Happiness & Money Secret #2: Anticipate As If You’re Going to Kiss Mila Kunis

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Anticipation is one of the strongest emotions that bring happiness.

Do you remember that feeling… of the night before Christmas, of being so excited and full of anticipation that you couldn't fall asleep?

I do, but I've really got to squeeze my brain. That youthful luster is a long gone memory.

Maturity happened.

As an adult in training, my natural urge to anticipate was discouraged. For some reason, that urge was associated with childlike immaturity.

As an American male, expressions of excitement and joy were further discouraged. To be ‘cool' is to be composed and in control.

That's a shame.

We're missing out on a lot.

This is part two in a four-part series on money and happiness.

The act of consumption is not the only moment of pleasure. 

Imagine that next Friday, you're doing something you've been looking forward to: hanging out with good friends, going to a sports game, meeting me in person, whatever.

When does this event increase your happiness?

happiness boost

Only on Friday, the day of the actual event? No, that's not right.

In the days after, you're likely to be a bit happier too.

After happiness increase chart

Because the event is so pleasurable, it leaves a positive aftertaste which lingers for a few days.

But the picture is still incomplete.

Does thinking about a vacation or hot date soon to come give you an excited smile? Does thinking about a promotion or big goal you've been working hard towards fire you up? That's a pleasure, just in a different form.

Anticipation increases happiness chart

Anticipation is pleasure.

The ability to anticipate is positively correlated with optimism, self-control, the intensity, and frequency of happy moods, self-esteem, and more.1

Those with a greater ability to anticipate experience more pleasure in the days and weeks before a vacation than those with average ability. This is especially important because the anticipation of a future vacation usually brings more pleasure than reminiscing about a past vacation.1

Similar results have been found in over ten other studies – anticipation is more evocative than reminiscence.2, 3

Sometimes, because we view the future through rose-colored glasses, anticipation is more pleasurable than the act of consumption itself.4

So, what can we do to get more anticipatory happiness?

  1. Buy many small pleasures.
  2. Pay now and consume later.
  3. Create anticipation triggers.

1. Buy many small pleasures.

Splitting up large purchases into small ones can increase total pleasure by sidestepping the curse of adaption. This applies as much to the moment of consumption as to the anticipation of consumption.

Each additional serving (cookie, drink, TV show, video game, pair of jeans, etc…) produces less pleasure and less anticipation than the last one.

In a world without adaption, the anticipation of eating ten cookies at once would be ten times greater than the anticipation of eating just one. In our world, ten cookies at once provide only two to five times as much anticipatory pleasure as one cookie.

You can easily confirm this for yourself.

Imagine that at the end of this week, you'll be presented with one serving of your favorite dessert. Feel the anticipation. Now imagine that you'll be presented with ten servings of your favorite dessert, which you must eat at once.

Did you experience 10x as much anticipation? If so, I feel bad for your heart…

cookies and happiness chart

The second option has got a lot more anticipation action going for it.

Although each individual event provides less anticipatory pleasure, all together, the total pleasure is much larger.

The actual numbers are arbitrary (a cookie gives 2 units of happiness… huh?), but the underlying principle is not – small is powerful.

For more – Money Secret #1: Buy Many Small Pleasures.

2. Pay now and consume later.

How much would you be willing to pay to kiss your favorite celebrity three hours from now? How about three days from now?

In a study which asked exactly that question, people were willing to pay 37% more for the second option than for the first. There were other options too. As long as the wait wasn't too long, like 10 years, people were willing to pay more.5

The extra hours, days, and weeks gave people more time to anticipate their sweet and sexy, hypothetical kiss.

The strategy is easy to understand – purchase now and consume later. It's not as easy to implement.

Lucky for us, this is a three in one – get more pleasure from your money, develop your self-control skills, and get more pleasure from your money.

The first two are self-explanatory. By consuming later, we increase anticipatory pleasure while exercising our self-control muscle.

The third is a bonus – more anticipation also equals more pleasure during consumption.

The last few albums I've purchased, I've put off listening to for two to three days. No surprise, I felt a lot of anticipation.

But because of that anticipation, once I got around to actually listening to the music, I put in extra time and effort into savoring the experience. I can easily say that the pleasure I got from those listening experiences was the greatest any music has ever provided me.

It was hard. It was worth it.

But if you're lazy like me, you'll like strategy number three.

3. Create anticipation triggers.

Tie together a trigger with the mental action of anticipation. That is what I call happiness magic – just by taking a moment to anticipate, you're creating happiness out of nothing.

Every time I lie down in my bed, I take a moment to be grateful for how comfortable the mattress, pillow, and blanket are. That's a gratitude trigger. Magic trick #1.

