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The Power of Having Something to Look Forward to

These 28 things could lift your spirits.

Key points

  • Having something to look forward to can be helpful for many people.
  • Ideas may include helping others, hosting a party, starting a new hobby, exercising, or watching an uplifting movie.
  • Making a list of things to look forward to can keep these positives top-of-mind when you’re feeling low.
 Krista Kennedy/Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Krista Kennedy/Flickr, CC 2.0

Especially if you’re down in the dumps, you’d probably welcome something to pull you up.

One tactic that my clients have found helpful is rather simple: Just think of something you're looking forward to. Or if you can't think of anything, think of something you could do that you'd look forward to.

It could be just one thing, although the more the merrier, literally.

To illustrate and to prompt your thinking, here are 28 possibilities. Might you be able to look forward to any of these?

Note: They're aimed at people with common, sub-clinical sadness and may well be insufficient to deal with major depression or other mental illnesses.


  • Help someone else. Often that’s the best route upward. That may make you feel more fortunate, feel useful, or at least be distracted from your own woes.
  • Something fun that you could do with your partner. What's been fun for you, not just in the recent past, but back to the beginning of your relationship? You might even look back to previous relationships.
  • Something fun you could do to attract a partner, for example, attend an event at which your Mr./Ms. Right might show up, for example, a particular talk or class, or a volunteer opportunity.
  • Reminisce about past good relationships. Think about first dates, romantic dates, that great trip you took together, that wild or peaceful time together.
  • Fantasize about the relationship you wish you had. What would the person's demeanor be? What would s/he look like? What would you do together?
  • Reach out to a current or old friend. Think of someone you’ve laughed or had great conversations with.
  • Reach out to a family member. Who do you most like and trust?
  • Throw a party. Of course, for some people who are feeling blue, that’s overwhelming. But other sad people find a big project to be energizing. How about you? If it feels a bit much, perhaps you can co-host.


  • A meeting at which you could make a contribution. Consider reviewing the agenda of an upcoming meeting to see whether some reflection or research might generate something.
  • A project you could do well, perhaps one that you need to propose. There's no need to make it fancy. For starters at least, how about describing it in 50 words or less?
  • Socializing at the water cooler or break room.
  • Neatening your desk or office. Cleaning up can be uplifting—it’s doable without huge effort and you see instant results. If a cleanup project seems overwhelming, start with just one corner of the room or one drawer in your desk.


  • Draw or paint something. Even if you can draw nothing more complicated than stick figures, most acts of creation can be uplifting.
  • Write a poem, song, or short story. Or start on a book, screenplay, or great American novel. Just start. You might begin with what feels easy, perhaps the title, the first sentence, a character sketch, whatever. Try to have fun in the act of creation. That's helpful not only in uplifting yourself but often in creating a good product.
  • Play a sport. Do it your way: competitive or not, whatever’s going to help pull you out of the doldrums.
  • Watch a sport. Get into it or just appreciate it.
  • Take a sports lesson. For example, sign up for a tennis class.
  • Do something crafty, by yourself or with others, for example, the classic sewing circle.
  • Take a walk or hike to a favorite place or find a new area to explore.
  • Read a good book or, what I particularly enjoy, reread a good book.
  • Watch an uplifting movie—Forrest Gump comes to mind. Or rewatch an uplifting movie.
  • Build something, if only to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture.


  • Start or reinvigorate your exercise routine. Chart your progress with an app such as My Fitness Pal, an exercise partner, watch exercise videos, or take a class. Would any of these make it more motivating?
  • Go on a prudent diet, charting your progress, perhaps using an app such as LoseIt.
  • Cut your substance use. Of course, when you’re sad, it’s tempting to increase substance use. But I’ve had clients find new hope in deciding they’ve had enough.


  • Attend a religious service or otherwise get involved in a religious institution.
  • Think big thoughts, even cosmic ones. What would make the world wonderful? What’s good about the world as it is?
  • Pray. Even atheists feel good about hoping for better while feeling grateful for the good that exists.

The takeaway

Now take just one minute, but give it a full minute, to think of at least one thing you are or could be looking forward to. As mentioned, the more the merrier.

Now write them down, keep the list in front of you, and paraphrase them often, verbally or in writing. That should keep those positives top-of-mind and help bring you out of the dumps.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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