Things To Look Forward To

Stephen Hussey

Someone once told me a secret to happiness I’ve never forgotten: “You always need to have two things to look forward to.”

“Why two?”, I asked.

“You need one so that you can look ahead and know something exciting is on the horizon. And you need to a second so that you don’t get depressed when the first one ends.”

I’m pretty certain there is no one secret to happiness. But that advice for some reason has stayed with me for years, probably because it accords with something I’ve observed in my own life: happy people seem to always see good things in their future.

I did a quick exercise and asked myself what I’m looking forward to:

  • A trip to Miami with friends and family in June.
  • The challenge of running my first marathon I’m running next month (or maybe I’m just looking forward to it being over).
  • Going to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 this evening with a good friend…and popcorn…and maybe pizza later (yea, that marathon is gonna be tough).

There have been a number of studies proving the importance of anticipation for positive joy.

The theory, according to Psychologies magazine, is that ‘We tend to experience more intense emotions about future events than those in the past. This is because, on the whole, we have an expectation that future events will make us feel more emotional than ones that have passed.’ 

In a study in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology, researchers Van Boven and Ashworth (2007) found that people had a more intense emotional reaction when thinking about an upcoming ski holiday in the future than one they took in the past.

This gels pretty well with real life.

People who seem happier always seem to see good horizons ahead, whether it’s more success, more romance, more fun, or more exciting adventures. And the most depressed people seem to be those who believe their best days are behind them.

But what about living in the present? What about mindfulness, which teaches us to live in the NOW, appreciate every moment, and forget that future and past even exist? As a big supporter of the science behind mindfulness, I sometimes find this a little difficult to square in my head, given the benefits of positively anticipating the future.

The obvious danger of always looking to a future event is that you might constantly imagine “I will be finally happy when THIS happens”.

We end up telling ourselves: “I’m going to truly enjoy myself when I’m gliding down a mountain in the French Alps.” Then we finally get there and feel a sense of disappointment when our feet are cold, our legs are aching, and we wonder why we ever thought skiing was a good idea for a vacation in the first place.

The solution, I’ve learnt, is not to delay enjoyment. It’s simply to actively enjoy the process of looking forward to something. You still live in the present moment, but sometimes you take ten minutes to enjoy fantasizing about your trip, or looking up places and restaurants you want to go to when you get there, or picking the gear you’ll need – but you still focus on enjoying the current moment, even if that current moment is looking to the future.

It’s a big difference from: “I’ll be happy when I do X later this year”. Instead it’s, “It makes me happy when I think about doing X later this year”.

This doesn’t have to be limited to holidays and big trips. You can even book a dinner with a friend one work night this week and blissfully lose yourself in your work for the rest of the day knowing you have a great experience coming later.

So here’s today’s challenge

What are THREE things can you schedule to look forward to?

  • One for the next week.
  • One for the next 6 months
  • One related to friends, family, or an upcoming goal.

Let me know in the comments below!

9 Texts No Man Can Resist

27 Responses to Things To Look Forward To

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  1. Asli says:

    Thanks Stephen! This was a great article, and I realized I often use this in my life to feel happy :) I never understand it when some people tell others to ‘not have expectations… because expectations lead to let downs and if you don’t expect anything, you’ll never experience a let down.” I’ve always argued against it and it’s good to have a scientific study to back me up!

    Here is my list, and thank you for making me do a list.

    1. This week, umm. Two things, tomorrow I’m going to see wonder woman and eat pop corn, yay! And next week I’m going to visit the publisher house I work at and bring them cookies, and get a new book to translate. My cookies are a big hit there, and I’ll get to choose from a lot of books!

    2. Going to Greece with friends and family next month. It will be so much fun. And watching Wimbledon and hopefully seeing Federer get the cup will be as fun, I’m sure!

    3. I. Am. Going. To. Finish. That. Novel. Until the end of the year. This is very doable and it will create an unmatched sense of accomplishment Go me!

  2. Katie Lee-own says:

    Great post thank you!
    Next week: Taking my horses to the forest for a trail ride at the weekend,
    Next 6 months : Goodwood Festival of speed as a surprise for a friend
    Family & Friends : planning a trip with my best friend for next year and big family BBQ when we finally get some warmer weather here in suffolk, concert with my mum and sisters in may!

  3. Tammy Murphy says:

    I’m running my 2nd marathon in one week!! I’m not gonna lie, I am a little anxious about it. I’m mostly excited about crossing the finish line and treating myself to a Reese’s blizzard after the race. Good luck on your run!

    I’m also excited to meet my new niece, due in June.

  4. Laura says:

    Next week: salsa dancing with the girls and my Yoga classes
    Next 6 months: Miami + Retreat (I.CAN’T.WAIT!!!)
    Family: my parents visiting me in London
    Plus, planning holidays for my bday in November :)

  5. Pilar says:

    I loved this post, it made me smile. Thank you, Stephen :)
    In answer to your questions:
    -House warming party next saturday
    -Running my first half marathon in October! (Good luck with your marathon!)
    -Concerts with friends and Mum comming to visit and traveling around Switzerland :)
    Have a great week ;)

  6. LisaMarie says:

    Thank you. I really needed to hear this today. My adventure buddy/friend died 2 years ago.I realize now the hardest part has been not having anything to look forward to. She was my,” Sure!Let me grab my coffee and put my makeup on and we’ll go”, friend. Tiny adventures and goals look forward to. I think I can do that.

