If there is one thing I could say that could pretty much guarantee happiness, it would be this:
Always have something to look forward to.
Having something you are looking forward to doing or experiencing can often make the difference between a good day and a bad day. It can be something small, like meeting friends for coffee or going for a haircut; it can be big, like a trip overseas or a new job, or it can be anything in-between.
When you are in the state of anticipating something that you are going to enjoy, it instantly makes you hopeful and happy. Just thinking about and planning whatever it is can fill us with endorphins and help to mentally take ourselves out of a difficult situation if we’re in one. Here’s an example:
One of the things I do in my gift giving business is something called “A Year of Gifts.” I got the idea when I had a friend across the country who was going through a particularly difficult season of life. She had suffered multiple losses within a short period of time, while simultaneously dealing with a health issue, and it was hard for her to see the light in the darkness, especially because she was living alone in a new place without a substantial support system around her. I really wanted to do something to help her, and I remembered that having something to look forward to can truly make all the difference as we slog through our daily lives.
So I found 53 small gifts for her - one for each week of the year plus one for her birthday - wrapped each one individually with a note on each one denoting which week it was for (i.e. There was a Halloween-themed gift for that week, a Valentine’s gift for that week, etc. plus gifts geared toward the different seasons as well.) I sent them all off in a huge box with a letter explaining the whole thing, and what happened was surprising, beautiful, and at times, miraculous.
As the year went on, she told me that there were days when she would wake up and not even want to get out of bed. As she lay there, trying to muster up the energy to start another difficult day, she would remember “On Sunday I get to open a present!” (she chose to open one every Sunday to start off her week on a happy note) and that’s what got her up and allowed her to put one foot in front of the other. She also said that seeing the giant pile of brightly wrapped gifts in a corner of her house put a smile on her face every time she walked by it, and she had so much fun digging through all of them to find the one with the right date each week.
It wasn’t that the gifts were so great, it was the looking forward to opening them that truly that made all the difference in her state of mind during that time.
The really funny thing is, sometimes the “looking forward to” part ends up being even better than the actual thing you do! I’ve heard that about vacations, parties, concerts, and special events. But even if the thing you were looking forward to is a letdown, at least you had all of the time beforehand to be happy while you were anticipating, planning, and hoping for something wonderful.
Recently I took an online Italian cooking class taught by a chef in Italy. I signed up for it about 2 weeks ahead of time, and it was so much fun to think about it and get the ingredients beforehand and plan my “mise en place” in the kitchen. When the morning of the class rolled around (5:30 pm Italy time/9:30 am my time) I bounded out of bed and was so eager to get downstairs and get ready for it. It ended up being a ton of fun, the dishes turned out really well, and I’m already looking forward to the next class when it’s offered. This was not a big thing - it was just a little 90 minute class that I took by myself in my kitchen with a few other people around the world - but when there’s not much else going on right now for most of us, just this interesting and unique thing to do made a big difference in breaking up the monotony of our current situation.
Before this global pandemic, my family and I had a lot of things we were looking forward to this year: A big trip, a small trip, a college graduation, some milestone birthday and anniversary celebrations, multiple concerts, the list goes on and on. We’d been planning and looking forward to some of these things for years. With everything cancelled, we’ve had to get creative to find exciting things to anticipate to fill our days with hope and happy expectation. We’ve learned to look forward to smaller things - the excitement of starting a new book, pulling out the sourdough starter to experiment baking something new, having projects we’ve always wanted to tackle like decluttering or redecorating our spaces - or even something as simple as summer peaches being in season and enjoying them for the first time this year.
I recently started growing my own herbs and looking forward to using fresh basil and parsley fills me with happy anticipation every time I water them and imagine using them to enhance my cooking. I also started a “Coronavirus Commemorative Cookbook” as I try new recipes and look forward to adding them to the book. Even that little bit of excitement (“If this turns out well I can add it to the book - YAY!”) adds a surprising amount of enjoyment to my day, and helps me to choose joy instead of misery at being stuck at home without the usual things to look forward to.
Studies on happiness have shown that the more we have to look forward to, the more positive our lives become overall. Think about children on Christmas Eve, who are bursting with joyous anticipation for the next morning. Can you imagine feeling that way every day, or at least on as many days as possible? ALWAYS have something to look forward to, even if it’s just a hot bath after a long day of work or an ice cream cone after the drudgery of cleaning out the garage. Make that choice, and the happiness you feel will be what helps you keep going forward with optimism, regardless of how the actual thing you looked forward to turns out.
Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them. You mayn't get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. -L. M. Montgomery
What are you looking forward to? Whatever it is, I hope you choose to enjoy every moment leading up to it, and the next one that comes along as well.