I’ve long realized that much of life’s pleasures appear to occur in the anticipation of them… in the desire more than in satisfying the desire. The conclusion of a desire or goal — the sated phase — is ultra fleeting, almost to the point of being anticlimactic. If you’re interested in this, begin by watching this short video, YouTube [The Fast Draw: Vacations]. I’ll include a summary at the bottom of this post.
Here are a few personal examples of the power of anticipation, followed by reflections on its useful application:
♦ During the years I spent hitch hiking the world I’d occasionally visited upscale supermarkets in the capital cities and feasted my eyes on the goodies — the soul food I enjoyed growing up in America. I recall doing this in Ouagadougou (capital of Burkina Faso) after hitch hiking across the Sahara desert. I must have spent a few hours inside the air-conditioned market ogling at the delicacies until I felt fully sated. I then went outside and had a snack from a street vender to top it off. (Ovaltine and a fried thing as I recall).
♦ When my ex-wife and I separated, I stopped eating for a few weeks to help ground me. I stayed at a friend’s house and each day I’d prepare the most exquisite meal I could for him. I have never enjoyed food as much as during that time. Nothing makes food so inviting as hunger, and it is in the anticipation where the joy really lies. You can notice this even in normal situations. Next time you have dinner, wait until you are extra hungry, then see how splendid the first bite tastes! The second will be a little less, and the third less still…and so on, until you may end up stuffed as chapter 9 hints, Grasping and yet full of, not in harmony with oneself.
Food offers the clearest example of anticipation’s effect upon happiness. The Dutch study covered in the video focuses on vacations. However, I find this same effect in just about everything, but especially noticeable in shopping and sex. Why don’t we notice this happening more in our lives? Perhaps because we’re so caught up in the process… Ah yes, the blind spot blinds!
Applying the Secret to Happiness
Google [The Fast Draw: Vacations] for the video describing the underlying essence of what I aspire to in literally my everything action. When I am playing music, sweeping the floor, making tea, or you name it, I am happiest when my awareness is at the edge of the experience anticipating the next moment. I always thought of this as being-in-the-moment, but it is more like pushing my moment a bit ahead of the present ‘now’ (1). This moment of experience flow is hard to describe, so I can only hope it echoes your experience somewhat.
Shortly after seeing the video, I played my bamboo flute (google [blowing Zen]). I deliberately tried placing a little extra anticipation toward the next phrase I would be playing. I enjoyed it. To be sure, I often enjoy blowing Zen, but just as often I get so bored, I nearly fall asleep. As it happens, I’ve never had any particular insight into the why, either way. Now I have a clue.
This research helps link my blowing Zen experience with all other life experience. Like yoga, blowing Zen is one of those rare activities that connect you with yourself dynamically, yet passively enough to notice the subtler aspects of the practice. Happily, any insights realized during such spiritual practices carry over rather easily to humdrum facets of daily life.
Certainly, this secret to happiness is no panacea. I must still, as Buddha advised, “… Strive on diligently”. Most important I feel is striving to remember whatever secrets to happiness I’ve realized. Otherwise, history repeats itself. Most essential is realizing and then remembering how the bio-hoodwink manipulates me. Of course, I will never be free of all these primal reflexes. Still, I do anticipate being a little freer.
The Moral of this Story
Desire is not the culprit that leads to potential sorrow and ruin. Indeed, problems more likely arise in our hurry to satisfy desires. The more quickly we sate one desire, the sooner another arises to take its place. Our biology did not evolve to satisfy one desire after another so rapidly. Slowing down this satiation rate is patience. I guess that makes patience the real secret to happiness. Perhaps, I’d add perseverance. Patience and perseverance are the keys to happiness.
Summary of research on vacations and happiness
Researchers from the Netherlands set out to measure the effect that vacations have on overall happiness and how long it lasts. They studied happiness levels among 1,530 Dutch adults, 974 of whom took a vacation during the 32-week study period.
The study, published in the Journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.
After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people. How much stress or relaxation a traveler experienced on the trip appeared to influence post-vacation happiness. There was no post-trip happiness benefit for travelers who said the vacation was “neutral” or stressful.”
Surprisingly, even those travelers who described the trip as “relaxing” showed no additional jump in happiness after the trip. “They were no happier than people who had not been on holiday,” said the lead author, Jeroen Nawijn, tourism research lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. For the report, google [Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday].
(1) Another thing I’ve long noticed is that when I really do sink into the moment, a new anticipation instinctively bubbles up into my awareness. I reckon this is a hunter-gather driven instinct to keep on the lookout for the next meal, no matter how content I—the animal—may currently feel. I actually use this process when I feel burned out, depressed, or confused. I simply do as chapter 16 says, devote effort to emptiness, sincerely watch stillness. It always works as long as I reach full contentment with nothing, as in chapter 2’s Hence existence and nothing give birth to one another. Sure, naturally that can be a difficult target to reach. Still, eventually contentment gives birth to restlessness, and then off I go in “happy anticipation”. Note: The Couplets and the Co-generating Principle (p.566) can portray the process well.