We can all think of a time when the anticipation of an upcoming event—be it big or small—brought us a flutter of excitement and at least a smile. Maybe it was looking forward to a holiday, a visit with a loved one, or even a simple catch up with a friend or favourite meal.
Why does this feeling of looking forward to something have such an impact on our mental state? And can cultivating feelings of anticipation actively support our mental wellbeing?
What role does hope play in our mental fitness and how can we intentionally connect hope and anticipation to more feelings of resilience and joy?
The importance of Hope
Positive psychologist Charles Richard "Rick" Snyder developed ‘Hope Theory’ which is described as a 'life-sustaining human strength' with 3 key components:
Goal thinking: having clear and valuable goals
Pathways thinking: developing strategies to achieve goals, and
Agency thinking: the belief in our ability to take action to achieve goals
Life will inevitably deal us challenges and sometimes they can seem insurmountable. Hope is the state of mind that helps us keep moving forward when times are tough.
Hope researcher Mandy Scotney says that hope is 'like the tide', so it will ebb and flow and that is normal. Like all emotions, some days we will be able to cultivate hope and there will be particularly difficult days where hope will feel out of reach. That's when we can remember that nothing is permanent and hope will come another day.
Along with hope, how does anticipation boost our mental wellbeing?
Anticipation is a spark that lights us up, as we look forward to the future with joy excitement or a sense of purpose. When we await an event, whether it's significant or small it can have a profound effect on our mental state.
Here's how anticipation offers us tangible ways to support our mindset:
1. Anticipation releases dopamine
When we look forward to an event or experience, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter tied to pleasure, motivation, and reward. Even before the event occurs, the brain enjoys a "dopamine hit", elevating our mood and motivation. This means that simply marking a date on your calendar or planning a small treat for yourself can provide an immediate mood lift.
Practical Tip: Set aside a regular time of the day or week for a “treat”, whether it's indulging in your favorite snack, cup of tea, movie, or diving into a new book, and when anticipating something good paint a clear picture of the event in your mind and feel the feelings even more.
2. Distraction from unhelpful thoughts Anticipating positive events can act as a powerful distraction from everyday stresses and worries. By focusing our attention on something pleasant in the future, we naturally divert away from current anxieties.
Practical Tip: When feeling overwhelmed or noticing that you are in a negative thought pattern, take a break to plan a future outing, even if it's just a walk in a nearby park or a visit to a local café.
3. Cultivating a sense of purpose Having something to look forward to, no matter how small, provides us with a sense of purpose and direction. This forward momentum propels us into action, reducing feelings of stagnation or hopelessness.
Practical Tip: Set small, achievable goals for the week. They could be as simple as trying out a new recipe or reaching out to a friend.
4. Improved time perception Anticipation can also change our perception of time. When we're excited about something, we often feel that time is flying. This can make periods of waiting or downtime feel shorter and more bearable.
Practical Tip: If facing a tedious task or period of waiting, break it up by inserting small rewards or events to look forward to. After an hour of a mundane task, reward yourself with 10 minutes of a fun activity.
5. Building resilience through anticipation Anticipating enjoyable events can strengthen our resilience against life's challenges. When faced with difficulties, having something to look forward to serves as a beacon, reminding us that tough times are temporary and brighter days are on the way.
Practical Tip: In challenging periods, remind yourself of upcoming events or create new ones to look forward to. It could be as simple as a future coffee date with a friend or maybe even a mini-holiday.
As many of the outcomes we are hoping for or looking forward to involve relationships, hope and anticipation also help strengthen our social connections which is an essential element of mental fitness.
Anticipating these interactions fosters our sense of community and combats feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can really pull us down.
Ultimately, life, with all its unpredictability, will throw challenges our way. In facing these hurdles, if we have something to look forward to and we can foster feelings of hope for future positive outcomes, we will be actively boosting our own resilience.
When we feel hopeful and anticipate future joys or successes, we remind ourselves that our current situation is temporary which helps us to endure current challenges with more purpose and optimism, and by recognising the power of hope and anticipation and incorporating these into our daily lives, we will continue to enhance and support our mental wellbeing.
Until next time,
The PLS team