Summer is here and many are in the throes of planning their summer vacation. Plan away. It’s actually good for you. How so? Researchers from the Netherlands set out to measure the effect that vacations have on overall happiness and how long it lasts. They studied happiness levels among 1,530 Dutch adults, 974 of whom took a vacation during the 32-week study period. The research controlled for differences among the vacationers and those who hadn’t taken a trip, including income level, stress and education. Published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life, the study showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. Vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks!
The only vacationers who experienced increased happiness after the trip were those who said they were “very relaxed” on their vacation. For them, post-vacation happiness lasted for only two weeks after the trip. Those who experienced stress or had a neutral vacation (meaning that it wasn’t stressful but it wasn’t all that relaxing either) did not have any happiness after their vacation. So the biggest boost in happiness was derived in anticipation of a vacation, not during or after the vacation.
Clearly, anticipation – the expectation or yearning for something in the future – can be a powerful agent for happiness. Does this speak to something fundamental in human nature? Is looking forward to something better than actually living it? And does anticipation of other major life events have the same effect on people as ‘vacation anticipation’? Do we derive as much joy anticipating other big life events such as getting married, buying a property, closing a deal, or completing a project? Is working toward a goal more fulfilling than actually achieving the goal? And could there be any benefits to anticipating the small pleasures of life? If so, can businesses capitalize on the benefits of anticipation in its approach to sales and marketing?
Health Benefits of Anticipation
Apparently, anticipation can have a positive impact on the body. It is well-established that a person anticipating that they are going to eat will salivate even before they have tasted or smelled food. Just seeing a photo of something appetizing can cause the mouth to water. But the impact of anticipation on the body goes much deeper than simple salivation.
Anticipation can actually improve health. This was discovered by accident during a study on the health benefits of napping. In countries where they take a ‘siesta,’ it was long believed that an afternoon nap reduced blood pressure, which in turn reduced strain on the heart and ultimately reduced the risk of fatal heart attacks. Napping = heart health. However, what the study actually found was that the anticipation of sleep was what brought down blood pressure instead of the actual nap.
In the study, napping was compared with other daytime activities like standing and lying down without sleeping. Subjects were allowed to sleep on one occasion, and then stand still and lie down on the other two. During all sessions, blood pressure, heart rate, and dilation of blood vessels were measured.
Sleep sessions were broken down into three phases. The first phase consisted of five minutes of wakefulness, in which lights were still on. The second period extended from the moment lights were out to the beginning of stage one sleep, in which some conscious awareness of the external environment was lost. The third phase extended from the second phase to the onset of sleep, characterized by complete loss of conscious awareness of the external environment. Polysomnography recordings were used to determine the phases.
As expected, researchers did find a significant drop in blood pressure during the sleep trial, and not during the lying down and standing trials. What was surprising to the researchers was that the changes to blood pressure occurred only during the second phase of the sleep trials, when sleep was imminent but the person was not actually asleep. Anticipating sleep was enough to bring down blood pressure and benefit the heart. So anticipation of sleep, a vacation or other positive life events – big and small – can be beneficial.
There have been other studies done on the effects and benefits of anticipation. One study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2010 by Bollinger, et al. indicated that working memory and long term memory were better when a person anticipates certain stimulus than when not anticipating it. The study asked people to ‘remember a face’ or ‘remember a scene’ and then were shown pictures with people and/or scenery. Those anticipating the cues had enhanced working memory and long term memory for faces and they researchers found increased activity in fusiform face area and left middle frontal gyrus area of the brain.
Anticipation as a Business Strategy
It seems anticipation has other benefits as well. Anticipation is used as a very effective strategy in sports and games. Let’s use a tennis analogy to illustrate the point. Anticipation can give an opponent the feeling that the player is on top of their game. The player is in position early because he seems to ‘know their next play’. Using anticipation throughout a match, an opponent will become more and more stressed about their game. In such a situation, it is important for the player to run for every drop shot, even if there is no chance of making the shot. While some may think ‘why bother’ or ‘why not conserve energy if the shot is going to be missed anyway’, that kind of thinking misses the point (literally and figuratively). Psychologically, the player needs to seem that he was anticipating the shot. Although he may lose the point, he adds pressure to the opponent which will pay off later in the match – on the opponent’s next drop shot. The opponent will be thinking ‘wow, he nearly got to that drop shot – my next one is going to have to be as good or even better’ instead of thinking “I am the king of the drop shot… he was miles from getting that.” The player heaps a bit more stress on the opponent’s shoulders.. The next drop shot might hit the net or the opponent might choke on it all together.
Similarly, anticipation can be leveraged as a business tool. Anticipating a competitor’s actions adds pressure and stress to the competitor, increasing their chances of making mistakes or reducing their effort. Anticipation implies a keen understanding of the business environment and use of strategy. In sales, anticipation can be used to make a competitor think you know his approach and you are ready to swoop in and take his business. He may not try as hard to land or close a deal if he thinks you’ve already got it… that it’s a done deal. Meanwhile, a savvy salesperson will follow-up on every potential deal even if it seems that a competitor already has it ‘in the bag’. Even if the competitor lands the deal, he needs to think that there was a possibility that you could have landed it. It will add pressure and stress the next time you are competing for another deal.
Anticipation then can be very beneficial in work and life. It may even be the lightning rod that spurs people to action. The ability to imagine and anticipate the benefits of doing something may be the very impetus to act. However, anticipation is not always a beneficial tool. Anticipating bad things can have the opposite effect. Some studies indicate that while anticipating trouble in life does have the benefit of softening a blow when a negative event occurs, there is a price paid while waiting for the event to happen. Anticipating trouble — commonly called worrying – is the dark side of anticipation. Tune in next week as we explore the consequences of worry.
Quote of the Week
“An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires often being but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing.” Samuel Smiles
© 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.