To feel happy, many of us turned to anticipation without guaranteed payoff. People invested time and money surfing travel sites, even booking trips not knowing if and when they’d be able to take them.

Science proves it doesn’t matter if we do. And when it comes to making purchases, psychologists have found we derive more enduring happiness from anticipating experiential purchases (money spent on doing) than material purchases (money spent on having). “Trips don’t just make us happy while we’re on them; they also make us happy when we’re talking to other people about what we’re going to do,” says Amit Kumar, a professor at the University of Texas who wrote a paper on this phenomenon in 2014.

But what is longing – is it bad for us, and if so, is there a way of curtailing the habit?

Why do we long?
Neuroscience suggests our brains are wired to crave what we don’t have. Dopamine (known as the happy hormone) is released not when we get what we want, but when we anticipate getting it. Our brains release more dopamine planning a vacation than taking it. Even thinking about touch you crave can trigger the release of dopamine in the reward system. Once we get what we want, the dopamine fades – and so we crave more. With anticipation being a key stage in happiness, and depression rates in the US tripling last year, it’s no wonder so many people find themselves longing.

Dr Kent Berridge, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, says powerful emotional experiences and stress – such as those that might ensue after being locked inside for months on end due to a deadly worldwide virus – exacerbate the hyper-reactivity of the dopamine system. In other words, these experiences increase our appetite for wants (food, sex, material objects, drugs) as a way of escaping the discomfort of reality.

What could be so bad about that? Well, our “want” brain circuits have been getting a workout this year, and repetition builds habit.

Read the full article at The Guardian.