I see you shiver with antici...
March 12, 2021 12:03 AM   Subscribe

How can I rebuild and foster my capacity for positive anticipation and excitement?

A recent discussion with my therapist has me reflecting on the disappearance of excitement and positive anticipation from my emotional sphere. I’m sure some of this is related to covid, but I think it predates the current troubles. I tend not to think too far into the future, for both positive and negative events. However, I know that there’s a lot of science indicating the benefits of looking forward to things. It’s also pretty obviously a good thing.

What are some ways I can practice looking forward to good stuff on the horizon? Obviously, the current good stuff to anticipate is more limited; but it feels like that’s an opportunity to practice being excited about normal, day to day stuff (as opposed to an upcoming vacation). I’d also like to hear about rituals or routines you have that you look forward to, so that I might build in some regular things to be excited for.
posted by bluloo to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is something I struggle with as well. An offhand suggestion for you is try pickling or fermenting something. That's minimum overnight for yogurt or fridge pickles and maximum like, multiple years for fancy brewing. I do get anticipatory pleasure every time I make kimchi, which is an affair of a couple weeks. Boozy infusions like limoncello take about a month to make, an acquaintance of mine does this every November and gives out little bottles for late December gifts. Depending on the type of preservation technique you need to check on it more or less often and can enjoy it at different stages of preservation safely or not.

I know some people who really enjoy making reading lists, like they curate books and articles and such in themes or related topics, and then they have a kind of buildup of excitement about delving into a new topic. You might enjoy something similar by getting into a podcast that has suggested reading for it, like the History Chicks or Game Studies Study Buddies.
posted by Mizu at 12:34 AM on March 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Set an arbitrary date in the future on which you will give yourself a specific reward, and make a daily routine of relishing the anticipation? This makes me think of the excitement (and maybe even the, um, exquisite torture) of looking forward to summer vacation or a trip to Disneyland as a kid. What's a reasonable adult version that resonates with you?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:50 AM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also struggle with this. One thing that has given me a huge amount of very exhilarating excitement and anticipation is making friends online and then meeting them in real life. Not in a dating context, because I think in that case one should meet up with the person ASAP, but sort of pen-pals/make-new-friends/possibly dating vibes, where you can get to know them via other channels and then have the excitement of what they're like irl to look forward to. Maybe not as feasible or healthy in these times, but you could make it work.

People I know who are really into outdoors sports like rock climbing and surfing seem to have a lot of excitement and anticipation in their lives: planning their next expedition, or neurotically keeping track of the surf.

I do find baking to have a nice process of gentle anticipation to it, especially stuff that takes a while like sourdough bread.

Growing your own fruit and veg is a long-haul version, keeping you engaged and looking forward in the cycle of years and months.

I absolutely love to sleep and having a cosy bed time ritual and taking the time to really enjoy snuggling down in bed is something I actively look forward to throughout the day.
posted by Balthamos at 1:10 AM on March 12, 2021

I struggle with this. I find it hard to look forward to most things because I can't *not* think about what might go wrong, so there's always a bit of trepidation or apprehension mixed in there. And where that doesn't apply, there's a tradeoff between knowing enough to look forward to something and being unaware enough to be delightfully surprised by it when it happens, and I haven't figured out where I need the balance to lie.

That said. Are you a reader? At the start of the year, I searched on a couple of online bookshops for all the authors I could think of whose books I would buy on sight, and compiled a list of forthcoming paperback publication dates. I can't sensibly preorder them more than a few weeks ahead (will I still be at home full-time come July? Who knows?) but I've got at least a couple of books to look forward to each month through till October. I'll repeat the exercise in the summer (dates change, new books get announced).
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:56 AM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Thank you for asking this question. I have this problem too. I approach it in an ass backwards way. I find that if I get too set on having to create enjoyable experiences for myself, I can get anxious, focus too much on how limited my opportunities for enjoyment are (or seem to be) or how little control I have, what might go wrong, that I might be disappointed etc.
So I try to pay attention to every time an unexpected enjoyable thing happens, even if it's very small. Then at the beginning of the next day, I say to myself "I wonder what unexpected lovely thing will happen today - yesterday it was (insert happy thing here)".
For example, today it was that a young writer I am mentoring mentioned in an email how much he enjoyed working with me. The other day it was seeing a chameleon crossing the path when I was out for my walk.
It helps me when I realise that I can find joy in my days without necessarily planning for it or having to take it on as another job on my list, "do something fun". Of course, building enjoyable activities into your day is important! But sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming, like another Thing You Have To Do.
posted by Zumbador at 3:33 AM on March 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

One week we got an fancy (FANCY) take out dinner. We had to order it a week in advance. I tell you, I looked forward to that all. week.

Smaller option: I like my evening routine a lot. I brush my teeth, put on comfy pj's, light a candle, and climb in bed to read an hour before I want to fall asleep. When I have a good book, or know that tomorrow's breakfast and coffee is going to be good, or my favorite pj's are clean, I look forward to that.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:48 AM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In reading this question and the responses above, I realized that many of the daily routines I've adopted to keep myself physically and mentally healthy also serve as scheduled joy. As rigid as that may sound, they work well for me. Here are a few examples.