  7. Carolina says:

    Great. I believe we often forget that life is not stagnant. It constantly changes and brings new experiences. And it is exactly this realization that makes us appreciate the present even more

  8. Van says:

    Love your take on this matter, you thought this trough really well, I like this. I found this to be true for myself, for example:
    I’m moving houses and I’m excited!
    It’s not that much about the next place I’ll be but the moving itself. Which is fleeting and not important, but I fucking love the feeling – just for the hell of it. I learned it doesn’t have to mean anything, I just looove the buzz of getting this done, driving that van – yay I’ll have a really good time doing it haha.
    For the next sixth months.. I know for sure there’s gonna be some excursions..
    For goals – I’m working on it.
    Not to get too excited yet. Except for the working on it – why not!

  9. Sabrina says:

    My 3 things:

    1- moving into my new apartment
    2- in 6 months I will be in my first 1k or 5k race
    3- I will start working on my labor of love by crocheting bears and sending thank you cards for law enforcement

  10. granmanerd says:

    “…happy people seem to always see good things in *their* future.”

    if you need a copywriter… i need a job :)

  11. Kristi says:

    1. completing the audit and inspection log at work closing/completing claims. Turning the odds (irate clients) to company’s favor.
    2. A trip I booked/backpacking alone-climbing mountains with completely different,new people.
    3. Getting myself involve in the “love circle” lol. what I mean to say is, entertain and see if that realtionship works for me and my future partner. I’m not quite certain, but probably be more vulnerable by avoid being too strong. Let the man be a man and take the lead without wavering my principles or standards…still be me without making others feel less of who they are but encourage them to be better.

  12. Bella says:

    Totally agree with your blog! Sooooo true!
    I try to always look forward to a trip, and when it is over, I look forward to planning the next trip.
    Just one little thing, I am Not an english expert (my second language), but you wrote “Happy people seem to always see good things in there future”, you mean in “their future”? Let me know if I am mistaken :)

  13. Dr neha says:

    Ya true live in present future will be good..past is history..next week I m gonna watch a movie with frends and aftr 5months Will give mrcp and for my family I m gonna cook a tasty meal so that they can njoy I really had stopped cooking for my family they must be missing …
    Response to things should be positive and that to with out anger..as things r changeable my negativity gonna worse the thng being positive things get positively change..as I had break up I was shettered but inside their was something was saying it’s good u didn’t break up he did as he was not worth investing emotions love respect.as he was not reciprocating.and I was emotional weak to do so ..in that way I moved on .i m pretty I m doctor I m intelligent any guy can fall for me..then y thinking abt some one who was coward..I should think that some where I even wanted this brkup..so go ahead..just go ahead leaning back ward has no profit at least blindly move ahead do some crazy stuff for ur self. Go to Parlor have a new hairstyle go shopping dress nicely and laugh loudly

  14. CarlaChristine Zavala says:

    I’m reading this and it hits me so hard because I have found that I don’t know how to plan a celebration at all. I’ve been thinking about how to plan one but I just see it as a distraction from life. Your article hit me when it talked about the joy that it brings to a person. So, I think I’ll plan a little trip soon with my son and then I can go from there. I’m a baby steps kinda girl.

  15. Dee says:

    Ooo! Love this article!
    1. Trip to Bermuda with my sister to celebrate her M.S. in engineering and my birthday this summer.
    2. Going to Memphis next weekend for blues with friends.
    3. Hitting the halfway mark in my masters program in 6 months.
    4. (Because why stop at three?) brushing up on my drawing skills

  16. sydney says:

    I really love drinking smoothies and coloring.

    I am going to work from Detroit starting on Monday, and I love the hash browns at the cafe downstairs and the tom yum soup next door that can be made without fish sauce.

    The Detroit Free Press has a comics page that is to die for. Laugh out loud funny. Driving there is really nice and I once saw three Dodge chargers racing and that was really cool.

    It is close to Canada and Toledo and Chicago. I couldn’t be happier to call Detroit home. Everywhere I go, I have taken something with me like how smart people are in Singapore, how laid back and casually impressive LA is, and the heart and ideals of rural Illinois. Here, I learned to be brave and how to spot real vs fake and I learned to separate the music from the noise.

  17. Gillian says:

    Singing my solo tonight in our end of year choir show…
    Birthday celebrations for Mom and me at the end of next week… bring on the cake!
    And the end of the school year/start of summer holidays.. and a whole new teaching adventure next year.

  18. Armangul says:

    Hİ İ am ARMAN very glad to read your text. it made me feel lil bit couragous and forget my problems.
    1. next week i wll meet my close friend and have fun
    2. next 6 month i will have succeeded my residency exam
    3.my upcoming goal is not actually mine but the man who i love. he will open up to me about his feelings i hope
    i will be really happy if you write back to me thank you

  19. Vlada says:

    Hi, Stephen! I wish you knew how much I love your articles, as they always are so deep and actually easy to apply in life.
    So, my list of things I’m looking forward to:
    1) next week I’ll visit the Criminal Investigations Department and it’ll be the first time ever in my life when I visit such a place! soooo excited!
    2) well, in July I’ll be teaching some Spanish classes for kids and I’m so excited about it! Such a great opportunity to develop my skills and enjoy having fun with new people.
    3) in June me and my friends will volunteer in a big project all together and I can’t wait to see each of them!

    And also I’m looking forward to your new articles! Have a good day, Stephen :) [hello from Russia!]

  20. Audra says:

    As always a considered take on things. A great read! I will try to implement this kind of positive thought and action going forward. Meanwhile looking forward to lunch with friends tomorrow.

  21. Rashmitha says:

    1. RPG game (pathfinder)night with my buddies
    2. 2km swim under 40 minutes
    3. Join a masters course (goal is to move to a new country and start a new and exciting chapter of my life)

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