Can Planning Be An Act of Hope?
When I was an overworked lawyer, I’d carefully plan my long weekend runs on Monday. I’d look forward to those 10 miles of quiet wooded trails all week as I returned email after email and wrote brief after brief.
When we sold our home of 15+ years and I had mixed emotions, I’d plan weekends in my new city, getting excited about walking to the DC farmer’s market while I packed and labeled yet another box.
And for years I thought this self-soothing-via-planning was a personal quirk, but apparently it’s a science-backed fact!
Psychologists call it “anticipatory joy” and it contributes significantly to our happiness. By some estimates, we get up to 30% of our enjoyment of an experience from anticipating it!
So in this hard, strange time, I’ve decided to leverage this anticipatory joy and do a bit more planning than usual. Some of these plans are for the very short term — like a really great meal I’ll make this weekend. Some of these plans might not even come to fruition — like a three-day weekend later this summer in the Smoky Mountains.
But the point is: planning can be a tool in our happiness toolbox. And right about now, I imagine we all want as many happiness-increasing tools as possible.
Plan a really special, intentional meal
Let’s start by planning something in the short term that’s very likely to happen — a really fantastic brunch or dinner for this weekend.
And remember, because we’re leveraging anticipatory joy, half the fun is in the actual planning process. Pour yourself a glass of something nice, pull out all your favorite cookbooks, light a candle or sink into your favorite spot on the patio, and let yourself really enjoy the process.
Give yourself plenty of time to think about your menu, shop for it, and cook it slowly and with love + a really good playlist!
A few ideas:
- Recreate your favorite nostalgic meal from childhood
- Call a family member and ask them to share that recipe you love
- Create a meal inspired by a favorite travel destination
- Invite your family members to join you in the kitchen and let everyone have a part
- Maybe you bookmarked some recipes that you haven't had an opportunity to try — Baked Oatmeal, an EPIC Snack Board, BBQ Sweet Potato & Black Bean Tacos, or a Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie!
Plan what you're going to do in your city when things reopen
For the last three months, my “entertainment” has mostly consisted of morning runs through DC, and you know what I discovered? Tons of parks, museums, restaurants, and event spaces I’d never even noticed before! Maybe this time at home has helped you realize how much of your city you’ve overlooked or taken for granted. Think about where you’ll go when things reopen!
Some questions to get you started:
- What buzzed-about restaurant or café do you want to try?
- Which local tourist attraction have you always overlooked but can’t wait to explore?
- Is there a museum you’ve been meaning to check out?
- Which boutiques are always getting written up and you’d finally like to support?
Plan how you’ll celebrate July 4th or Labor Day
Now, we might actually be celebrating these holidays in our backyards by ourselves, but — again — we’re planning as an act of hope and as a way to leverage that anticipatory joy. So with that said, what would a fun and meaningful July 4th or Labor Day look like for you?
Some questions to help you plan:
- Who will you celebrate with — Friends? All your neighbors? Co-workers you haven’t seen IRL in months?
- What will you be eating? That new recipe you’ve been dying to show off? Your mom’s famous homemade roasted carrot hummus?
- Will you serve mocktails or end the celebration with popsicles?
- What does this gathering look like? Are you getting festive and hanging up the flag or will you watch fireworks from a gorgeous rooftop?
Plan a local trip
Will you be taking this mini-vacation anytime soon? Who knows! But you can get a nice dopamine hit just by poring over maps, Airbnb listings, and researching other places to go.
A few ideas to get you started:
- Can you find a really interesting Airbnb or hotel you’d like to book?
- Is there a particularly scenic route you could take to your destination?
- What local restaurant will you eat at — or get takeout from?
- Are there any great hikes with amazing views?
This little act of hope — choosing to plan for experiences that are better than the ones we’re currently living through — is a great way to turn your mood around, create a positive attitude, and invest in the future you imagine for yourself.
Now it’s your turn: What are you going to plan to make, eat, or do this weekend? This summer? Or even early fall? Let’s inspire one another to spark joy and come up with some interesting (and fun) plans!