I keep my phone outside my bedroom, which helps me be more attuned to the natural light and dark from the windows. Often I have a WhatsApp message waiting for me from my friend on the other side of the world, sent while she winds down during her evening. I make it a priority to attend my online yoga classes in the morning (with teacher's camera on as well as us students'), where I start to feel strong, connected, and revitalized. While I get ready for work, I lean into the pleasurable sensory experiences of the hot water hitting me in the shower, the freshness of my moisturized face, the complex notes of my favorite eau de toilette, the soothing rises and falls of the voices on the radio.

My partner and I take a walk around the neighborhood in the early afternoon on weekdays. My signal to relax (and something to look forward to) in the evening is lighting a scented candle and watching the flame dance. I have a few shows that I watch at certain times - right now, it's Kath and Kim that cracks me up in the evenings, Dickinson or the Mandalorian on Friday evenings. When I have a stressful work week, I look forward to an extra shower in the evening to help me unwind. Something more unpredictable is putting a few ebooks on hold and getting excited when I get the notification email that a book is ready to borrow.

I hope something in here is helpful to you!
posted by charcoals at 4:51 AM on March 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have gone back to watching current series (television, streaming, etc) at a one episode a week clip. Even if I have it all recorded and available, and even if I don't watch it on the original air date, it's once a week and no more. And while not a HUGE thing, it reminds me of years ago when each day of the week had it's own little thing to look forward to.
posted by kimberussell at 5:22 AM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Before the pandemic, I created a someday/maybe list:

- Upcoming movie releases with dates
- New restaurants that opened that I want to try

Still applicable during the pandemic:

- New releases and on order books at the local library and put a hold on them
posted by saturdaymornings at 8:20 AM on March 12, 2021

I follow a lot of webcomics. Some update several times a week, some at a slower pace. It means there is always something to enjoy right now (today's updates) and something to enjoy at a later time (future updates). And there are some really good webcomics around these days!
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:40 AM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've noticed a pattern for me: I look forward to things when there are constraints in my life.

I'm currently trying to lose COVID weight, and it makes me so look forward to each and every meal. I'm working from home, and I can eat anything at any time. I don't remember appreciating eating that second brownie weeks ago nearly as much as I now do having a snack of sliced apples and peanut butter.

I love coffee. Drinking caffeinated coffee, tea, and sodas was a baseline minimum for daily operation for years. I stopped drinking caffeine every day in early 2020. I allow myself a quarter-caff coffee a couple of times a week, and on those days, I feel like I'm flying.

Perhaps you could try introducing a couple of artificial constraints in your life.
posted by cursed at 9:07 AM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is something I've been struggling with for a couple of years now. I wasn't always like this, for most of my life I practically lived in the future... always looking forward to a time when I assumed I'd have my career sorted out, understand my life purpose, have a house and more money to do fun things, eventually retire and travel. I always just assumed that I would achieve those things, because progressing is just what you do in life.

And then one day I realized that at my age and level of health, I've probably done most of the progressing that I'm ever going to do. And I don't know what there is to look forward to from here. Not to say that there aren't possibilities, but it no longer seems like such a given that we'll get to retire in financial comfort and spend a decade or more enjoying our time and doing as we please (as our parents and grandparents got to do.) I'm not going to get that college degree, or have the kind of family relationships I wanted, or discover the perfect career.

Even things I used to look forward to in the short term have changed due to Covid and other reasons. A festival I looked forward to every fall may be discontinued, or if it continues it likely won't be the same. I used to love to swim a couple of times a week, until I saw some asshole deliberately blowing his nose into the pool and now every time I swim I can't stop thinking about what-all grossness might be in the water. I was greatly looking forward to returning to my in-person Weight Watchers meetings once vaccinated, only to find out they've shut our studio down. There are other studios in the area, but with a different coach and a different group, and it won't be the same.

So I'm kind of at a loss these days. I'm bored and unsatisfied in the present, and I feel like I've (hopefully temporarily) run out of things to care about and look forward to. I'm currently reading a book called Why Bother by Jennifer Louden that is addressing this from the perspective I'm coming from, and while it hasn't been exactly earth-shattering so far it has gotten me thinking about things and feeling a little more interest in life than I've felt in a while, so that's something. I'm only about halfway through so maybe the earth-shattering part is yet to come... lol. I also started taking an antidepressant again, and started therapy, so I feel like I've perked up a little at least.

I'm also working on a list of things I want to do post-Covid, so when things open back up again I don't let it all pass me by while I spend all my free time at home on the internet because I can't think of anything better to do.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:06 AM on March 12, 2021

Plant something! Watch it grow. You can't speed it up but you can rejoice in seeing it happen. How about an avocado pit?

(Yes, this comment is very late. I hope it rewards your wait.)
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:47 AM on March 23, 2021

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