CHARLOTTE Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, wrote: “I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.”
And upwards seems like a good direction after the chaos that was 2021. There’s no doubt the future looks more uncertain than ever, and making plans for 2022 may feel like an exercise in futility. But then again, despite society becoming increasingly goal-oriented, maybe making plans in an unpredictable world always was and always will be futile. As the adage goes: Man plans and God laughs.
But humans don’t handle uncertainty well. Scientific research tells us that uncertainty plays havoc with our stress levels, and therefore, our immune systems. And it’s clear we’re living in deeply uncertain times.
However, we’re not helpless in this. Invoking the words of the Serenity Prayer, we can strive to accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can, and pray for the wisdom to know the difference. One of the things we can change is how much in life we have to look forward to.
US researchers Van Boven and Ashworth, reporting in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that ‘the enjoyment people glean from anticipation might be an important component of life satisfaction’. Their studies concluded that it’s important to people to have something to look forward to in life. But that doesn’t have to be something big like a holiday or wedding, or that item on everybody’s list - the evisceration of COVID-19. In fact, having little moments to look forward to on a daily basis can make a much bigger difference to your mental health.
I recently came across a thread on the Quora website asking people what they were most looking forward to in 2022. Numerous people answered with the end of mask-wearing and COVID 19, the beginnings of the eradication of Malaria, the conviction and incarceration of Donald Trump, a better job, better performance at the gym, going back to live concerts, a breakthrough in climate change...these were the most popular answers. I asked friends what they’re looking forward to, and received answers of: ‘normality’;, ‘anything other than this year’, ‘travelling with my new partner for the first time’, and ‘a return to kindness and less bad humour’. But my favourite was from Jeffrey Tiddle on Quora: ‘I personally look forward to each day I am alive. So 2022 will have all the things I have right now – a good cup of coffee, a stimulating conversation, a fresh soft pretzel. The everyday things that most people forget about are the most important.”
Jeffrey knows that the path to a happy life is made of little moments of joy. Nassim Nicholas Taleb knows this as well. “As a matter of fact, your happiness depends far more on the number of instances of positive feelings, what psychologists call ‘positive effect’, then on their intensity when they hit,” writes Taleb. In other words, good news is good news first. How good matters rather little. So to have a pleasant life you should spread those small effects across time as evenly as possible. Plenty of mildly good news is preferable to one single lump of great news.
While plans thwarted by the progress of COVID-19 and environmental disasters are largely outside of our control, it is possible to fill our 2022 with a series of little things, with plenty of mildly good news, that we can look forward to on a daily basis. That first cup of coffee in the morning. Feeding the birds. Fresh bed-sheets. January being over.
The first signs of Spring. Dancing in the kitchen. Laughing til your belly aches. Hearing a song you love but haven’t heard in a while. The smell of freshly cut grass. Reading in bed while the rain taps at the window. The kindness of a stranger. A good night’s sleep.
A good declutter. A good hug with someone you love. Breakfast in bed. A picnic in Fitzgerald’s park. Cuddles. The smell of your pet dog or cat or mouse. The blank slate feeling of starting a new diary and/or calendar. Finding a bargain in a charity shop.
Clearing off your debts slowly but surely. Making your son or daughter laugh. A delicious cup of Barry’s tea while watching the soaps. The smell of suntan lotion at the beach. Hearing your Nan laugh uproariously at a dirty joke. Hearing someone tell you they’d be lost without you. Denny’s meat-free sausages in a white bread sandwich. These are the small, simple things we can always look forward to.
These are confusing times, and there is so much we’ll never understand, but like Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, “I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand”. And to live happily, these little moments to look forward to are key. We can break the pain of uncertainty by filling our days with little moments we’re certain we can look forward to. And now it’s over to you...how many little moments of joy can you fill your days with in 2022? Make a list, put it up high somewhere you can see, and when moments of insecurity hit, look up.