“Anticipating future rewards can actually light up the pleasure centers in your brain much as the actual reward will.” – Shawn Achor
One of my favorite things about my wife is how good she is at stimulating conversation by asking questions that are completely out-of-left-field. Her favorite form of playing the Riddler is by pulling from a never-ending list of “would-you-rather” questions where she corners her victim into picking option A or option B, regardless of the fact that both options lead to misery.
For example, she once asked me: “Would you rather… Be slowly run over by an asphalt roller starting with your feet or have your fingernails and toenails slowly pulled out one at a time?” As you can see, in this scenario both options are awful but the “fun” of the game is that you have to answer the question.
For me, asking random questions to my friends and family has become such a fun part of life. I love secretly playing Question Master at dinners and happy hours or while sitting on the couch. When I am able to ask questions as if I am interviewer it allows me to learn more about my friends and family than I otherwise would from normal conversation. I don’t use “would-you-rathers” like my wife does, instead, I focus on questions that are intentionally open-ended. One of my favorite questions to ask and one I often ask my wife is, “what are you excited for?”
This question is completely open-ended, and that is the beauty of it. Sometimes her answer is, “to get home and get in my pajamas,” and sometimes it is “our vacation to Europe later this year.” One thing remains consistent each time, however, and it is the fact that we both get happier when we talk about what we are excited about in the future.
This isn’t just some feel-good concept either… It’s science. “One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent” (Achor). Endorphins are those little chemicals in your brain that make you feel the same as you would after a hard exercise or a deep laugh.
There are a million reasons to want endorphins. Simply, they make you happier. Scientists are now discovering that being happy can make you live longer, have less body fat, think better, work faster, and ultimately succeed at work and at life.
Having something to look forward to is an easy trick to helping you live a better life.
This is why vacations and planned time off from work are so important. It’s not just sitting on the beach and drinking piña coladas that makes you happier, it’s thinking about doing it for the months leading up to it that floods you with endorphins and enhances your life. The anticipation of a good experience is, I believe, often times better than the actual experience; and this anticipation taps into better performance for your body and your brain. Better performance means better results and a better life.
Time to answer the question, “what are you excited about?” Or, to be more direct, “what are you looking forward to?”
Achor says, “if you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar – even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.”
Buy Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, HERE.