We All Need Something to Look Forward To

A photo of a man on a bench, looking out over a canyon, shot from behind.
Photo by Daniel Salgato.

"Here’s something that my mom said to me and I think it’s very true in terms of happiness: You have to always have something to look forward to. It can be a very minor thing, and it can be a major thing. But you always have to have something you’re looking forward to next."
-Julia Louis-Dreyfus

When we got about halfway through this summer, I began to feel a bit rudderless.

In the (first) summer of a pandemic, I realize that feeling like you're just sort of drifting through life without purpose or drive may be the least of many people's concerns, but it was concerning to me.

I had been having a pretty wonderful summer of park hangs and a few great camping trips (thank goodness we had some good outdoors time before the smoke moved in to stay!), and suddenly all my special summer activities were over and all I had to look forward to was autumn, the encroaching cold and dark, and the fact that my soul-saving outdoor park hangs were about to get struck out by rain.

Then I read this blog post from Austin Kleon about the importance of having something to look forward to and immediately scheduled another backpacking trip for the end of August.

It worked! I not only did I have something to look forward to, but that something that still rang the bell of summer and friendship while being one of the few safe activities in a pandemic, and everything seemed a lot better.

Austin Kleon brings in a few different people's perspectives into his post. One is the Julia Louis Dreyfus quote above, another is from the esteemed psychologist Viktor Frankl, and one is Tamara Shopsin and her book Arbitrary Stupid Goal, named after her father's philosophy that everyone needs an arbitrary stupid goal so that their life has meaning.

"A goal that isn’t too important makes you live in the moment, and still gives you a driving force. This driving force is a way to get around the fact that we will all die and there is no real point to life."

I truly love this. It's a goal that isn't so big or important that you defer joy or alter your entire life but is compelling enough that it gives you something to work towards, which is really what hobbies do for most people, isn't it? They take up running, photography, or pottery and begin tracking progress and setting goals for new things to try.

Of course, my first arbitrary stupid goal might be just coming up with an arbitrary stupid goal, because I keep coming up empty!

In the meantime, scheduling fun things just far enough away that I look forward to them might very well do the trick.

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