Updated: Feb 1
We often hear these phrases in current conversations: "When all of this is over, I'm going to ..." or "the first thing I'm going to do after the pandemic is ..."
Signposts such as these point to the future with hopefulness, they carry within them innate optimism about a better future. I'd be the first to admit that I'm not an optimist by nature. Being optimistic doesn't come naturally. Since I wasn't born with an optimistic disposition, I really have to work at it. Enough about my inclination toward pessimism, and back to the future.
Viktor Frankl relates in his classic 'Man's Search for Meaning' - his book about hope and meaning found amidst the evils suffered in the concentration camps of Auschwitz - stories of prisoners who found meaning amidst personal suffering by thinking about the future when they'd be free again. Some held personal future visions, and cultivated deep anticipation of, seeing their loved ones again. This gave them the resolve in the present to endure enormous suffering. Other prisoners envisioned themselves completing a project which they'd left incomplete before their captivity etc.
The economic theorist W.S. Jevons noted that pleasurable experiences can be caused by:
1. Memory of past events 2. Sensation of present events 3. Anticipation of future events
This third phenomenon he termed, anticipal pleasure. To illustrate this, think about that build-up of anticipation when you plan a vacation: That feeling when you start browsing through pictures of that destination with its azure ocean, white beaches, palm trees and beach bungalows. Think about putting yourself imaginatively on that pristine beach in a hammock underneath an umbrella sipping away at virgin piña coladas and soaking in the sun. Counting down the days on the calendar and actively looking forward to this planned trip. Telling friends and family about your holiday plans and living yourself into it.
These are all examples of anticipal pleasure. The anticipation of the trip is, in a way, just as important as the trip itself to derive pleasure from it. Psychologists call this kind of daydreaming anticipation a form of 'savouring' - savouring by anticipating the future (conscious attention paid to anticipated pleasure).
Thinking about the future in dark times is a form of hope from which we can derive meaning in the here-and-now. Anticipal pleasure, as we consider what we will do and where we'll go “when all of this is over", is important, not only to bring mindful awareness of that future experience, but also when it comes to our attitudinal approach to current difficulties and the behaviours which we choose to engage in order to actively invest (physically, spiritually and emotionally) in that future day.
What are you looking forward to doing when all of this is over?
What would you like to start doing to plan and prepare for a future experience?
Where would you like to go when all of this is over?
*I'm indebted to my mother for this post from whom I could draw inspiration due to her insights into Frankl's 'Logotherapy'.