Almost every time I take a break from work, I take a moment to look forward to the evening's activities. That's an anticipation trigger. Magic trick #2.

Here are some ideas from my life:

When you… anticipate…
are hungry the next meal you will be eating.
take a shower your weekend plans.
drink coffee feeling the buzz.
are bored the next fun thing you will be doing.
are tired your next workout.
see your loved one your next night out.
finish watching a show you like the next episode.
finish reading a chapter of a book you like the next chapter.
Go online the next HappierHuman post you will read.


This is all a work in progress for me – there are dozens of more opportunities for me to bring anticipation into my life. Still, I've already noticed a difference.

See the big picture: 54 Ways to Increase Happiness

What about with you?

How can you bring more anticipatory happiness into your life? Comment below!

This is part two of my eleven-part series on money and happiness. Check out the rest!

Money Secret #1: Buy Many Small Pleasures
Money Secret #2: Anticipate As If You’re Going to Kiss Mila Kunis
Money Secret #3: The Stoic’s Guide To Buying Happiness
Money Secret #4: Delight Is in the Details

1. Bryant, F. B. (2003). Savoring Beliefs Inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring
beliefs about savoring. Journal of Mental Health, 12, 175-196.

2. Caruso, E. M., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2008). A Wrinkle in Time: Asymmetric Valuation of Past and Future Events. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 19(8), 796-801. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02159.x

3. Van Boven, L., & Ashworth, L. (2007). Looking forward, looking back:
Anticipation is more evocative than retrospection. Journal of Experimental
Psychology: General, 136(2), 289-300.

4. Dunn, E. W., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2011). If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right. Journal Of Consumer Psychology (Elsevier Science), 21(2), 115-125. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2011.02.002

5. Loewenstein, G. (1987). Anticipation and the valuation of delayed consumption.
The Economic Journal, 97(387), 666?684.

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9 thoughts on “Happiness & Money Secret #2: Anticipate As If You’re Going to Kiss Mila Kunis”

  1. Cool article Amit. For me, today is a great day for me to respond to the question asked.

    This morning, as I was driving my kids to school, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams came on the radio. I began singing loudly in the car with my children. I personally LOVE this time of year and since that song came on this morning I decided that today was going to be a great day!

    After declaring that I recognized so many things to make me happy. I actually looked forward to or anticipated all the great things that could or would happen to me. Let me just say, I do this once in a while but after today, I think I want to declare each and every day the best day because so many things I felt happened to me. My happiness was through the roof!

    • “My happiness was through the roof!”

      Awesome John! I just listened to the song for a refresher – definitely a great song 🙂

      Let me know how that goes – declaring each and every day the best day… seems like a hard habit to get into. Not even I’m ambitious enough to try that (for now).

  2. Amit,

    It’s very true that anticipation is a kind of happiness. I can think back to several times when I was anticipating a fun vacation and got excited. It was a lot of fun to think about all the things I’d be doing and all the adventures I’d have. I’d even watch videos on the location as a way to pump myself up.

    It makes me wonder if the opposite could also be true. If you have something coming up that you’re not looking forward to, can your anticipation of that event make you unhappy? I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.

    In the meantime though I’m going to build up some anticipation triggers to create happier moments for myself.


    • Hey Steve,

      That’s a great insight – a flip-side I completely forgot about. Anticipation of an event you’re not looking forward to is essentially anxiety, dread, and/or fear. Is the best response to try to re-frame the event less negatively, or to use distraction strategies to remind yourself less frequently of the upcoming misery?

      I suspect the answer is some combination of the two. Personally, I’ve found it much easier to increase the amount of happiness in my life, than to decrease the amount of sadness (e.g. it’s much easier to create anticipation triggers than eliminate dread triggers).

      Thanks for dropping by again!

  3. What of living in the present moment Amit? If we spend our lives living in anticipation of the next good thing are we not missing out on what’s happening in the present? I acknowledge that anticipation is a huge factor in happiness but not if it takes over from the life we are living now. But I do think we can find balance in the anticipation and the now. I keep telling my kids that the week before Christmas is the best week of the year, to enjoy every moment of this week filled with excitement and to feel gratitude for the lives we live. If we foster the feeling of excitement but not just before a purchase or a party, we should hold on to the feeling and try to recreate it for simple pleasures such as the sunrise and a warm shower (when you just notice the warm water on your skin and don’t think about your weekend plans!)

    • I couldn’t agree with you more – the most powerful money secret is living in the present.

      There are 3 forms of savoring – anticipation, living in the present, and reminiscing.
      I believe the average person could use a lot more savoring (all 3 forms), but I never considered the possibility for unbalanced focus on anticipation.

      Anticipation as a form of escape is no good. I will have to make some changes… thanks for pointing that out to me!


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