How to Experience Joy From Anticipation

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Vorfreude: Joyful Anticipation

Life may be too short to learn German — as Richard Porson, an 18th century English scholar, once quipped — but it’s definitely worth borrowing from the German’s extensive lexicon.

That’s because you’ll find words that describe nuanced and complex emotions we have no equivalent for in English.

If you read “How to Avoid a Fait Accompli,” then you know I believe in expanding your vocabulary beyond your native tongue so you can better articulate your feelings and life experiences.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to learn a whole new language, just that you should be open to exploring other languages to find new-to-you words that help you express yourself more succinctly.

My partner, a German and also my multilingual wordsmith, recently introduced me to another word: Vorfreude. It can roughly be translated as pre-joy in English.

I almost never think about the past, am working on being more present, but love considering what could be.

As a very future-oriented individual I get intense pleasure in imagining, planning, and anticipating. It doesn’t matter if I‘m creating a trip itinerary or looking forward to my bedtime routine, I get pleasure simply from foreseeing pleasure.

The New York Times discussed this phenomenon in “What a Great Trip! And I’m Not Even There Yet.” Using trip planning as an example the article reports:

Turns out, there is an art to anticipation. Savoring, said Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and a leading happiness researcher, is an active, not passive, process. “It’s better to immerse yourself,” she said. Reading novels and poetry, watching films and television programs, browsing fashion and design blogs that are either from or about the place you plan to visit encourages you to not only learn about your destination, but to dream, providing some concrete details for your mind to latch on to.

It may sound counterintuitive, but this building up of positive expectations and excitement actually helps our minds smooth over any minor discrepancies if reality doesn’t quite measure up to the fantasy. “We’re less likely to be bothered by these little holes if we build up our expectations ahead of time,” Professor Dunn said. “So go ahead and assume it’s going to be wonderful.”

If you want more feelings of joy here are some tips on how you can achieve it through anticipation.

Savor the journey

When we get what we want the feelings of happiness it brings are typically short-lived. This is why the proverb “life is a journey not a destination” is so meaningful.

As I discuss in “Yes You Need to Find Yourself. This Is Why and How,” humans have a happiness set point — an average level of happiness that is almost always returned to no matter the good or bad that happens in life.

So it actually makes sense to put more energy into savoring the build up to the thing or experience you desire more than the actual thing or experience itself.

As Arthur Ashe, tennis legend, once said “the doing is often more important than the outcome.” Don’t let your life be just about getting from one end goal to another, but savor all of the moments in between.

Make time for daydreaming

You may assume daydreaming is a time waster or form of escapism best left to children, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Daydreaming is an underrated activity and it’s time to include it in your personal growth toolkit, particularly if you want more pre-joy.

In “At last, scientific proof that daydreaming doesn’t mean you’re a flake,” a Quartz reporter interviews a colleague about their daydreaming routine.

I’m only allowed to play out situations exactly like I’d want to them to play out, best-case scenario,” she explained. “I’m not allowed to tell myself that these ideas are dumb, or that they’d never happen or that the subject matter is stupid. I let myself think that if it’s my heart’s desire, it’s okay to dream about in that moment.

The research-backed benefits of letting your mind wander in this way include: more motivation, increased creativity, greater cognitive control and, lest we forget, more joy.

Frequently ask what if

Asking “what if” almost always reveals new ways of thinking, doing, or being.  It’s one of the easiest ways to get excited about what’s to come because the question gives you free reign to imagine it.

Getting in the habit of asking what if questions breaks self-imposed limits about what’s doable. Instead of operating from a narrow or restricted point-of-view (that tends to stifle pre-joy), you’ll be eager to follow through on the fresh ideas you generate by brainstorming answers.

Just be sure to focus your what ifs on upsides and solutions to avoid undue worrying. It shouldn’t be a line of questioning directed towards the past (e.g. what if this never happened) but a way to broaden your scope of the future.

Manage expectations

When we yearn for something that isn’t realized it can lead to a negative emotion: disappointment. But you don’t have to let this emotion dampen your Vorfreude.

You can decrease feelings of disappointment in your life by (a) thinking mostly about future events that are within your power to control and (b) being open-minded about the possible outcomes when you are thinking of the future.

That way you aren’t completely caught off guard if something actualizes in a way that you didn’t anticipate (which is usually the case because we can’t predict the future).

Also remember Professor Dunn’s research mentioned above and featured in the New York Times: anticipating positive things actually provides a bit of a buffer against negative feelings derived from potentially subpar outcomes.

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