It's a given that planning ahead helps us manage our time and get more done. But how does this focus on being extra efficient connect to our ultimate goal of living a happy and meaningful life?
We all know there's much more to life than checking off to-dos! Fortunately, planning ahead also helps us find time to experience all the feel-good things that life has to offer.
It's no surprise to us here at Day Designer that mental health experts have long touted planning ahead as a means of boosting happiness – and, with the nod to planning, they certainly don't mean maxing out our days with endless meetings and to-dos. The idea here is to ignore your natural instinct to be efficient and instead plan more of what you love into your life, resulting in more joy.
In TIME's special edition, The Science of Happiness, top psychologists suggest easy ways to infuse your days with pleasure. "We expect happiness to show up at our doorstep like a pizza. But it doesn't work that way. For most of us, we have to make it happen," says author Ellen Seidman.
Let's dive into how planning ahead helps you do just that!
Here's Why Mental Health Pros Say Planning Ahead Will Boost Happiness
Opens Up More Time For The Activities You Love
When you plan out your time with the goal of happiness in mind, you're more likely to achieve that state, embracing a more joyful mindset. "A key to steering your own happiness is reflecting on the things that make you come alive," notes Barbara Frederickson, social psychologist and author of Positivity.
Understand what these things are for you and plan them into your day! Find five minutes here or an hour there – call a friend, head outside for a neighborhood walk, or watch the sunset. In our Flagship Daily Planner, we've included space for you to map out your schedule alongside your to-dos. Jot down the things you love and commit to them as you map out your day. Believe us, they're just as important as the big meetings and looming deadlines – and will even you help you be more effective as you attend and achieve those!
Gives You Something To Look Forward To
The famous quote, "Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them," by author L.M. Montgomery, reminds us that not only do we feel happiness when we're presently doing something fun and exciting, but just as much in the time leading up to the event. Studies show that "having something to look forward to boosts your mood and lowers your stress," according to an article by The New York Times entitled Enjoy Life More, Embrace Anticipation.
For example, when planning a trip, activities such as finding your accommodations, researching things to do, and anticipating the sights you'll see can keep you motivated and excited for the future. In a study by the Institute for Applied Positive Research, 97% of respondents reported that having a trip planned makes them happier.
But it doesn't have to be a big life event, like a trip! "Anticipating a smattering of small, delightful experiences can be as enjoyable as looking forward to one big event," says social psychologist Carrie Wyland. Whether it's meeting up with friends at a new restaurant or starting a much-anticipated show on Netflix, simply pick a date and time, mark it in your planner, and start looking forward to it.
Shows That Small Steps Turn Into Big Leaps
The same is true when it comes to your goals. There are specific ways that planning ahead will lead to happiness! Research shows that we're happier when we see our goal as attainable. It's important to break down your goals into manageable (and achievable!) pieces. It's truly the small steps, accumulated over time, that turn into the big leaps.
The act of planning helps your biggest dreams become more managable and less overwhelming. Plus, recognizing and celebrating even the smallest of daily wins will keep you upbeat and motivated along the way.
Helps You Live More Intentionally
We're big believers in being the owner of your day rather than your day owning you! Planning enables you to manage your time better and make each day count – enjoying all the love, laughter, and adventure life has to offer – in other words, living with intention!
Consider a particular time period such as the day ahead. How do you want to spend this time, what do you want to get out of it, and how do you want to feel at the end? Having a sense of what needs to happen with time built in for the things you love will keep you on track, the day running smoothly, and your mental health in check. The goal is not to plan every minute but to simply be more intentional with your time!
Encourages You to Enjoy the Journey!
We've all heard the idea that happiness is a journey rather than a destination. Well, that couldn't be more true! Mental health experts advise finding tiny glimmers of hope and joy rather than only working toward (or waiting for) one monumental event to bring you happiness.
This is also where staying present and cultivating gratitude come into the picture. As you go about the plans you have made for yourself, take time to notice the good and savor these moments. You'll soon find that you're boosting happiness every inch of the way!