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Why looking forward to things is good for your mental health

Think back to when you were a child. You are in class, near end of term. School holidays are ahead, stretched out interminably, utterly languorous and empty, poised to be jam-packed with some lovely activity … or left free and lazy; a wonderful golden haze. Knowing they are just around the corner, the anticipation is enough to get you through the third Latin declension.

At that age you have no idea that looking forward to an event is a great mental approach to be nurtured throughout life. More important than retrospection, savouring the wait is part of the psychology of happiness; research has proven that anticipating a positive activity creates mood elevation and improves coping and recovering1. So there’s absolutely no point in looking back on your misspent youth or thinking aimless thoughts about stuff you could’ve, should’ve done.

Rather, try wrapping your tongue around this word: Vorfreude (n) which means ‘the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures’, then once you can say it, start planning! Liken your scheming to reading an Agatha Christie Poirot … setting the scene … building tension … ready for the denouement of that famous detective’s sheer brilliance.

 

 

It’s thrilling – and remember that this stage is merely a mental process – plotting for future felicity doesn’t cost you a cent! Moreover, getting excited just thinking about having fun can be more enjoyable than the verb itself (unless perhaps your dream includes visiting the most popular tourist destination in the world2: fabulous France … sigh).

 

How else can we look forward to better mental health?

  • Find something to celebrate. Regard Falstaffian, that famous fat, jolly Shakespearean character whose festive stance coined the phrase “a Falstaffian gusto for life”
  • Plan a trip to the library. Find the sequel to your last Patricia Cornwell or Alexander McCall series. An added bonus: there are people at the library, and social connections are vital to mental health
  • Propose a weekend away. The mental bliss created as you ponder the nice meal that inevitably goes with this option is enough to see you right for days
  • Go and look at your garden: it frees your mind to dream.

 

Setting goals is something we are encouraged to do to achieve our hearts’ desires. But the actual process of setting as opposed to achieving is fundamentally more enriching. Immediate gratification is a youth’s gambit, not to be indulged. Far better to heed Dr Frank-n-Furter’s (Rocky Horror Picture Show) observation: “I see you shiver with anticipation …” and savour the wait.

 

1 Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2015 pgs. 11-22

2 United Nations World Tourism Organisation, World Tourism Statistical Barometer & Annex, 2016