By: Natalie Rice-Thorp, Ph.D. | September 4, 2020
Think back to pre-COVID-19 and ask yourself:
- Did you love the excitement of planning trips and finding new places to explore?
- Did you look forward to eating out with friends?
- Did you relish a leisurely trip through your favorite store just for fun?
- Did you look forward to exercise time at the gym?
- Did you have favorite seasonal traditions?
If you answered yes to any of the above, chances are, these activities suffered great impact by COVID-19.
We all know that the pandemic changed what we do for recreation and how we do it. You may not know that it also affected the natural rhythms of our cycles of anticipation. When we look forward to something pleasant, we get extra happiness points. Anticipating something fun, exciting, or relaxing can boost our mental health and extend the benefits of the activity itself. During the pandemic, people long for something to look forward to rather than enduring the mundane or, worse, dreading something unexpected.
This summer hosted only a few county fairs, July Fourth celebrations, final days of school in-person, and other social events. It can be tempting to pine for our pre-Covid lives or feel discouraged about a future timeline. No need to despair, though; there is still a way to unlock the benefits of anticipation today!
Identify something fun, exciting, or relaxing for you. Uh oh. Stuck already on Step 1? Did you pick something only to find that the pandemic disallows you from doing it? If so, that’s okay. Do not give up!
Repeat this mantra: Find Another Way, and then find another way. Embrace your creativity and stretch your brain. Don’t buy into discouraging thoughts such as “it’s not the same.” It doesn’t need to be the same to be pleasant. Even if the new way delivers one-third as much fun as the old way, you accrue a third more happiness points than you have right now. For example, if you miss going out to eat with a friend, but you need extra social distancing, try getting take out and having a car date where you sit in your cars facing each other. Use your phone for audio.
Schedule your activity and put it in your calendar. Not only does this increase the chances that the activity will happen, but it also gets you those bonus anticipation points.
Don’t forget the power of novelty! New things can energize us and stimulate our brains. (Insider tip: New things can make the weekend feel longer.) If you cannot go on vacation, try setting aside a weekend or more and only go to new places such as parks, trails, or take-out.
Kids also love to have things to look forward to. Work together to keep traditions alive in new ways. Attention parents: You don’t need to make everything the same as before, and you don’t need to create elaborate activities to give your kids something to look forward to. Keep things simple or you risk depleting your own mental well-being.
Say, for example, you decide to do a pandemic home version of a county fair tradition. You can easily run yourself ragged making beautiful booths for games and food. Or better, you could ask your kids what they liked best about the fair. Their answers might surprise you. Focus on their favorite things and forget the rest. For example, if they loved the county fair cotton candy and being outdoors at night, order some cotton candy online and eat it on a moonlight walk. Rides? Get creative with a large box and put it in front of your TV. Play footage of a roller coaster from the rider’s viewpoint and tilt the box along with the video. The kids can even decorate the box as their favorite ride. For added fun, film it in slow motion to watch and laugh together later. When you model how to be creative, it teaches kids perseverance and flexibility.
Anticipation points add up
You are now ready to cash in on some well-being points! Go find your activity to renew and refresh your anticipation cycle. Make it happen! If you run into difficulty, a San Diego psychologist can help you identify pleasant events, strategize, and return the rhythms of your joyful anticipation to some kind of natural again.