Monday Over Coffee: "Anticipation"

Published June 26, 2023 by Greg Funderburk

One of my favorite photographs of my son, Hank, is one in which he's about three years old and sitting on a tram running from the parking lot to the front entrance of Disneyland. Hank had been bouncing off the walls in excitement that he'd be spending the day at the famous amusement park, but now on board the tram, with the attractions just in the distance, he suddenly became incredibly serious about the day ahead. What's doubly amusing about the picture is the face of the boy, just a little older, sitting next to him who looks completely baffled by how serious Hank has become with Disneyland now within his grasp. Maybe it's just a funny picture, but then again maybe it has something to say about how seriously we should think about the wonderful emotion we call—wait for it—anticipation

Kids instinctively take the idea of anticipating fun seriously. They look forward to opening toys on Christmas morning, going to a birthday party, or attending an upcoming ball game or concert. Intuitively, they know the anticipation is actually a big part of the fun itself. They think about it. They embrace it with joy.

Well, maybe we all should.

In a 2011 article in Psychology Today entitled "Get More Bang for Your Happiness Buck: Revel in Anticipation," Gretchen Rubin wrote that there are four distinct parts to fully enjoying a great event. First, there's the anticipation, meaning the part we're talking about here—simply looking forward to the thing. Second, there's the savoring, that is, enjoying the event in the moment—taking it in with all your senses as it's occurring. The third element she calls expression, which she defines as heightening a good experience by sharing it with others. And finally there's reflection, the practice of pleasurably looking back on the event afterwards in your mind on your own.

While each of these elements is worth considering—for example, putting our phones away during the concert to savor it in the moment; being more sensitive about how we share the pics of a recent party with others; or more thoughtfully cultivating the art of finding a unique artifact to reflect upon an event afterwards—let's give some serious attention to how we might become more mindful of that measure of joy, that pre-experience glow, that's placed on offer to us in simply anticipating a future event.

First, of course, you have to have one. Dr. Alex Lickerman, also writing in Psychology Today, in assessing the difference between his own happy days and unhappy ones, noticed that the former were typically filled with thoughts about something he was looking forward to, while the latter were generally empty of them. He then began, with intention, to work towards always having something on his calendar to look forward to, even if it was small. "When my life-condition falls low and I don't know why," he writes, "I ask myself first if the reason is because of a distinct absence of anticipatory pleasure."

So first things first: what is it you're looking forward to? What's on your calendar this summer? Identify it. Or schedule something. Plan it out. Carve out some sacred, untouchable time for it. A simple dinner out with your spouse. An evening reading a good book. A walk with a friend. Going out with colleagues to sing karaoke. A lazy float down a river in inner-tubes with your kids. Second, take a moment to become aware of the happiness within the anticipation itself. Become truly mindful of it. Grateful for it. Count the days. Imagine what it'll be like to arrive then to savor it as it's happening, to share it with others, and finally, to reflect upon it after it's occurred, really remembering it.

Now third—ready yourself for it with the knowledge that this anticipation is indeed real happiness too, no less so than the happiness you're likely to experience in the savoring, sharing, and remembering stages. 

Even if you're not a baseball fan, you probably know Shoeless Joe Jackson from the movie, Field of Dreams. The real Shoeless Joe was a great outfielder because of his sense of anticipation. As he crouched down into his ready position in left field, he closely watched the batter in the distance and, it was said, instinctively understood by watching the angle of the batter's swing where the ball would go on contact. Jackson, some said, would start his path to where the ball would land sometimes even before the bat struck the ball. He was that locked in.

Lock in on anticipating the good things ahead by becoming serious about the excitement, the fun, and the happiness that's right now within your grasp.

God—May I appreciate the true joy of anticipation.

— Greg Funderburk