Here’s a little tip for life: try to always have something to look forward to, no matter how small. The power of anticipation in boosting our well-being is incredible.
You know that feeling you get when you’re dreading giving a public talk or going to the dentist? That is the negative power of anticipation, but it also works the other way. We get enormous amounts of pleasure from looking forward to good things in the future (Bryant, 2003).
This is part of the reason why our modern consumer society of ‘buy now and pay later’ robs us of pleasure. Part of the fun of purchasing both objects and experiences is in their anticipation. Waiting for good things to come is fun.
There’s a part of our minds that thinks we’ll enjoy it more if we get it right now, but that part is the greedy part. And it’s wrong.
Get it later
You might think that what we lose in anticipation, we’ll gain in reminiscences. In other words we’ll get the pleasure the other side of our purchase. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. The pleasure people get from their anticipation is stronger than from their reminiscences (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007).
This may be partly to do with the Zeigarnik effect: the idea that something tends to stick in our mind until it’s completed. In the same way once objects or experiences are ‘obtained’ our mind forgets about them. But while they’re still in the future, we keep mulling them over.
There are two other added bonuses of paying now and getting it later:
- Better decisions: People make better choices for the future than they do for right now. Right now we’re more like greedy children who want everything that’s bad for us. When choosing for the future we’re like sensible grown-ups, choosing things we know are better for us. Economists call this ‘hyperbolic discounting’, psychologists call it ‘the present bias’ and I call it the ‘chocolate-now-fruit-next-week effect’.
- Pleasure of uncertainty: The process of choosing creates uncertainty about what we’re going to get. And this uncertainty heightens our pleasure (see this article on How to Feel More Pleasure).
We’re all well aware of how the culture of ‘buy now, pay later’ has got our economies into trouble. But this inability to wait for good things to come is also robbing us of what Dunn et al. (2011) call ‘free pleasure’.
If we can wait, then anticipation, uncertainty and better decisions will all contrive to give us more pleasure from our money.
Image credit: Mike Bitzenhofer
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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.