The Happiness of Looking Forward

by Katy on June 26, 2011 · 22 comments

Anticipation, anticipa-a-tion, it’s making me wait.

Carly Simon was onto something. I believe that half the value of enjoyment is the lead up. Holding onto the silky thread of future fun, that certain something to get me through the inevitable doldrums of life. (What, dishes again? Didn’t I just do these a few days ago?!)

In her book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Rubin addresses about this very issue, writing that “Having something to look forward to makes you “feel good” and may also give an “atmosphere of growth” to your life, because the future seems bright.” (This quote is actually from her blog, although she does explore the value of anticipation in her book.)

I have given anticipation a lot of thought, and have actually changed my life to make sure that I always have something to look forward to. I make sure to plan get togethers with friends, special treats with the kids and time alone when I can think my own thoughts and enjoy some peace and quiet. (I get extremely cranky when I go long periods without having time alone.)

My work friend Danette has turned the whole “half the fun is the anticipation” thing upside down in how she has planned a couple of her family vacations. Instead of telling her kids that they’re going to Disneyland, she and her husband plan the whole she-bang without saying a word to their three daughters. Then, the morning of their departure, they present the girls with personalized Mickey ears and already packed suitcases. And whoosh, they’re off to California with stunned girls without the lead up of a thousand little questions of “How soon until we leave for Disneyland?” And the girls then have a story to tell of the morning that mom and dad surprised us with a trip to visit Mickey.

Their happiness is in the recollection.

As a parent, I totally understand how annoying and unfocused kids can be before a big event, but did Danette and her husband ‘s planned spontaneous trip take away their daughters’ joy of anticipation? I look back to how I was as a kid, and think I would have loved if my parents did something similar. But as an adult, I would feel robbed if someone did something similar for me. (What? If I’d known that I was as going to Hawaii on Wednesday, I could have handled the annoyances of Tuesday a whole lot better!)

Do you give any thought to the connection between happiness and anticipation? Have you considered consciously making sure you always have something to look forward to? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

maria June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am

As a child and adolescent I spent five weeks each summer at an all girl’s summer camp in the Colorado Rockies. I would always start packing the day school let out, even though camp didn’t start until July! As I got older, I began communicating with my camp friends via internet and phone prior to the big day. We’d talk about which bunks we’d claim, outfits we’d wear to the weekly coed activities, which trips and activities we wanted to participate in…the anticipation was a small fraction of the fun to be had!

As a single female special education teacher living in a small mountain town (hello ISOLATION!) I find having small things to look forward to get me through those really tough weeks. A concert in the big city, a lunch date with mom & dad, girl’s night out, book club. My compadres and I often joke that it’s the little things and trips away that keep us here.

I think anticipation and the happiness quotient tie in directly with patience. By learning to wait and still function, doing my job well, being present with my students, and getting excited, then what I am anticipating is so much sweeter!


Karen June 26, 2011 at 10:53 am

I think it’s largely a difference between adults and kids. I don’t think that anticipation is nearly as fun when you are under 16 (or whatever). Plus, that anticipation becomes annoyance for the parents.
I think it’s awesome when parents do this. I know some who have not even spilled the beans until the plane lands.
If someone did that to me now, I would NOT be happy. I need to plan. I can only handle planned spontaneity in my old age 🙂


Kathy M June 26, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Hi Katy,

I have been away awhile so just seeing the new header. I love it!



hydra June 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I think that just like everything else in life, that both are good in moderation. Though a surprise vacation is awesome once in a while, I don’t think that every vacation needs to be like that. Though I personally am a planner, I still love surprises.


Scribe June 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I love having something to look forward to and make good use of the time. It’s like a game to see how many things I can accomplish while planning and packing for a trip. I’ve cleaned many a closet and drawer in the time leading up to the actual trip. Gives me a little extra incentive to clear up some small projects that have been nagging me. The children also seemed to respond by sorting and cleaning their rooms while practicing packing their suitcases.


