Recently I was gifted the use of an empty condo in the Colorado mountains for the weekend, a glorious three days with just myself and my writing. I’d been looking forward to my own mini writers retreat for weeks!
I bet everyone here can relate: Having a retreat or vacation (of any length!) to look forward to gives you an instant dopamine hit–the body knows something is coming and it’s already happy, already excited.
Ah dopamine. It’s that chemical that makes us feel good. It’s released when we fall in love, ride a roller coaster, win a prize for that story we wrote, and it’s also the culprit in all sorts of addictions, from chocolate to sex to the constant “ping” of our text messages. When dopamine is released we get the message that “this feels good” and we keep coming back for more.
But here’s something interesting: Researchers have found that it’s the anticipation of pleasure, rather than the pleasure itself, that gets those feel-good chemicals in our brains going. Meaning we are already feeling good BEFORE we even get the reward.
According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, vacationers already “started experiencing a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because they were looking forward to the good times ahead.”
Which means looking forward to pleasurable things is as good for your overall happiness and well-being as the actual experience of them. You are already getting that “hit” of pleasure every time you think about the exciting thing that’s coming.
Stanford biologist and neurologist Robert Sapolsky says from his studies with monkeys that “dopamine is not about pleasure, it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. It’s about the pursuit of happiness rather than the happiness itself.”
Want to geek out on the science a bit? Check out the 5-min clip fromRobert Sapolsky’s lecture on the Science of Pleasure below:
So what’s the takeaway here? The bottom line is that the anticipation of an upcoming vacation or artistic retreat is already releasing sweet, sweet dopamine into your system. Every time we think about it, talk about it, every time we look at pictures, every time we do research and tell others about it.
So…are you excited yet?