12.15.14Happiness in Anticipation

I stumbled upon a really interesting article recently and thought I’d share an excerpt:

As anyone who has taken a vacation knows, they can be rife with complications: flight delays, illness, family squabbles. And when you get home you have to catch up on all the work you missed. That’s not to suggest that vacations don’t bring us joy, but social scientists have been saying for years that we get an extra happiness boost if we consciously delay any type of pleasure — be it booking a trip to Bali months in advance or eating that sliver of chocolate cake tomorrow instead of today. Doing this allows us to build up positive expectations, to relish how enjoyable the experience might be.

But what I really wanted to know was whether the pleasure derived from anticipation is something that just magically happens after you book an airline ticket. Or can it be consciously increased by, for example, talking with friends about the trip, making an iTunes playlist or learning the local language?

Turns out, there is an art to anticipation. Savoring, said Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and a leading happiness researcher, is an active, not passive, process. “It’s better to immerse yourself,” she said. Reading novels and poetry, watching films and television programs, browsing fashion and design blogs that are either from or about the place you plan to visit encourages you to not only learn about your destination, but to dream, providing some concrete details for your mind to latch on to. It may sound counterintuitive, but this building up of positive expectations and excitement actually helps our minds smooth over any minor discrepancies if reality doesn’t quite measure up to the fantasy. “We’re less likely to be bothered by these little holes if we build up our expectations ahead of time,” Professor Dunn said. “So go ahead and assume it’s going to be wonderful.” -New York Times

Illustration by Tom Bloom

Illustration by Tom Bloom

I think this article expertly puts into words how I try to experience my love of travel long before I’m ever in my destination. And I really think it’s true that the anticipation of a trip or vacation brings just as much excitement and fun. Here are some ways I build up anticipation after I’ve booked a trip:

  1. Go to Google Maps and orient myself in the city. I have a thing for maps (probably because I’m such a visual learner), but I just love getting a feel for a place by understanding the layout and the neighborhoods.
  2. Scour travel blogs. I love reading about other people’s very personal travel experiences to get insider ideas and tips.
  3. Watch movies (or read books) set in the destination (Love Actually in London, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in Stockholm, When Harry Met Sally in NYC, Nights in Rodanthe in coastal NC, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in Santorini, The American President in Washington DC, etc.)
  4. Learn key phrases if traveling to a destination with a different language. It’s fun to challenge yourself :).
  5. Definitely hit up Pinterest to search must-see sights, local design, famous dishes, etc.

And here are some ways I keep the happiness of the trip alive after I’ve come home:

  1. Try to re-create my favorite local dish at home.
  2. Display travel photos, maps, ticket stubs, etc.
  3. The two souvenirs I always look for when traveling are a magnet and an ornament. Our magnets stay up year-round, and I love opening my Christmas decor boxes each year and reminiscing about wonderful travels with wonderful people.

What do you do to extend the excitement of travel either before or after your trip?

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