Shannon June 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I have always loved looking forward to things! Especially trips, I love to read guidebooks, talk to people online about my destination, map out my routes and contingencies. Not that I can’t be spontaneous, because more often then not I completely veer off my original plans when I travel anyway, but it’s just very enjoyable for me. That said, if my husband were to get two tickets to Fiji and tell me to pack my bags and be ready in an hour, I’d have no problem whatsoever 🙂


Mel June 27, 2011 at 4:16 am

What she said!


Amy H. June 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Me three!
I’m thankful my parents included me in the planning for our Disney World trip when I was thirteen . . . I read Birnbaum’s guide cover-to-cover so many times over in planning and anticipation that I suspect I knew it by heart by the time we landed in Florida. And the trip was fantastic — I don’t subscribe to the theory that “too much anticipation ruins the trip itself” at all.


Karen June 26, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I think being able to look forward to something is half the excitement. It may be that it is either a childlike concept or a mature adult concept but maybe not a teenage concept. I’m thinking of a time my husband gleefully planned a surprise trip to Hawaii for us and our two kids. WE had not had a family vacation anywhere in years. My eleven year old son got a real bang out of knowing absolutely nothing about what was coming, all the way to the airport. However, because my daughter was 16 and had a job, we had to let her know she was going on a trip.

She wasn’t too thrilled about the trip. I bet though if she could have brought a friend along, it would have been better. Still, it bothered me that her response took some of the joy out of the trip. She is now 28 and we talked about this recently. She said, “yeah, I was really a brat, wasn’t I–most kids would kill to go to Hawaii!”, and we all laughed about it. Those teen years are really something…


Jo June 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I think hydra had the right idea, above, with using moderation in both cases. I personally enjoy the anticipation of an event or outing or even a purchase as much as the actual event.

I also believe kids learn patience by being aware that something is coming up and having to learn ways to deal with the waiting.

There is some amount of individual personality at play also. Some kids – and some adults – are just more patient to start with. How much should we try to alter our basic natures? Interesting ideas and give me food for thought!


Sara Wolk June 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Spontaneity is what makes the moment magical. Sometimes if there is too much planning you cant be as free to make the best decisions in the moment, when you have ALL the information. And if there is too much planning and anticipation it can be easy to get let down. I do like to be well prepared and have the time I need to do so, but when I’m looking forward to something I often find myself tired or not in the mood when the time comes. And then when I wasn’t planning anything I’ll feel inspired. It’s good to be ready for anything.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl June 27, 2011 at 7:30 am

I love looking forward to things…in fact, my favorite part of the weekend is always the very first part, when the whole thing lies in front of me. Same with a vacation…love the first day!


Bellen June 27, 2011 at 7:41 am

When I was 12 I went to camp for 10 days – I was told that when I got home my sister, whom I shared a room with, my mother, father and I would repaint our room and get new curtains and bedspread. While I loved camp I couldn’t wait to get home to redo the room. My camp friends and even the counselors all talked about it with me – I had great visions. When I got home and opened the bedroom door – it was already done! Gray walls, white trim with charcoal gray accents and pink bedspreads and curtains. I HATED IT and cried for days and spent as little time in it as possible. So… anticipation of an event has since always been a little hard on me because I expect the worst not the best to be the culmination – pretty sad. I seem to work better with spur of the moment stuff.


Jenny June 27, 2011 at 8:04 am

Some of both is good–nice to not alwayseeb the one doing the planning, but sometimes fun (and necessary) to plan ahead. But I really resonated with the time alone part. Especially critical in the sunmmer here when I deal with tourists all day at my job. Hard to get my friends to understand that it’s not a rejection of spending time off with them when I just need a quiet day at home with the dog!


E. Murphy June 27, 2011 at 8:55 am

I LIVE for anticipation. We travel a great deal and planning for it is definitely half the fun. We’re going to Europe in August and have been planning for a year. I started packing two weeks ago.

Soon my bags will be sitting by the front door and I will be sitting next to them like a faithful German Shepherd.

I get very depressed when I don’t have things to look forward to.


