Science Says You Need to Plan Some Things to Look Forward To

Science Says You Need to Plan Some Things to Look Forward To

via Vice by Allie Volpe

After a summer full of park socializing and outdoor dining, winter has settled in, bringing endless hours of darkness, record-high COVID hospitalizations and deaths, and a renewed sense of dread. Rising case counts, colder weather, and tightening lockdown measures have made the relative flexibility of the summer a thing of the past… which may have also resulted in your pausing on making plans for the future. After all, why bother setting another Zoom happy hour when the novelty has long since worn off?

But with January—and the post-holiday crash—just around the corner, and perhaps the most isolating days of the pandemic ahead of us, it’s never been more important to give yourself things to look forward to, no matter how small. A 2015 study found that having something positive to look forward to reduces stress and boosts mood. With the current state of the world, it’s essential, not selfish or silly, to give yourself a positive, anticipatory boost—here’s why.

Thinking about the future can make you feel better in the present.

Given the uncertainty of the pandemic, making plans for the future is virtually impossible. What will the world look like in the summer when you want to organize a road trip with friends outside your household? Anything you can successfully plan and look forward to (even something as small as the takeout you’re going to order for dinner tonight) can make you feel hopeful that “there can be something positive in the future and the expectation that something positive will happen,” Diggles said.

Humans are extremely future-oriented, Christian Waugh, an associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, told VICE. From making weekend plans to plotting a five-year career path, humans have the unique ability to set goals and envision how to get there and how it’ll feel when they do. 

Think about the last vacation you planned. It’s likely you pictured yourself lounging on the beach or weaving through winding European streets. It’s also likely this daydreaming gave you a jolt of excitement. A 2010 study explored this exact phenomenon, showing that people with an upcoming vacation were happier than non-travelers, suggesting anticipatory glee fueled their present happiness. 

Actively imagining, and looking forward to, your best life can actually make you more optimistic, studies show. This mental image can make you just as happy as the experience itself, marriage and family therapist Kimberly Diggles told VICE. “We know anticipating something positive actually helps to maintain dopamine levels in your brain,” she said. “So just the very idea of anticipating something good can physically change your brain chemistry so you feel happy.”

… keep reading the full & original article HERE