As long as I can remember, I have loved having something good to look forward to. Don’t most of us? Savoring the thought of happy future times extends the time that we enjoy them and enhances our experiences of gratitude and pleasure.
This is anticipatory savoring, a valuable, mindfulness-based tool, laden with appreciation. It’s the feeling of delight we get when we are looking forward to something special. Anticipatory savoring makes life seem really worth living. When we notice opportunities for anticipatory savoring and then intentionally integrate them into daily life, we can experience far-reaching long-lasting benefits. The event or experience might not go as we like, but we can find pleasure in it, no matter how it turns out.
What are you planning and looking forward to in the future? It could be anything you enjoy doing, from a walk in the park, a play date with your kids, having a special dinner, a future vacation, or a snuggle date with someone you love.
Savoring can be a therapeutic tool that enhances our well-being, builds relationships, fosters mental and physical health, and enhances our problem-solving capabilities. Savoring can involve positive mental time travel: we can be fully involved in present joys, reminisce about past joys, or anticipate future joys. Here we are focusing on savoring what has yet to occur.
My Adventure with Anticipatory Savoring
My extraordinary anticipatory savoring opportunity started last Mother’s Day, 2023 when I received this note from my beloved daughter, Lianna, in anticipation of an upcoming BIG birthday in August. Lianna’s note said,
“WILL YOU GO TO SPAIN WITH ME?
Lianna had decided to give me a luxurious celebratory holiday in Mallorca, Spain. What’s more, she told me about it long enough ahead of time that I could imagine the things we would do together and even help with the planning, which I very much enjoy. It was a most precious and well-timed gift. This past year was one of the most difficult in my life with almost too much tragedy and loss. My daughter’s sweet, generous, and curious note started my anticipatory savoring that lasted from May until we left for our holiday late in September. In the aftermath of this surprise trip, I continue to experience the blessings of closeness to my daughter and appreciation for her thoughtfulness.
When Lianna was growing up, one of my favorite things was to plan and travel with her. Over the years, we visited London, Paris, Italy, Iceland, the Caribbean, and Greece together and made great shared memories. I love travel because it seems one of the greatest ways to learn about people, cultures, and the world. Our trips were also times to bond, grow, and explore. On one of our trips, I was momentarily frustrated about something. My sweet daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, someday, I’m going to take YOU away on a trip.” Here it was. She planned to take me to Spain.
Looking forward to positive events in the future is wonderful
Anticipatory savoring means paying attention to the positive emotions that can be gained from planning, imagining, and sharing thoughts about a future event. It’s intentional and aspirational. Researchers Bryant and Veroff defined savoring as “the capacity to attend to, appreciate, and enhance the positive experiences in one’s life.” When we savor, we use our thoughts and actions to increase positive emotional intensity and duration. These uplifting feelings can be heartening and long lasting, filling us with excitement, energy, and gratitude. Benefits of anticipatory savoring include:
The process of imagining and mentally preparing for enjoyable experiences provides an overall positive emotional impact. According to the Broaden-and-Build Theory, positive emotions play a pivotal role in human flourishing, fostering social, emotional, and psychological well-being. Cultivating them is transformative. The promise of this adventure lifted me up and made me so happy. Looking forward to going to Spain with Lianna was a true joy.
I’ve always enjoyed and gotten excited planning travel adventures. Because Lianna was in charge this time, I experienced anticipatory savoring in a new blissful way. I knew Lianna had this. Instead, I delighted in finding articles and pictures of beautiful Mallorca to imagine what it might be like to be there. I thought about the lovely hotels, which Lianna did show me, along with the culture, the food we might eat, the adventures we’d have, and what our experience might be like. It made me excited, and it filled me with appreciation for my daughter’s thoughtfulness and generosity.
