How can you use your imagination to quickly boost your happiness?


I’ve posted before about how optimism, savoring and anticipation have all been shown to increase happiness.

In Tali Sharot’s book The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain she explains a scenario that illustrates how you can use these concepts to easily make yourself happier:

For desirable events, such as a foamy pint of Guinness, optimism increases the joy of anticipation by (a) increasing our expectation that we will receive our pint sooner rather than later, (b) enhancing our ability to imagine the cool feel of the glass and the smooth flow of the substance, and (c) increasing the percevied likelihood of receiving the stout. Pessimists, on the other hand, may have trouble vividly imagining the black stuff, will predict that the bartender will take a long time to deliver the stout, and may worry that he will run out of Guinness altogether. Although our pessimistic customer may enjoy the pint when it is finally delivered, he will be deprived of the 119.5 seconds of pleasure that preceded consumption, and it is unlikely he will dance around the pub while waiting for his drink…

It seems plausible, then, that the optimism bias developed partly because optimism maximizes the pleasure we obtain from anticipating a good thing and minimizes the adversity of anticipating a bad thing. If a burger is equal to one hundred “units of joy,” an optimist will obtain more units of joy just from anticipating the burger than will a pessimist, ultimately increasing the pleasure derived from the burger and enhancing well-being.

So what can we take away from this?

  • Be optimistic. Optimism makes you happier because the anticipation of positive things brings joy in itself.
  • Imagine the good scenario vividly to increase anticipation. The more you use your imagination, the more joy you get from awaiting the event.
  • For negative possibilities, do the reverse. Assume they won’t happen, don’t dwell on them and keep any thoughts about them vague.

So what if things don’t work out? Won’t all this anticipation create a bigger let down?

Not really. You’ll still enjoy the moments spent anticipating. And the alternative — “defensive pessimism” — doesn’t actually work.

Via The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain:

…students who had low expectations of their performance on an undergraduate psychology exam felt just as bad when those expectations came true as students who expected to do well.

So be optimistic. Anticipate vividly. Savor the moments before something good and the event itself.

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Related posts:

Here are the things that are proven to make you happier

Optimists vs. Pessimists: Who’s right?

What brings more happiness: anticipation or surprise?

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