Every Christmas morning, my dad had a rule: no presents till after 6:30 a.m. Looking back at it today, that seems very reasonable; but when I was six, it was exasperating. Inevitably, I would wake up at 4:30 a.m., unable to go back to sleep. Two excruciating hours later, my brother and I would run out to the living room – and then be promptly ushered into my parents back bedroom to wait a few more minutes. My dad wanted to brew the coffee, my mom wanted to make sure everything looked great, presents were out, and the tree was lit. When the time came to open up presents finally, I was erupting with excitement and tore into those presents!

The Lost Art of Anticipation

Back then, waiting was hard — but it was great too. Some of my best memories come from those Christmas mornings and the adrenaline rush that would come from opening up long-awaited gifts. Today is different. I’m not even sure what to tell people when they ask me what I want for Christmas because, if I want something, I go out and get it. In an Amazon two-day free delivery world, I sometimes find myself missing the feeling I had on Christmas morning.

I don’t think I’m alone.

When was the last time you really looked forward to something with Christmas morning anticipation?

When was there something that you had to wait for that made you giddy with excitement?

Or, can you think of something that as you looked forward to made your heart beat a few beats faster?

Discovering The Benefits of Anticipation

For most of us, it’s probably been awhile, or it’s even hard to think of anything at all. It’s hard to wait. And, it’s hard to plan long enough in advance to even have things to look forward to down the road. Anticipation has become something nostalgic in our “in the moment,” fast-moving culture.

Research tells us that when we skip feeling anticipation around anything, we actually are missing out on some really great health benefits.

Stacey Kaiser, an editor of Live Happy magazine and a licensed psychotherapist says, “Anticipation alerts all of the pleasure centers in the body and says wake up, which can create happy feelings.” Studies confirm that looking forward to something causes our brains to release hormones along the brain’s reward system known as the “mesolimbic dopamine pathway.”

Anticipation is a good thing. But it’s also a lost art. It takes intentionality and preparation, and it requires us to do a few things.

Delay Gratification

To experience anticipation, we have to learn to delay gratification. This doesn’t come naturally to us in our culture. Most of us carry a lot of credit card debt precisely because it is difficult to hold off having a product or an experience. However, not only is it wise not to buy something the moment we want it, it actually diminishes the pleasure we receive from anticipating it and the joy that finally comes when receiving it.

Make “Looking Forward To” Plans

Not only is it hard to delay gratification, but it is also hard to plan ahead. In a fast-moving society, most of us simply don’t have our calendars set far enough in advance to anticipate something.

When we do this, we are robbing ourselves. We might think the benefits of a big trip would be getting time off and having special moments with family; but, experts have found the prepping and waiting for a vacation might be just as rewarding.

My wife and I are discovering this right now. With two kids under two, vacations can no longer be spontaneous. They take a lot of advance preparation, or they don’t happen at all. This year, though, we finally made plans for an early summer week-long vacation without kids. And let me tell you, I’m anticipating this trip! My wife asked me if we would have enjoyed this trip as much back in our pre-kid days and we both realized we wouldn’t have, simply because we wouldn’t have anticipated it as much. It wouldn’t have been as difficult to plan, and we probably wouldn’t have waited so long to take it. And, it probably would have been less enjoyable because there would have been no anticipation.

Do you have anything on your calendar a few months down the road that you are looking forward to? Is it a friend visiting, a vacation, or a time where you finally have saved up the money to make a purchase?

The only way to anticipate is to plan something and then wait for it. Both are hard, and neither will happen without intentionality.

As Christmas morning proves, a little bit of anticipation can make a big difference.