Why anticipation makes us happier
Long gone are the days when we would happily wait weeks or months to receive a letter from loved ones. Epic journeys were once made across the seas, taking months or years.
Nowadays, we zip across the globe in a matter of hours, with a constant drip of in-flight entertainment and snacks to distract us from the process. And we still complain about how long it takes to get to our holiday destination.
Modern humans are characterised by impatience; we want it all, and we want it now.
If you’ve ever groaned at the mere sight of a waiting room or gritted your teeth in rage while stuck in traffic, you’re not alone. Our world is one of instant gratification, where the boredom of waiting in even the shortest of queues prompts us to immediately grab our phones and start scrolling.
Unfortunately, our inability to embrace waiting and delayed gratification may be harmful. Impatience has been linked with poorer health outcomes, faster ageing, and even a greater likelihood of engaging in criminal activity.
Conversely, embracing the joy of waiting for positive events can boost our mood and make it easier to live in the present moment.
Our dwindling ability to enjoy positive anticipation prevents us from deeply immersing ourselves in life’s journey without being fixated on some imaginary ‘end goal.’ Many of us have forgotten how waiting for something good to happen can sometimes be even more enjoyable than the positive event itself.
An obvious example is sitting at a restaurant and seeing the waiter approach with your meal. You sit up straight, smile, or even do a little happy dance in your seat, awaiting the amazing flavours and textures. As soon as you take your first bite, this excitement dwindles, and satisfaction becomes fleeting. When you’re almost done with your meal, it’s gone entirely, and we start to frantically seek our next source of pleasure (dessert, anyone?).
Our inability to embrace waiting is largely a result of the rapid pace of modern life, where technology has automated and ‘optimised’ every part of our daily routine. Productivity and efficiency are everything, leaving little room to savour the sweetness of waiting for something worthwhile.
Social media amplifies our impatience, constantly bombarding us with an influx of images and 12-second videos of people’s perfect morning routine or explanations of how they ‘hack’ their day, their body, or their career to achieve their goals faster. Companies know how impatient we are, exploiting this to sell us products that promise impossible results in tiny timeframes.
With so much stacked against us, how can we learn to slow down, enjoy the experience of anticipation, and embrace the lost art of waiting?