In three weeks I’ll be heading to Berlin and I can’t wait for the adventure to begin. But while I was sitting flicking through my Berlin Travel Guide and sipping tea from my big red mug, I couldn’t help but wonder about anticipation and what it’s purpose may be.
After all, we have all had an exciting feeling in the pit of our stomachs, a bubbly sort of joyful turmoil, when looking forward to something or someone. And we have all been let down, the joy turning into a sigh of exasperation and a “what-ever” expression changing our smiles and giggles into a visible disappointment. So why do we build up our hopes when we know how easy it is to crush them in an instance?
A study done by the University of Colorado showed that negative anticipation increases what we remember about a situation. For instance, if you are afraid of speaking in public but know you have to stand up and present something at a certain time, the longer you spend thinking about all the bad things that could happen, the stronger your memory of this negative experience will be. Obviously this creates a cycle of bad thoughts towards dreaded situations.
The reason behind these increase memories seems to lie in the activation of both the amygdala (responsible for processing memories and emotional reactions) and the hippocampus (consolidates both short and long term memories and spatial navigation). So when we are expecting something bad to happen our amygdala forms emotional memories about the feelings we have and the hippocampus stores them away into our memory banks.
But what about positive anticipation why do we squirm with joyful foreboding and bounce around in delighted expectations?
After scouring the internet I couldn’t find any concrete answer. However it does seem to be clear that when we think happy thoughts, look forward to something, our brain produces more serotonin and decreases cortisol. This means our stress-levels go down and our sense of well-being goes up. So maybe when we dwell in our excited anticipation even the NOW becomes a better, happier and more interesting place. This obviously means that even if we are disappointed, we’ve already had a good time.
With all that in mind I am going to take my bike for a spin in the sun and phantasies about my month in Berlin and all the promises it holds of unknown adventures. Dublin in the sun is the nicest place to be and mingled with happy anticipation it creates wonderful cocktail of a perfect day.