Lisa June 27, 2011 at 9:06 am

I feel a sense of anticipation every morning wondering what pleasant unexpected thing might happen during the day. I’ve discovered that when you expect wonders, you usually find them.


Jean June 27, 2011 at 10:41 am

While I love the idea of surprising small children with a trip like Disney, I found that mine liked to have a say in trip agendas by the the time they were 8 or so…and it helps if everybody gets to do at least one thing that is very special to them even if it’s not what the trip planner (M0m!) would have chosen. I don’t tend to handle surprises well–am too much of a control freak, like to have a plan, am OK with veering away from or restructuring the plan, but need to have one as a place to start! Luckily my significant other is OK with this and humors it! The planning and list making are a huge part of the anticipation for me, be it for trips, parties or even renovation projects!


Chrissy (The New Me) June 27, 2011 at 10:54 am

For me, anticipation is necessary for my mental health. I love having things to look forward to and I love planning an adventure nearly as much as I love having it. Just knowing that something exciting is on the horizon makes me feel like I’m moving forward in life, instead of simply treading water.


Mary June 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

I think the anticipation is actually my favorite part of a trip or holiday. I love looking forward to what’s to come and imagining all the great times we’re going to have. I do agree with another poster that anticipation probably isn’t as enjoyable for kids. I remember how slowly the days would move until Christmas morning…of course they absolutely fly now!


Heidi June 27, 2011 at 12:22 pm

One thing to consider is that “anticipation” has a very different time frame for kids than it does for adults. I remember as a kid (for years in a row) wondering why my grandmother requested Christmas lists from us at Thanksgiving when Christmas was *forever* away. A month goes by in a blink now – but for a kid, the cross-country travel time (even in the air) for a trip to Disneyland may be just the right amount – enough time to stay excited and get more excited, not enough time to get whiney (let along argue about what to pack…).


kell June 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm

We’re preparing to surprise our kids with a wonderful vacation in just a few short days. They have no idea and I’ve been planning the big reveal for weeks. This time around there will be 8 brightly colored bags each containing a clue about our destination and a letter. The last bag will contain a small airplane (it’s their first plane trip!) and then, TA DA!, we’re flying to San Diego! It’s our third time surprising them with a trip and they always seem to enjoy the ambush.

That said, sometimes anticipating trips is half the fun so not every trip is a huge surprise. We went away for the weekend and they knew about it ahead of time (even helped plan their grandma’s surprise party) and they’ve been looking forward to our trip to Dallas in August for months.

I’m relishing my ability to do this now. They’re 8, 6 and 2. Pretty soon the older kids won’t want me to pack for them, they’ll want more input on where we’re going, etc. Plus, in years when we haven’t been able to have a grand vacation the game leading up to the holiday announcement has been almost as much fun as the trip itself. Going to Omaha seems terribly exciting and glamorous after you’ve gone on an extensive scavenger hunt full of cryptic clues and puzzle pieces.


Coral Clarke June 29, 2023 at 6:04 pm

I’m 75 and retired, so if you turned up on my doorstep right now with tickets to anywhere I don’t need visas / vaxxes for, I could, quite literally , leave in an hour.with only a stop at a chemists for prescriptions on the way!However, for me, the planning and research greatly adds to the fun. Before I book I investigate destinations, and list opening days, times and free days. I’m not locking in the hours and minutes, but if there’s a special exhibit that I want to see at the Musee d’Orsay, I will make sure that my time in Paris is first up, so I don’t miss out. If Dubai is going to be cooler at the tail end of my trip, I will change my itinerary so that Dubai is last, instead of first. I know Venice will be horribly expensive during the film festival, and Italy, as a whole, won’t be as good for me during August, so I time my bookings accordingly. I look at maps and make a note of clusters of interest, both time and money can be maximised if I see the things in Pest in one day , and cross the river another day! Having time to just drift about , soaking up the ambience, is important to me, so not wasting time by making the same trip twice to see two places of interest that are 15 minutes apart really works.
So, yes, anticipation is a huge part of the joy I experience, but feel free to count me in on any last minute delights!


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