Planning for peak experiences, part 2

Yesterday’s post on rethinking retirement is sparking some discussion over at Facebook, which is good. Why is retirement seen as a universal goal? Is the idea of not working for pay for decades feasible? Or desirable?

We’ll continue talking about that over the next few months. In the meantime, I wanted to revisit the post about planning for peak experiences. I celebrated my birthday this past weekend, and as part of that, I was trying to plan ahead to put lots of fun things on the calendar. Psychologists know that experiences make people happier than stuff. One reason for this is that you can anticipate the experience, and then savor the memories afterwards.

What’s funny is that this savoring gives you a happiness boost even if in the moment not all was bliss. For instance, in describing my weekend to people, I mention that a highlight was attending the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden with my family. I definitely have happy memories of seeing my two little guys squeal in delight at the trains (they had Thomas!) But to see the trains we had to wait in a line for 20 minutes with those same two little guys. Waiting in line with small children is stressful and unpleasant. But the alchemy of memory downplays that point.

Likewise with a toast to ring in my birthday at midnight going into the 5th. My choir, the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, put on a very successful concert on the 4th (we packed 700+ people into the church! Any arts journalists reading this? Our choir can bring in 700 people in their 20s and 30s to hear classical music!) Afterwards, we went to a bar near Times Square, but by 11:40pm, I was tired, my feet hurt, etc. Nonetheless, I told my husband that I wanted to have a celebratory drink for my birthday. He dutifully ordered a bottle of champagne and we passed around glasses to the choir members who were still there. Now, the fact that I was tired and my feet hurt is kind of incidental to the memory. What I’m enjoying is remembering the smiles and the “Happy Birthdays!” as we toasted.

I am trying to learn to remember these things — that you will generally look back positively on the things you did, seizing on the positive moments, even if there were some tepid or stressful moments involved. It was a full weekend, but even so, there was enough open space to relax. Planning for fun is a good use of time, and creating memories is a good use of money.

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One thought on “Planning for peak experiences, part 2

  1. Glad you had such a great birthday! Makes me think that psychological bonus of anticipation also kicks in with experiential (as opposed to material) gifts such as tickets to a play or a gift certificate to a spa–experiences you can look forward to from the minute you open the envelope till the day you cash them in.

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