Thrill of Having Something to Look Forward to

How do you feel when you have something to anticipate?

Together with various professionals, Nick explores how having something to look forward to (tanoshimi) can evoke a sense of ikigai.

A crucial element of ikigai

Nick: Yeah, that touches on another one of my favorite words, tanoshimi. So maybe we could move the discussion to that: to look forward to things. So tanoshimi can mean just enjoyment, but it can also mean to look forward to.

And it's actually one of my favorite expressions that I discovered in Japan. I remember my first year, while I was working there as a restaurant trainee, and I tell my coworkers, I think I said, I'm going to see Forrest Gump on the weekend.

And this coworker said, tanoshimi dane, I'm like, well, that's interesting. We don't say that in English, we don't go, ‘Oh, that's something to look forward to.’ So yeah, these beautiful, unique expressions. But this seems to be a crucial element of ikigai, to have things to look forward to.

Clark, you lived in Japan for quite a long time. So I'm sure you would have heard that word, or that phrase quite a bit. What are your thoughts on it? Is it one of your favorite words, too?

Clark: Often, when I talk with friends about what we're going to do in the future, I often use the expression. You know, we're gonna meet in a week or so and do this. And tanoshimi ni shiteimasu. I think there are two ways of thinking about tanoshimi.

You can think about it in the future sense, and you can also think about it in the present sense. And I think the phrase itself sounds like it's about the future. But it's also about the present insofar as we have a life.

If we recognize that we have a life, in which we have things to look forward to, that we're blessed in that way, then there is a sense that my life is meaningful, that what I'm doing is meaningful. So I think in that way, we can think about tanoshimi as not just about the future, but also a reflection of where my life is now; that I have these friendships; that I have these people to share my life with; that I'm able to do these good things.

So in that way, I do see a link with ikigai and tanoshimi: being in the present rather than just in the future.

Nick: Yeah, a valid point, I agree. What about you, Trudy? A question perhaps more relatable to your work with people who do have illness, is it important that they feel tanoshimi in the present, but they also have things to look forward to?

Trudy: I agree fully. People need to have things to look forward to. Even though my work is very present-centered, it's good to be able to look forward to many different things. The end of treatment as an example, that's something to look forward to as you're coming close to it.

Or even, I'd like to diverge just a little bit though from the illness, and give you an example of my own mother who lived to be 100 years old. I was organizing a big birthday party for her on the west coast of Canada, and 75 people coming. And I had decided along with my sister that we wouldn't surprise her with all the events that were coming.

That we would tell her on an ongoing basis what was happening, so she would have something to look forward to. Because my mother loves celebrations. As it turned out, I'm really glad I did that, because her birthday was April 13, 2020, it had to be canceled because of COVID.

So that whole birthday party, if we had kept this as a surprise, she would have had nothing. But she had all the joy and all the wonder of knowing what was happening, who was coming. We took her to show her the beautiful place it would be held at, the menu, all of those things really fueled her ikigai because she's a celebrator.

And so I mentioned that, because I now not so much like to surprise people, as I like to give them something to look forward to. And I think ‘Yeah, she can get to look forward to this next year.’ ‘Next year, I'm going to Japan, I can look forward to this.’ And so it's the joy of looking forward to it. And then you get to have the joy of the experience.

Nick: The double whammy effect. I love it. It's beautiful.

Clark: I think, I mean, if there's any psychologist present, they can either confirm or deny this. But I do remember reading somewhere that many people actually derive more pleasure from the run-up to the experience than the experience itself.

And so having the sense of a run-up to the experience and looking forward to it, is part of of living a joyful life. I think we can also connect that with something that we hear a lot about now and we've heard a lot about over the past few years, which is this idea of how to make ourselves and others more resilient.

And I think, having a sense of tanoshimi is a way we make ourselves more resilient to deal with what we need to do.

Nick: I love it. I love that idea, actually. It's kind of like the Christmas effect, the anticipation when we were kids, the anticipation of your father leaving Christmas presents under the tree seem more intense and pleasurable than after you've opened them.

You might be disappointed, you've got a pair of socks through your hands or something. But we'll probably move into resilience, too. But Shin, I always think it must be fascinating for you, because you're someone who is Japanese. But you've spent all this time researching words that most Japanese would not even really think about: ikigai, and now, tanoshimi.

So you've just heard us touch on tanoshimi. What are your thoughts about tanoshimi? And perhaps relate it to your research as well.

Shintaro: Well, I think that's a terrific discussion here. So I'm very interested in what you guys have to say about it. And to me, it's a privilege that I have the both of the linguistic and cultural background a little bit, and also in my own research, too, when I talk to Japanese people, when I go back, and I live in English world, typically.

So I have this moment of when I do interview and whatnot, I have to think about, okay, this word, it keeps coming up, whether it's tanoshimi or whatever. And then I have to take that moment, oh, what does that even mean?

Because these people, well, Japanese people, especially, or whatever, whoever that might be, they use those words pretty mindlessly, that's just embedded into their daily conversation, they just keep using it. But for me, okay, what would that be if I am to translate it?

And I realize sometimes that happened to tanoshimi, too, that I can translate it into two different ways. Whether it's like what Clark was saying, that's one aspect is the present for Christmas, that being here and now, and really embracing it, with all 100% attentions and awareness and enjoying it.

Versus the other side is to look forward to, so that's a more future tense. And when I did that, and go like, okay, which one did they mean? Sometimes they meant one way or another, sometimes it's both were important, you know, that presentness, present experience turned into an, you know, they're going to come back to, they're going to look forward to coming back to the experience in their future. So that becomes the future tense, and so on, and so forth.

So that, different languages and different words provide us the ways to look at the things. You know, the activities, and those things are not connected, they're not disconnected from each other, that exist in a more, that's why I like to use the word experience rather than activity or behavior.

That it's more episodic in a way, that it's not, activities are more, you know, there's a clear cut when you get there to do some activity, and then you finish it. And that's one activity versus experience is in that person's mind. There's that story that’s leading up to it, that anticipation of it.

And I'm aware of the psychological study of tourism and other things, that experience designing and management, that actually like just like what Clark was saying, that actually, people's positive emotions and whatnot are building up, increasing, actually, before the on site experience.

And by the time people were actually ending it, they experienced the emotions actually decreasing because they're sad actually finishing that leaving that to an extent as well. So that really challenges maybe the present and the future.

We tend to conceptualize somewhat discreetly, differently, separately, but they're actually connected into people's life. And that may be there's something about that, and ikigai and things like that. So that that has been very interesting for me, to think about those words, representing different ways to look at, and fields and whatnot.