Anticipation, purpose, and positively shaping your outlook
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
When we’re distressed, we can fall into what’s known as “catastrophizing.” That means we think one bad thing will lead to the next and, before long, our entire outlook is clouded by doom and gloom. The good news is that we can shift gears, turn a corner, and create something to look forward to. That sweet anticipation helps us lose anxiety with its negative side effects such as compromised physical immunity and depression, and shift to a positive expectation, which makes us happy. It is possible to go from the doldrums of estrangement to meaning and purpose.
Right now, with so much worry and uncertainty filing the airwaves, we might feel as if we have little control of what’s to come. Giving ourselves something to look forward to activates what’s known as our sense of “agency,” and helps us to feel in charge and moving toward a desired goal. In my book to help parents of estranged adult children, Beyond Done , I talk more about how each of us can take charge, in unique ways that fit our circumstances. We access and shape our unique brand of resilience.
From the sadness of estrangement to meaning: Possible?
Research shows that when people anticipate future happiness, they engage in activities to reach that goal. Shaping activities to reach a goal ends up enhancing meaning and purpose in life too. Something we can all benefit from.
Here’s an example:
Right now, one thing that brings me joy is collecting and caring for houseplants. They give me something to do (water, feed, check progress, talk to them!), and something to look forward to (baby plants, cleaner air in my home, beauty . . . .). Do the plants give me meaning and purpose? In a small way, yes. They provide my life with structure, make me feel needed, and nurture my need to give.
An offshoot of my interest in houseplants and caring for them is that they enhance my social well-being. Who knew there were online groups where plant lovers talk about our green babies, share care or propagation tips, or just show photos? In the future, I may give some of my propagated plants to friends and family, bringing joy and beauty through houseplants to other people, and adding value to my own life in the process.
My experience with houseplants is like what I learned when I conducted a study to complete my master’s degree a few years ago. I researched happiness and gardening. One of the things that motivated gardeners was sharing their bounty with neighbors and friends, which increased their feelings of joy. As an aside, the lifelong gardeners reported the highest levels of overall happiness among the participants. That pleased me since I’ve gardened most of my life. Earlier on, when busy with my growing family, my gardening was based on practicality, which meant growing food as well as basic landscaping that served family gatherings and child’s play, and also creating serene spaces in the yard. Now, I can focus more of my time on ornamental gardening, such as indoor greenery and blooms. We do Turn! Turn! Turn! with every season of life.
Meaning, purpose and a happier outlook
Whether you think of daily things to look forward to, or plan bigger events such as a fun vacation, the anticipation is mostly positive, and you’ll shape your interim activities to achieve your future. There is no downside.
So, TODAY, right now, think of something—even a tiny thing—that will make you happy, give you something to look forward to, and positively shape your life. Then follow through. This can be something simple such as ordering a new book or making a date with a friend. Or opt for something more complex such as getting out grid paper, planning your seasonal garden (press “skip ads”), perusing the seed catalogs, and imagining the bountiful offerings you’ll share with neighbors and friends. As an alternative, consider what you’re already doing that brings you joy, accesses positive anticipation, and provides your life with meaning.
Please, leave a comment here about what you’re looking forward to, what future pursuit lifts your spirits, and provides life meaning. I am waiting with pure joy, excitedly anticipating your responses. Knowing that I have helped you in some small way provides my work here with meaning.