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The four stages of happiness: anticipate, savor, express, and reflect.

The four stages of happiness: anticipate, savor, express, and reflect.

We’ve all heard Dr. Kublher-Ross’s stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance.

I’ve been thinking about the four stages of happiness – really, the stages of appreciating a particular happy moment.

My research has shown me that a key to happiness is squeezing out as much happiness as possible from a happy event. Unhappy people don’t have fewer happy experiences as happy people, they just think about them less.

To get the most bang for the happiness buck, I’ve realized that I should complete four stages of reveling in a moment of happiness:

 anticipate with pleasure,
 savor the moment as I experience it,
 express my happiness to myself or others, and
 reflect on a happy memory.

(I wish that I could get these four stages to spell out LIFT or GRIN or some clever mnemonic – any ideas?)

I’ve already done quite a bit of thinking about reflecting on happy memories. Nowadays, I spend more time on things like photo albums, making videos, and organizing mementos, because I realize what a happiness boost these reminders can provide.

But I hadn’t thought much about anticipation until the last few weeks. If anything, I think I discouraged myself from anticipating a happy moment – either out of some kind of superstitious fear that I’d be “jinxing” it, or by trying to keep myself from feeling disappointed if the anticipated moment didn’t happen.

That’s foolish. First, “jinxing” is superstition. Second, why squelch present happiness from some attempt to manage my future feelings? Such a disappointment wouldn’t be a crushing blow, and I’m depriving myself of the joys of anticipation.

This issue caught my attention last week, because I noticed that I had a week of good things. By chance, every day included something that I was really looking forward to doing. These events were hardly monumental – one was nothing more exciting than watching the new Sopranos episode.

But I noticed what a lift I got, each time I glanced through my calendar (which I do about 45 times a day).

So I’m resolving to do two things to do a better job of reveling in pleasant anticipation.

I’m going to make more of a commitment to plan to do things that give me a happiness boost. I should say to the Big Man, “On Saturday, let’s go to the bookstore to buy books for our trip.” Probably we would do that anyway, but by putting it on the schedule, I can look forward to it -- thus increasing my happiness bang for the buck.

Also, I’m going to make an effort to have something to look forward to each day. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and coffee with a friend makes it a lot easier to work on the fifteenth draft of my HAPPINESS PROJECT sample chapter.

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