You can usually count on a happy reaction when you throw a surprise party for someone. But before you plan the next “surprise” celebration for your aging parent, think again.
While I was on the phone with Betty from Boston I told her of my plan to fly to New England and surprise my Mom for Mother’s Day. “Don’t do that,” she warned. “My father once told me that as we all get older there are three things we need to be happy: To love someone. To have someone love us. And to have something to look forward to. I have never “surprised” anyone since getting that advice,” said Betty.
Ah. An interesting approach. And one that conflicted with the last birthday surprise we gave my Mom. On the occasion of her most recent significant birthday my siblings and me, without any husbands, girlfriends or children snuck down to my Mother’s house the night before her birthday and went stealth. We snuck in after dark and hid in two rooms, far from hers, at the back of the house all evening long. When she woke up the next day and was having her morning coffee she heard the familiar birthday tune being sung to her and was shocked and awed to see that it was us delivering her a rousing rendition of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU. We all thought ourselves so clever. And with good reason. “This is best birthday present you could have given me,” she said. All week-end long we had a ball-together. With careers and children and life’s distractions we could not remember the last time we had all sat around the dinner table, just us, and gave her our undivided attention. It was like we were children again and she was the center of our lives. She loved it.
But I have seen surprises go very wrong as well. When one friend of mine turned 40 her husband threw her a lavish surprise party with the emphasis on “SURPRISE.” There were dozens of well wishers there. Sadly, barely any of them were good friends of hers.
By chance, on the date that he had selected, most of her chums were out of town. But having already planned the party for that date he felt he had no choice but to go ahead with the celebration by filling the room with his friends and family. Nice sentiment. Bad execution. The whole evening was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Action and Anticipation are separate but distinctly valuable experiences. But as Betty reminded, we many times overlook the merits of the latter. The process of looking forward to new adventures has multiple rewards.
“If you tell your Mom now that you’re coming to visit she can plan what to wear and and what you’ll do and get excited about your arrival.” WOW. That means Mom has a whopping two week supply of joy in store for her versus just 2 seconds of condensed happiness at the sound of “SURPRISE !”
In a way, I like Christmas Eve almost as much as Christmas Day. So many lovely wrapped presents waiting to be opened. So many hopes about what might be in them. The turkey dressed and ready for the oven, along with the pies, potatoes and squash. I’m getting delicious chills just thinking about it and it’s still 8 months away.
Anticipation is a glorious thing. Think about how exciting it is to look forward to a vacation. But can the anticipation of the holiday actually be as good as the holiday itself? Dutch scientists who studied the question said “NO.” It can be better.
Christie Johnston wrote in The New York Times that the Dutch study, “published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks. After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people” said Johnston. And that happened in less than only two weeks. Johnston adds that researchers offer this advice to further increase your happiness levels. Plan not one big vacation, but several shorter trips. Then you’ll have several times the joy. This is clearly a case where quantity outweighs quality. So get your calendars out and “Book Em, Danno!”