A Little Happier: When Do I Feel the Joyous, Childhood Feeling of Expectancy?

I love children’s literature and young-adult literature, and I love the four Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald. Children love the stories of warm-hearted Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and her funny cures for children’s misbehavior, and these stories are also very enjoyable for adults, because they’re such a comical portrayal of adult life.

Because I enjoy Betty MacDonald’s children’s books so much, I decided to read the memoirs she wrote for an adult audience. In her 1955 memoir Onions in the Stew, she observes, Going down to the beach after a storm is the only time in my adult life when I experience that wonderful, joyous, childhood feeling of expectancy.

This observation struck me, because I’ve noticed that I too rarely experience a “sense of expectancy.” I don’t have a very joyful spirit. I rarely look forward even to fun events or activities. Also, I dislike errands, logistical details, or any kind of hassle, and even when those hurdles are fairly minor, they can overshadow my sense of anticipation.

But to go through the days and weeks and months of life, looking forward to nothing, struck me as a sour way to live.

One of my aims for my happiness project, therefore, has been to boost my feelings of pleasant expectancy. For instance, I make a real effort to add items to my schedule that I actually anticipate and to make time for activities that I really enjoy – to go to a bookstore or on a smell adventure with a friend.

Thinking along the same lines, a friend told me, “I looked at my seven-year-old nephew’s weekly schedule, and he had all sorts of fun activities, with art, music, baseball, library. I thought, I like to do those things, too! I wish my schedule had art, music, baseball, and library. Now I take time to do more fun things.”

I’ve also pushed myself to revel in anticipation, to devote mental energy and time to looking forward to activities I enjoy. In what’s known as “rosy prospection,” anticipation of an event is sometimes greater than the happiness actually experienced.

I’ve found that I can often re-frame activities to help myself anticipate them more. Do I view decorating the apartment for Halloween as a chore or as a pleasure? Do I think it’s tiresome or fun to shop for school supplies? I’ve been surprised by how readily I can steer my attitude.

One of my rules of happiness is that to eke out the most happiness from an experience, I must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express my happiness, and recall a happy memory. By making an effort mindfully to look forward to pleasant experiences, I prolong my experience of happiness.




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