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Harnessing the Power of Anticipation

How to get even more enjoyment out of your summer adventures.

In one week, I will be in Europe teaching a study abroad class. Although I’m swamped with end-of-semester grading, I’m trying to remind myself of a frequently-cited finding: the time leading up to a vacation is often as pleasant as the vacation itself! But this is only true if we let ourselves enjoy it.

How do we anticipate an upcoming vacation when life feels crazy-busy? Well, in my new book, The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations, I suggest several strategies:

Bask in the images. Sure, guidebooks, Pinterest boards, and travel blogs are glamorized and glossed-over, but they can still get you excited for what’s to come. Spend a few minutes browsing, and savor a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Get the backstory. Consider going deeper. Go beyond the images and delve into the history and culture of the place you are visiting. If you’re not a history buff, even a novel set in the location you plan to visit can help set the stage. A cookbook dedicated to the local cuisine can give you mouth-watering images and information on what’s to come. Have any movies or television shows been shot there? Seeing your destination used as a backdrop is fun, fascinating, and a bit surreal as it hits you that you will soon be inhabiting that film-worthy space.

Let it build together. These strategies can also be used with the people you’re traveling with. Thumbing through a guidebook together, scrolling through images online, watching a movie set in the location you’re visiting, or attempting to cook something from the local cuisine can be fun and will help build collective excitement for what is to come.

Social psychologists Liz Dunn and Mike Norton describe a period of anticipation as “free happiness – it cost no extra to harness the power of anticipation, and yet it can add so much more excitement to an already-good experience. And none of these tips require much time or energy.

Of course, these tips aren’t exclusive to vacations. What else is on the horizon? A graduation? Family reunion? A special meal out? A friend’s summer wedding? While the specific strategies you use might change, anything that you’re looking forward to can be made even better by letting your anticipation build.

More from Jaime L. Kurtz Ph.D.
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