems that, as a rule, we enjoy things more before they happen than after they happen. In other words, anticipating or imagining what might happen in the face of a future event is more rewarding than experiencing or remembering it.

Thus, although it’s often said that it’s better not to expect anything and to let fate surprise you, in reality, it’s advisable to get excited, dream, and set your expectations.

Sometimes, thinking that things can change for our benefit is also a good coping strategy and a form of anticipated happiness.

Anticipation is a key stage in happiness

A birthday party. Starting a new job. Meeting up with a friend you haven’t seen for years. Starting to live with your partner. Going on a trip. These are events and circumstances that awaken in you the magic of illusion. It’s almost like going back to your childhood and letting yourself be embraced by emotions such as joy, hope, happiness, and even euphoria.

Having something to look forward to and imagine has a positive effect on your psychological well-being. It encourages you to stay motivated and focused on a positive outcome (beyond your current circumstances).

This optimistic outlook acts as a reflection of a mind that looks at life with hope. That’s why patients with depression are unable to experience anticipated happiness. For them, every future event has the shadow of threat, the edge of uncertainty, and the darkness of catastrophe.

Planning something can be more exciting than living it

What dreams do you have right now in your life? What imminent event is on your calendar that fills you with hope, joy, and the desire for that day to come as soon as possible? Sometimes, planning something can be more exciting than actually experiencing it, that’s a fact. It often happens when you’re going on vacation.

You spend months making plans, thinking about the trip, walking on the beach, and taking excursions through a city full of history and evocative culture. You imagine where you’re going to eat or what the hotel will be like. Almost without realizing it, you’ve already made that trip a hundred times in your mind before the appointed day arrives.

The process that orchestrates anticipated happiness is measured by powerful neurotransmitters. Dopamine is the brain substance that mediates reward processes. It motivates you, brings you euphoria, butterflies in your stomach, and the desire for that future event to arrive.

Dopamine is the brain molecule that orchestrates the desire and illusion to achieve something. In fact, sometimes, the desire to achieve a goal is more pleasant than reaching it.

Boy walking between mountains thinking about happiness in anticipation
Thinking that tomorrow can bring us many of the things we dream of in the present is a source of motivation.

Anticipated happiness as a coping strategy

A 2015 investigation led by Dr. Christian Waugh claimed that having exciting events on the horizon is an effective coping strategy for stress. It motivates us, encourages us, dissipates bad days, and dissolves the anxiety that sometimes grips us. In fact, it invites us to look at the future in a different way.

Just think of those times when you feel overwhelmed and pressured at work. Then, your mind thinks about your upcoming date on Friday or the weekend trip you have planned. Or the summer or Christmas holidays. Maybe even the next day off you have to yourself.

It’s clear that the key to happiness lies in setting exciting goals from one day to the next for both your short and long-term future.

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