New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, your 21st Birthday… What do they all have in common? Oh yeah, they suck.
It’s a tale as old as time: the events that you hype up the most in your head end up being the ones you’re keenest to forget. They’re meant to be the best nights of your life, so why are they always the ones where you get broken up with, come out in mumps, or cry for five hours straight? (And yes, I am talking from personal experience).
It turns out there’s actually a scientific reason behind it: a little thing called anticipation anxiety.
When you put too much forethought into an event, you end up spending all your time monitoring your expectations instead of having a good time when it rolls around.
This leads to what Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo (author of ‘A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness’) calls a ‘happiness hangover’ – when ‘the positive energy that has gone into thinking and dreaming is no longer there’ so you plummet ‘from the high to the low’ and your night ends in turmoil.
And it’s more common than you might think. In a study conducted by psychologists, Jonathan Schooler, Dan Ariely, and George Loewenstein back in 1999, 83% of the participants they surveyed were disappointed with their New Year’s Eve celebrations.
And here’s the kicker: those who made up the highest proportion of the disappointed bunch were the people who said they were most looking forward to the event. Ouch.
As The Washington Post reported: participants who stated that they were happy to spend their time and energy planning a New Year’s bash were significantly more likely to be disappointed by how it turned out.
The ones who had no plans ended up being the happiest of the lot. It just goes to show, sweating the small things does you no good.
So what can you do? Ploughing headfirst into a night out without thinking about where it’s headed is never advisable. Especially not on a big occasion like New Year’s, when bars and clubs are likely to be booked up in advance.
But that doesn’t mean you should revert to micromanaging. Having your club ticket booked and your route home planned is pretty much sufficient.
Don’t be that friend who forces everyone to move onto the next bar when they’re having fun because there’s an hour-by-hour schedule to adhere to.
Loosen up and go with the flow – as long as you know where you’re broadly headed, the small things will sort themselves out.
The best stories are the ones you didn’t see coming. That random couple you met at that dodgy pub? Ten years on they might turn out to be your kid’s godparents. The bartender you stumbled across when your favourite drinking spot was full? Turns out he’s a famous actor from the 80’s (or so he says).
Maybe you won’t end up with a bunch of outrageous anecdotes from your evening – but who cares? The science still suggests that you’ll probably have a better time if you don’t put too much pressure on it.
You don’t have to take our word for it – the studies speak for themselves. Like photos, the best memories are the ones you didn’t plan.