May 30, 2018

Every time I rounded the corner on my street, I looked forward to seeing him.

David was almost always sitting by the front door of his townhouse apartment, hat on his head, a wheelchair as his seat. He liked watching all the people go by on the street where he had lived for 40 years. I was lucky enough to be one of them.

My 80-something friend was there most mornings and afternoons, right around the time I needed a coffee pick-me-up or walk to clear my head from working alone in my apartment all day.

We would smile at each other and wave.

Even when I was stressed or sad or annoyed, I would always anticipate the joy that our brief interaction would bring.

It turns out there’s a word for this kind of feeling: vorfreude. The German word roughly means ”the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasure.”

Vorfreude: The joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasure.

You probably remember experiencing it when you were younger—it’s that feeling when you looked forward to summer break throughout the entire school year. Or, when you counted down the days to your birthday, keeping track on your Lisa Frank calendar.

Anticipation is a powerful feeling, one that can boost our happiness long before a planned event even happens. And studies show that anticipating experiences actually brings more joy than anticipating buying a material thing. It’s why going to a concert might feel more meaningful than your latest trip to Sephora. Plus, taking time to pre-savor a moment will help you feel more connected to other people.

Sounds easy, right? This whole “vorfreude” thing. But in our busy world, we have to get intentional about anticipation.

Think about it: When was the last time you delighted in the anticipation of a future something? The last time you planned an experience and let yourself just be delighted by its existence on your calendar?

When was the last time you delighted in the anticipation of a future something?

We tend to plan, forget, and show up—and it's a disservice to ourselves. When we arrange a brunch with friends and forget about it until it’s time to order the pancakes, we miss out on the everyday perks of anticipating something good.

There are plenty of ways to introduce more vorfreude into your life. Here, a few suggestions:

Look Forward to Small Delights

Vorfreude doesn't have to be about that big vacation on the horizon—it can center around little delights, too. You can start small by looking forward to your witty “How are you?” dance with your favorite cashier at your daily lunch spot. Or, even just look forward to that tasty BLT.

Here’s a little random one that delights me—I’m always running to the subway, only to have to stand on the platform and wait. A few months ago, I started eating a cherry Altoid every time I stood there looking down the dark abyss, waiting for the train to come.

Now, I actually look forward to this little pre-subway ride ritual! It’s a small treat that feels like a reward.

Make Plans—and Actually Savor Them

Spontaneity is always fun, but booking a date on the calendar for a long-overdue catch-up dinner with a favorite friend will bring you joy just thinking about it.

You could also start a group gathering and add it to your monthly calendar. Whether it’s a book club or a bootcamp, it’ll be a bright spot in your agenda.

Lately, I’ve also been buying concert and theater tickets far in advance of the actual event date. This started as a practical consideration—everything sells out in the summer!—but then I began to notice how much more excited I was when I heard a song by the artist on Spotify or saw an ad for the Broadway show. I’d think, “Hey, I get to go see that soon!” and feel that kid-approaching-summer-break excitement.

Make Vorfreude a Ritual

To keep vorfreude up and running in your life, pick a day (maybe Monday?) or a moment (brushing your teeth?) as your reminder to think: What am I looking forward to?

Peek ahead and consider, just for a few moments, everything you’re looking forward to soon: seeing your family, a day trip, that wedding on the horizon. Let yourself bask in the upcoming goodness.

I know I’m trying to more.

One afternoon last fall, I walked down my street and David was no longer sitting by his door. No more smiles, no more waves.

After his family told me that he had passed away, I wished more than anything I had anticipated our smiles and waves even more when I could.

It’s important to savor the good things coming our way while we can. And with practice, we can get into the swing of feeling vorfreude on the regular.

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