Anticipation is, in truth, the real thief of joy

The end of World War I was reported prematurely on Thursday, November 7, 1918. Two days later the New York Tribune reflected on what followed:

The Thief of Joy

It was the absolute spontaneity of Thursday afternoon’s explosion of joy that marked it off from every other celebration we can recall. No one had really dared face peace. It was too good to be true—it and all the gains which it signified for human beings the world around.

So when it burst unexpectedly upon us—through a giant hoax—there were no preparations, no set attitudes, to greet the glad tidings. There was only a spontaneous eruption of long pent-up feelings, gushing forth to find their own natural channel of outlet. For those first early hours after the supposed news arrived the doings were an utter improvisation. People laughed and sang and wept and cheered and talked to strangers and marched and countermarched and waved, and altogether dumped their emotions out upon the highway exactly as they flung papers from their office windows.

Can such a celebration be repeated? When the real news of peace arrives shall we have another celebration as good and joyous as those first hours? Hardly, we think. The edge has been taken off. What is more, even on Thursday the celebration had become formalized, had begun to run in routine channels, by nightfall. Broadway became more and more like an election night as the hours passed. To be sure, the doubts cast upon the news undoubtedly damped some spirits and took the thrill out of the evening. But, even more, the first spontaneity had worn off. Hearts were still aflame, but there was need of forced draft and fresh fuel from new recruits to keep the thing going at full tilt.

Anticipation is, in truth, the real thief of joy. The best times are always the unexpected ones. It is not the parties that you plan for weeks and look forward to that come off. There must be surprise and novelty and freshness to yield the last word in happiness and thrill. That we had on Thursday afternoon. The real thrill has passed, never
to return.

That is a beautiful piece of writing, and the final paragraph provides words to live by that have proved true, time and again, in my life. 

I found my way to this having read a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of all joy,” as a piece of advice to those in polyamorous relationships, upon meeting their partner’s partners for the first time. I wanted to understand the context in which Roosevelt was speaking and, instead, found that he was likely misattributed as the source

Which, in itself, is a lesson similar: the most interesting learning happens when you wander accidentally in the side door of something.


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on May 21, 2021 - 09:14 Permalink

Anticipation is a one version of not being present in the, uh, present. As Garth Algar would say: LIVE IN THE NOW!

I have found that this past year of so many limitations for health and safety has removed many bits of both anticipation and comparison.

Should we go on a vacation somewhere? Where should we travel? Which destination is best for us? NONE! Problem solved.

There are also many little anticipations (positive, negative, and neutral) that have been eliminated. Is there soccer practice or piano practice today? Is it at 4:30 or 6pm? NO! NONE! Problem solved.

I'd rather find a way to avoid these joy-thieves without a global health crisis next time.

Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on May 21, 2021 - 09:28 Permalink

And then there's the research that says the happinness benefits of planning a vacation are already big enough, that you then don't need to go on that vacation. Not sure if the anticipation is something that comes between the planning and the trip, that would be congruent with the above, or that planning qualifies as the anticipation.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 21, 2021 - 09:31 Permalink

For me the most stressful time of vacation or other discretionary travel planning is the time leading up to deciding whether to actually take the trip or not; once I make the decision (which, to be true, is almost always yes), there’s a tremendous sense of relief and happiness. So perhaps you don’t even need to plan the trip at all — just deciding to take it is enough.