Friday, June 17, 2011

Anticipating the pleasure ahead adds richness to life

If you were to stop by my house about 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, you would find me standing at the counter in my kitchen. I’d probably still be sporting pajamas and may very likely be dotted with flour. Our children would be intermittently darting in and out of the room as I rolled out a sticky rectangle of dough. I’d have offers to stir the filling, and I’d be fielding arguments about who got to make the frosting last time.

“Saturday morning cinnamon rolls,” as they’ve come to be called at our house, mark the end of our week. Making these rolls is a simple ritual, but one that is already deeply rooted in my family’s story. It’s what we do together on Saturdays, a tradition that gives us something to anticipate.

As parents, we want to help our children anticipate good things, to celebrate the pleasure of looking forward to moments we have planned. Fortunately, young children don’t need a lot of prompting to relish the excitement of good things to come. At our house, it’s just a simple, “Do you know what tomorrow is?” reminder when we put them to bed on Friday. They squirm and chatter about cinnamon rolls as we close their doors for the night.

The notion of Saturday morning cinnamon rolls may not be squirm-worthy to you, but there is a great deal of value in learning (or rather relearning) the art of anticipation. Anticipation can fuel hope and become a counterpoint to the general busyness, and the sometimes mundane moments, of daily life. Anticipation lets you relish the best of what is to come, and it is a worthy defense against expectation.

Unlike anticipation, expectation tends to leave you disappointed. You don’t have to be an adult long to realize how often circumstances don’t turn out as you might have planned. It happens virtually every day, in things big and small: Your offer on a house is turned down, you get overlooked for a promotion or you don’t get the birthday gift you asked for. And when you’ve expected a certain result that doesn’t work out, you can easily feel deflated, even angry.

Disappointments are a natural part of life, but you can have fewer of them when you learn to shift your focus from expectation to anticipation. You can start doing this by giving yourself more good things to anticipate.

In other words, deliberately plan – and then do – things that will boost your happiness, either as one-time events or ongoing rituals. Organize a picnic with your friends or family. Meet a friend for coffee, visit your favorite bookstore or antique shop, go fishing or start a weekend breakfast tradition, such as freshly brewed coffee and blueberry scones on the porch.

You can also look for intentional ways to savor good things to come. Get a small notebook, or even a small piece of scratch paper. Write today’s date on it and write down something you’re looking forward to today. Next, ask yourself what you are looking forward to tomorrow, next week and next month. The very act of chronicling the things you’re anticipating will help you enjoy those experiences even more.

As for me, I’m looking forward to digging in the dirt when I get home today. Tomorrow, I’m anxious to make headway on a major project at work. Next week, I’m anticipating some of the first fresh greens from the garden. And next month, I’m looking forward to taking a weekend family vacation.

What about you? What good things are you anticipating in the days to come?