My husband, Sean, held the fort at home in a big way, and was happy for Lianna’s gift of a lifetime to me. Lianna’s husband, John, contributed to our celebration by treating us to a day on a chartered boat. It was dreamy, then and now, remembering our day with the capable local captain, who regaled us with stories, including how he, a Mallorca native and attorney, had lived and worked in New York. Like his many siblings, he felt called back to “the Rock,” his sumptuous island home. On the boat we explored cliffs, coves, caves, and beaches. We swam ashore to one hidden rocky beach, accessible onlyfrom the boat or down the cliffs, teeming with goats roaming among the occasional nude bathers. Then we went back to the boat for more scenic sea vistas, conversation, antics, mimosas, and charcuterie. What a day to treasure.
Amplifying Positive Emotions: Anticipation of future events can intensify beneficial positive emotions, which offer abundant resources and promote a life worth living.
- Promoting Well-Being, Health, and Happiness: Engaging in anticipation contributes to a more positive outlook on life and provides us with a sense of purpose and motivation. Anticipatory savoring has been linked to increased levels of well-being and happiness. There can be great joy in looking positively forward.
I can attest to that. The thought that my daughter wanted to honor me and spend time with me on my big birthday was the ultimate. The days we enjoyed exploring, the glorious sunsets, the delicious fresh food, gorgeous settings, and interesting people we met, all contributed to the happiness.
Our days were filled with adventure, lots of movement, rest, and great food as we were immersed in Mallorca’s natural beauty, truly a feast for the mind, body, and spirit.
Anticipatory savoring improves our brains too. Neuroscientific studies have shown that the brain regions associated with reward and pleasure are activated during foreseen periods. Our trip to Mallorca was a powerful brain booster as we traversed new terrain, drove along heart stopping mountain peaks, explored the unknown, climbed down precipices to swim in gorgeous cool, calm coves, and celebrated my entering a new decade of life.
- Reducing and Buffering Distress: Studies indicate that when we engage in anticipatory savoring, we are better equipped to cope with life’s challenges. The positive emotions generated during anticipation can act as a psychological resource, offering us resilience against setbacks. Another helpful aspect of anticipatory savoring is that it can lay down a foundation for resilience when things are not going so well. When we focus on happy or hopeful future events, it helps alleviate stress and anxiety, redirects our focus, and provides us with a mental escape from current challenges. This may buffer us from distress, at least for a little bit. As I mentioned, it was a challenging year, time away, and preceding that with the anticipation, allowed me to reset for joy, for a time, around so much sadness.
- Inspiring Goal: When we look forward to achieving certain goals or milestones, positive anticipation can inspire us to work towards those objectives with an increased enthusiasm and commitment. In my case, I figured I’d be active, hiking and adventuring with my very fit daughter. Prior, I set a new goal to move more and in different ways. I added complexity to my strength, cardio, flexibility, and balance training so I could keep up with Lianna as we got to hike mountainous trails, scale rocky coasts, climb down to the sea, cliff jump, and swim in the heavenly crystal-clear waters.
- Strengthening Relationships: Sharing positive anticipatory experiences with others can strengthen social bonds, fostering a sense of connection and mutual joy. It can also enhance the quality of our social interactions.
Lianna and I got to enjoy our time exploring, dining, and having intimate, mom-daughter time together. The literal icing on the cake was a surprise dinner at a gorgeous beach front restaurant that Lianna had planned. I will always cherish that wonderful moonlit night, the company, our fabulous meal, and a remembrance of us running from the restaurant in our dresses and heels to catch the last trolly to take up back to our hotel.
I didn’t mean to bring work on the trip but Lianna even helped me practice for a special speaking presentation I was giving shortly after our return home. She is a pro, so that was also truly amazing.
In the planning, during, and since our holiday, I feel so grateful for my daughter’s gift. In the midst of adversity, we deeply bonded through our mutual joy and her generosity. Recently Lianna and John, temporarily moved from New York City to 5 blocks away from my husband and me for the winter months. How great a surprise that is to savor!
Anticipatory savoring can be a powerful force that influences our emotional landscapes and contributes to our flourishing in life. Integrating some anticipatory savoring into every day can lead us to greater appreciation, positive emotions, closer ties, clarity, and fulfilling life experiences.
What are you looking forward to? Please feel free to share in the comments below any gift that keeps on giving.
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection. New York: Penguin Group.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
All images contributed by the author.