Happiness and Imagining The End

Think back to when you knew you were going to lose something or someone you loved.  Maybe your best friend was going to move away, or your vet told you your dog had only a few weeks to live. Maybe the sense of impending loss came when you picked up the seventh Harry Potter book to read the last chapter. Did you spend more time with that friend before they left, and appreciate them a bit more as you imagined not hanging out with them again? Did you hug your dog more than usual and murmur lots of “sweet boy”s? Did you savor every “expelliarmus?”

It’s common sense that when we anticipate the loss of something we love we feel more grateful for it.  But did you know that in the end we can actually feel happier? One study examined this phenomenon with college students journaling during their last six weeks of school. The participants who were encouraged to view the rest of their time as very short demonstrated more gratitude and were more motivated to fully engage in the rest of their college experience than students who were encouraged to view the last six weeks as a long stretch of time and those who were encouraged to journal about their daily activities. At the end of the study the “short time” students reported an increase in happiness and the others reported no significant change.

So anticipating the end of something you love is an effective way to boost your happiness. But – as faithful readers might guess – how you anticipate will play a crucial role.  Try to focus on imagining life without that special being or thing but not get swept away by anticipatory sadness or anxiety.  Loss is a part of life, and as with every other difficult thing it’s our job to use it to work for us.