What Your Post-Pandemic Fantasy Says About You
Anticipating joy is good for your mental health
Quick, don’t overthink it: What are you most looking forward to doing when things get a little easier? Is it eating at your favorite restaurant? Drinking too many cocktails and then taking a cab home? Booking a day at a spa? Dropping your kids off at their fully vaccinated grandparents’ home for the night? What’s one thing you’ve been longing to do — just one! — that would help restore your sanity?
My number one post-pandemic fantasy is entertaining at my house again. I can’t stop thinking about what that will look like when it finally happens — and even without knowing exactly what that will be, it feels amazing to make a plan, and specifically to make plans for fun.
Make the Plan Even If You Know It Won’t Happen
Just the act of making a plan has huge benefits
Cultivating anticipation of something fun through planning can be even more satisfying than the event itself. A 2010 study found that while vacations had little effect on long-term happiness, people were generally happier than their peers just before going on holiday. Elizabeth Dunn, a happiness researcher, calls this sort of pre-event anticipation “savoring,” and she strongly urges us to go all in.
I’ve found that there’s so much savoring to do with my post-pandemic dinner party fantasy: coming up with guest lists, imagining the menus, finding the right lights for the backyard. And in doing so, I’ve also gotten to know myself a bit better.
It’s really hard to have insight into yourself right now, because the stress of pandemic life leaves us so little breathing room for reflection. But if you think about what you’re excited to do, that’s a way to start positively formulating what comes next in the face of so many unknowns. What does the phase of life after this weird year look like for you? What matters most to you? How will you make that happen?
Here’s a little template for finding something to savor:
I’m looking forward to…
Entertaining at my house with friends and food.
How do I savor the anticipation?
I’m a list maker, and compiling guest lists and menus sounds like heaven. I’d love to host a party for all those parents from my kids’ school whom I’ve met only on Zoom meetings, and another for our friends in the neighborhood, including the new family down the street we met just once last fall before winter shutdown sent us all back into our homes. And what about a gathering of people I just find interesting and would love to see in a room together?
I’ll also take stock of our entertaining setup. We definitely need some new lawn furniture; the plastic Adirondack chairs around our fire pit are not looking so hot. Are there any games we could get to make the backyard more fun for kids? The deck lights need replacing, too. These are things I can do now, and they’ll be their own fun project to keep my mind off its usual track of stress and anxiety.
What does this fantasy say about me?
I really like hosting people because I love being a connector. I moved to my current town about four years ago, but it wasn’t until last summer that we really started to make friends with other families. Parent friends had started to ask for help with school pickup and emergencies, and I had a network I could rely on. I felt like I belonged, finally.
But strict stay-at-home orders over the winter made that network feel tantalizingly out of reach, even as every day has felt like a rolling disaster. I hadn’t even realized how much I relied on community until it wasn’t accessible.
Thinking about my future party plans also signals to me that I’ve come to embrace the phase of life I’m in. I used to relish escaping my house, and young children, to meet friends for dinner or drinks. After spending the past year with my family nearly all the time, I definitely cherish alone time. But when it comes to socializing, I now think of the four of us, not just me, as the primary unit. And that feels like a nice realization.
To spread the savoring around, send this template to friends, and then host a Zoom party where you all share your answers. There—you already have another thing to look forward to.