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“Anticipation is half the fun!” – a wise old saying
Is it possible that anticipation and staying in the moment can both increase happiness?
Growing up, I would have told you that Christmas was my favorite holiday. Looking back, however, I see that the joy I had always attributed to Christmas itself really comes from my anticipation of the holiday all month long. The decorating, the cards, the planning, the shopping, the lights, the concerts and parties all feed the festive energy that I feel during this last month of the year.
As a yoga student, I’ve wholeheartedly embraced the practice of staying in the present moment as a key to contentment. Not only does staying present makes me better at whatever I’m doing, it keeps me fully engaged in my activity, which means I’m enjoying whatever I’m doing more. Even more powerfully, staying present has proven to be a great way to keep my over-active mind from worrying about what could go wrong and planning my responses to future problems. In other words, I have found mindfulness to be a great antidote to anxiety.
At first glance there might seem to be a tension between my practice of staying present and the joyful anticipation I have always found in the lead-up to Christmas (or my birthday or a vacation or a visit from a friend …). But I believe that, like a practice of presence, anticipation is another way to boost my happiness levels.
The pleasure of anticipation is real pleasure.
The editors of the New York Times agree. In an article called How Vacations Affect Your Happiness, Tara Parker-Pope writes that planning a vacation can boost happiness for up to eight weeks before the trip! (She relies on a study published in the journal Applied Research in the Quality of Life.) The pleasure of anticipation is real pleasure. And can be pretty close to the pleasure we actually get from the event we’re anticipating.
You can savor anticipation moment by moment.
So, is it possible to eagerly anticipate an event and still stay present?
I have found that it absolutely is and that the lead-up to Christmas is a great example of how it works. The fact that Christmas itself is days or even weeks away does not detract from the enjoyment I get from the many festive moments leading up to the holiday.
- I love the day that my husband and I spend out in the cold, fresh air stringing lights around our tree in a valiant effort to recreate in our own small way the artistry we see each year when we tour Longwood Gardens.
- I love trimming the tree in our dining room that is filled with memories contained in 22 years of photo ornaments.
- I love eating dinner by the candlelight of our Advent wreath all month long.
- I love thinking of dear friends and family as I address envelopes and write a little note on our Christmas card.
- I love the afternoon that we spend together making sugar cookies from my grandmother’s recipe.
December is simply stuffed with moments like these to enjoy. My yoga practice of staying present has taught me to sink into each individual one with great pleasure.
After the anticipated event there is always something new to anticipate.
It’s interesting that for years I was surprised to feel a little wistful on Christmas Day. To my younger self, the arrival of that long-awaited morning meant that all the fun was over. Even then, I seemed to understand at a deep level that the joy of anticipation was possibly more than half the fun.
These days, if I catch myself feeling a little melancholy as we clean up the wrapping paper and bows, I take a moment to refocus on my practice which has taught me to notice and embrace each of the extra-special moments that come along (often out of the clear blue) every so often in life. Spending an afternoon shopping with your mom. Watching fireworks over a lake on a perfect summer night. Holding hands with your partner at a wedding or funeral. Laughing at your dog as he leaps around in a stream. Walking down a city sidewalk with your arm around your son. Laughing until you’re in tears with your daughters at dinner.
After all, while December’s moments are brightly lit and sparkly, it’s important to remember that life is filled with moments – anticipated and unanticipated – that we can sink into with pleasure.
If you struggle to stay in the moment or feel like there isn’t much to anticipate, reach out for a spiritual direction session. Expressing your feelings and being truly heard is a powerful step toward rediscovering your happiness.