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How to use the power of expectation to improve your life

Expecting something can be a source of joy.
Image: Fountain pen lying on calendar with marking days
A study showed that the respondents would be willing to pay more for the experience three days from now than for having the experience right now. Ekaterina Minaeva / Alamy

One morning, Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet are talking about what they enjoy most in the world. And although Winnie is a big fan of eating honey, there is a moment just before he begins to eat which is better than eating itself, but he is not sure what it is called.

The A. A. Milne who wrote the stories about Winnie-the-Pooh was not an author, he was a happiness scientist. Expectation can be a source of joy. Imagine you could have a kiss from anyone you want.

Any celebrity. Who would it be? George Clooney? Angelina Jolie? I would go with Rachel Weisz. (Yes, I know she is married to James Bond — no need to rub it in.) Do you have someone in mind? If you do, then consider this: When would you want that kiss? Now? In three hours? In twenty-four? In three days? In one year? In ten years?

Later is Better Than Now, According to Science

If you are like the respondents in a study undertaken by George Loewenstein, professor in economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Center for Behavioral Decision Research, you would want the kiss three days from now. Yes, someone actually researched this question.

The study, ‘Anticipating and the Valuation of Delayed Consumption’, was published in 1987 — the year of the release of Dirty Dancing — so now we know who all the respondents in the original study wanted to kiss. The study also showed that the respondents would be willing to pay more for the experience three days from now than for having the experience right now.

Every year, I prioritize a week of skiing in the Alps with my friends. Not only is it the purchase of an experience, it is also an investment in others — and something I look forward to for the half-year running up to it. Imagining my friends and me skiing down the mountain (me humming the James Bond theme), or relaxing on our balcony, with a sky that is the kind of blue that can only exist when it is paired with white, snow-covered mountains, I can already feel the warm cup of coffee in my hand and the sun on my face.

Try It: Pay Now, Consume Later

If you buy an experience, make sure that it is well into the future, so you can look forward to it. Six months from now, what would you like to do? See a certain band with your friends? Invite someone who you feel a lot of gratitude towards to a nice restaurant? Buy the tickets or the gift certificate now. Or go long. Ten years from now, what would be your dream experience? Start putting money aside in a separate happiness account.

From the book, THE LITTLE BOOK OF LYKKE. Copyright ©2017 by Meik Wiking. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.