How happy do you expect to be?
The answer to that question could have a major influence on how happy you feel.
A team of scientists led by Robb Rutledge from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, found that our in-the-moment happiness levels are influenced by activities, events, and outcomes.
But our expectations for those events contribute to our happiness before they even occur. For example, simply booking the exotic vacation you’ve been looking forward will leave you feeling happy long before you ever wind up on the tropical island.
We have a real shot at happiness by simply expecting to be happy, according to Rutledge.
It’s no surprise that the suggestion or expectation of happiness might lead us there. Deliberate suggestion has long been shown to impact our moods, behavior, healing, and even our memory, according to psychological scientists Maryanne Garry, Robert Michael and Irving Kirsch.
The reason, they say, is attributable to something called “response expectancies.” Anticipating our response to a situation influences how we will actually respond. In other words, once you expect something to happen, your behaviors, thoughts, and reactions will actually contribute to making that expectation occur.
If you book that trip, schedule the wedding, or plan the party, you probably have some reasonable expectations that you will have fun and things will go well, which boosts your in-the-moment happiness.
Then, you automatically set about planning the wedding or preparing for the trip in a way that gives you a greater chance of having a fabulous event.
The suggestion of a good time — it’s unlikely someone would plan an event doomed to fail — inspires you to plan and prepare in a way that insures that you have a good time.
Yet you don’t need to make big plans to find moments of happiness and joy in the middle of your daily life. Instead, you can adopt some in the-moment habits that will help you feel happier now and leave you with the suggestion of future happiness.
Gratitude is one of those on-the-go practices that can leave you feeling better no matter what kind of drama is going on. Stop, take a deep breath and give thanks aloud for one thing you notice in this moment right now – your breath, the beautiful tree outside your window, the warmth of your coat, the comfort of your home – then pause to allow the feelings of gratitude to emerge.
The practice of savoring also can inspire a quick and lingering sense of happiness. It requires you to pause for a minute (at least) and to become aware of your experience. Notice it, find the amazing within it and pause long enough to enjoy all that.
Using all of your senses, seek out something interesting or inspiring in the natural world – a spider’s web, the way the snow balances on a limb, blowing leaves, the shadows on the sidewalk — and marvel at this element. Absorb it. Identify the emotions you experience from noticing this thing and sit with it for about 30 seconds.
These practices allow you to tune in to the experience in the moment. Even in the midst of challenge or frustration they help you find the awe and beauty and joy that exists.