Has there ever been a more stressful time than the present? There is so much vying for our attention in the modern world and there is so much peripheral “noise” and pressure weighing directly on individuals that it seems any small changes we can make that may, in their turn, reap wider benefits to our psychological health should be considered. This is one small change I have adopted.
When it comes to holidays I was always a last minute kind of person. Have a vague idea but don’t book yet. I’m not sure where I want to go. Why do I have to decide the hotel now? Get in the car and drive somewhere.
My wife is different.
In her recreational life she is a planner. By contrast I have always reserved my planning for work and left my private life rather more loose.
It took me a few years (we’ve been together for 6) but I have come around to her way of thinking and I would like to outline why. Firstly let me state categorically that I am not against spontaneity. Life is all the richer for variety.
But looking forward to some positive experience is a panacea for many minor stresses and strains of daily life.
Anticipation has long been acknowledged as having a positive effect on us. There are naturally upsides and downsides to it - by thinking how something will turn out we naturally look at the bad as well as the good. However, I have become convinced that when it comes to what should be* guaranteed pleasant experiences, such as holidays, the benefits of envisioning or imaging how we will feel when the experience is upon us are second to none.
It generates a slow happiness
Planning a holiday lifts the human spirit. People love to talk about it, to decide where they will go and it even feels good if they never end up making good those plans to hitch hike around South America.
Taking the next step and actually booking well ahead of schedule is something which I have only done in the last couple of years. Having this future “source” of happiness brings us together as a family, firstly in the planning stage and, once done, in a thousand conversations expressing communal positive feelings.
It may sound a little naive but there is much to be said for something that provides a cheery topic of conversation on a drizzly Cambridgeshire Sunday. In short it generates what I have decided to call "slow happiness" rather than the ecstatic and short-lived high of the spontaneous acquisition, for example. Studies have shown that humans react much more positively to waiting for an experience rather than a purchase, such as a new pair of shoes.
How to Exploit the positive side of anticipation
We should exploit the positive side of anticipation whenever possible. For the same reasons that we should tackle the most awkward problems first (namely they weigh upon our minds and affect us over a longer period by being postponed) then surely flipping this theory to ensure that a positive experience "weighs" upon our minds for the longest period can only be beneficial.
I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that this ‘slow happiness’ has improved my mental well-being. If I book my trip 4 months ahead I probably mention it at home at the very very least 4 times per month which gives me 16 pleasant conversations and, if I smile a minimum of 5 times in each conversation the result is 80 smiles. And smiling reduces stress.
Ok, that's not very scientific but when Murphy's Law means you end up spending the entire holiday in bed with a fever at least you will have enjoyed all the build up.
*I am currently in bed with a fever whilst my family is enjoying the above view.
Well either go book a holiday or lie in bedding complaining of your terrible fate. I am currently reading these mountaineering novels.