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At the beginning of March, many of us had
If you’ve been experiencing disappointment or a sense of grief around the loss of future plans, know that it’s a totally normal reaction to the present circumstances. You may feel silly being sad about your graduation ceremony getting canceled or your wedding being postponed when others are dealing with unemployment, severe health issues or the death of a loved one — but you shouldn’t.
“Given the truly devastating situations so many people are finding themselves in, we can feel guilty for mourning these smaller losses, which just piles on even more negative feelings,”
Those more extreme hardships don’t make what you’re feeling any less valid. Anticipation of positive future events acts as a powerful force in our lives. Think, for example, of how you felt as a kid the night before your birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah or other holiday.
“You were excited, anxious and filled with all the positive feelings of anticipation,” said
Anticipation isn’t always positive, though. It can be unnerving, too, when the possibilities looming on the horizon seem daunting, as is the case now in the middle of the pandemic.
“When it comes to potentially negative futures — which many of us can’t stop envisioning — that uncertainty isn’t exciting,” Kurtz said. “All those what-ifs can be extremely scary and stressful.”
“You’re imagining a new potential future — one with good times and challenges overcome instead of a bleak, powerless tomorrow.”
Research suggests that living in the
The experts we spoke to said there are many benefits of having things to look forward to — even if we have to work a little harder to create those experiences for ourselves right now.
“Anxiety is typically how our bodies respond to horrible things that may happen in the future. Maybe I’ll get fired! Maybe I’ll go bankrupt! Maybe I’ll be humiliated!” Howes said. “Humans are uniquely wired to imagine all types of potential scenarios for the future, and those who are more prone to anxiety tend to focus on the potential negative outcomes.”
By having something fun coming down the pipeline, you’re effectively challenging those pessimistic beliefs about what lies ahead.
“You’re imagining a new potential future — one with good times and challenges overcome instead of a bleak, powerless tomorrow,” Howes said.
These days, you may have to come up with smaller treats to look forward to in the immediate future. Instead of the concert you were hoping to attend later this summer, think about the
“It may not be as exciting as a wedding or an international vacation,” Kurtz said. “But plan a weekly hike, bike ride, picnic, or get take-out from a favorite local restaurant. Try to enjoy it for what is rather than comparing it to what you’re missing.”
And instead of focusing on everything you’re unable to do for the time being, “practice gratitude to shift your focus to what you do have,“ Kurtz said.
Daydreaming about all the potential of these happy future experiences can fill you with excitement.
“It’s fun to have all of those possible futures we spin in our minds,” Kurtz said.
Start envisioning what you want to do once the restrictions are lifted — perhaps a year or two from now. Once the pandemic ends (and it will end, even if it doesn’t feel like it will sometimes), think about how you want your life to look.
“Creating a vision board for the things you would like to do when this is over is a powerful motivator,” Smith Crawford said. “What vacation do you want to take, what family gathering do you want to throw, how do you want to celebrate your birthday?”
Let yourself fantasize about the positive experiences that await you, Howes said.
“Use that energy to endure the slog of everyday life in the present,” he added.
“Anticipation implies a future reward, and rewards are powerful motivators,” Smith Crawford said.
Knowing that something good is coming your way pushes you to accomplish those tasks you may not necessarily want to do. Maybe you’re a high school student who’s tired of distance learning, but you keep working hard to get good grades so you can attend the college of your dreams one day.
“Anticipation also creates discipline,” Smith Crawford said. “It helps with delayed gratification. This teaches us that if we can be patient, a greater experience — or reward — is upon us.”
Imagining a brighter future also adds us meaning to our lives, Howes said.
“We can see the toil and struggle of today paying off with meaningful outcomes later,” he said. “If you believe today’s toil will be worth it in the end, it makes it much more tolerable to endure the hard times.”
Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please
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Having something to look forward to (plans for vacations, weddings, concerts, family visits, and various celebrations) is a source of anticipatory happiness.
On the contrary, having those plans indefinitely cancelled (due to the pandemic for example and the resulting curbs) invokes a feeling of disappointment and even grief.
A lot of anticipatory happiness and the resulting grief if the plans do not materialize is due to the fact that most of us are not in the present moment, but are mentally somewhere in the future, where we think we would be really happy.
Staying in the present moment, then becomes a necessary skill.
Just like anticipating bad things which can happen in the future tends to cause a feeling of anxiety, making our bodies respond negatively, thinking about the good things happening in the future creates positive emotions and reactions in the body.
If we have something fun and interesting happening in the pipeline, we counter our pessimistic beliefs about the future, improving our overall health.
Future anxiety can also be countered by practicing gratitude, shifting your focus from what you cannot have in the future, to what you already have in the present moment.
Even small things, like the fact that you are healthy, energetic and have a loving family is enough to get a substantial health benefit.
Daydreaming about potentially bright and happy future experiences can fill you up with positive emotions. Fantasizing about the positive experiences that await you fill you up with energy, and that motivates you to keep going.
Imagining a great future creates discipline, as our dreams are real for us, and we want to achieve them by toiling and struggling in the present. If we do not dream or are not able to visualize our dream, we may not get motivated to push ourselves harder.
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Having a defensively pessimistic strategy can help one chart out a course of action to ensure that the mishaps that are envisioned do not turn into reality.
Example: Having a low expectation of an interview, along with brooding about what all could go wrong can help one practice harder and plan to avoid those outcomes.
While waiting for a piece of important news, being pessimistic has better health benefits than being overly optimistic.
If the news is not in one’s favour, the optimists take a bigger hit on their wellbeing, experiencing great disappointment, while the pessimists do not suffer as much, as they were already ready to take the hit.
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