To celebrate my 31st birthday, my awesome boyfriend whisked me away in an Uber to a surprise destination. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the front row at a Saturday Night Live taping.
I’ve been watching SNL basically my whole life, and though attending a taping of it had a high spot on my bucket list, I never thought it would actually happen. Suffice it to say, that night was surreal and amazing and felt like the absolute best time of my life.
But what if it actually was? The next day, all I could think about was how my life surely had peaked, it and must be a downhill tumble from here. Beyond being a wildly obvious downer, the thought also managed to lend a tinge of wet-blanket sadness to my whole fantastic birthday celebration. But mental-health experts seem to agree that it’s a common thought process.
“I see so many of my clients going through this,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW. “It often comes up when someone plans a wedding—their focus is on the wedding for over a year, but then after it happens, and they go on their honeymoon, it’s that moment of, ‘Holy sh*t—what do I look forward to now?'”
“It’s that moment of, ‘Holy sh*t—what do I look forward to now?'” —psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW
On a more clinical level, this negative way of thinking is referred to as information-processing bias, according to Lindsay Trent, PhD, a clinical psychologist and chief science offer of Basis, a mental-healthcare provider. “Predictions about the future are impossible to test, leaving one with some degree of uncertainty,” she explains. “When in a more negative emotional state, your perception is skewed accordingly. It’s called an information processing bias, which means you see the world differently based on an emotional state, which makes it difficult to come up with contradictory evidence for a negative prediction in the moment.” Basically, if you feel like you’ve just reached your life’s peak, that’s what you’re going to think is true. Anxiety also figures in, Dr. Trent says. “The cognitive processes that characterize anxiety can lead to a high degree of certainty about the inevitability of a bleak future,” she says.
Basically, if you feel like you’ve just reached your life’s peak, that’s what you’re going to think is true.
And yet, when discussing this feeling with friends, one person pointed out that life is full of peaks and valleys. So no, don’t count on front-row seats to an SNL taping to magically manifest and lift you from a valley or keep you atop a peak, but do pay attention to wise tips from the pros. Armed with their advice, you’ll be more equipped than ever to deal with any future bout of “my life is all downhill from here” mode of thinking.
Think about life in waves
Turns out, that whole “peak and valley” maxim rings true. “I prefer to think of life as full of waves,” says Silvershein, who suggests journaling about the valleys and revisiting the thoughts later as an exercise in perspective. “Write down your biggest worry this week. Next week, pull it out—never has a client said that the world has ended and they’re still upset.” The key, she says is to learn to tolerate the discomfort and trust that something else great is around the corner.
Identify what made you feel great, and incorporate that feeling into your life
Don’t just let peaks be one-time events. By taking nuggets from them and using or re-creating them on the reg, you preserve some of your joy. “Take a piece of that [experience] and insert it into everyday life,” says Silvershein, who suggests deemphasizing the event itself and refocusing on how it made you feel. “If it made you feel inspired, or if you loved being near the action of something, for instance, look at how you can re-create that feeling in a more realistic way.”
So, in the case of my SNL peak, she suggests I go to improv shows, or come up with more VIP-leaning events I can attend. “There are so many elements when you break down that experience, so if you really sussed it out, you’d be sure to find a way to re-create it in a creative way,” says Silvershein.
Licensed clinical psychologist Jordana Jacobs, PhD, adds that a great power of amazing experiences is that they teach you more about yourself, what brings you joy, and what adds meaning to your life. “If you actively work to integrate these peak experiences—which you can do through methods like journaling, therapy, or meditation—it’s possible that you can ride that peak for years to come.”
Fill your calendar with many exciting future events
This whole phenomenon is a lot like being a child thinking about their birthday—AKA a huge annual highlight. “The worst day of the year is the day after your birthday because you have to wait 364 days for the next one,” says Silvershein of six-year-olds. “If you look forward to one thing, you spend a lot of time focused on it and start fantasizing about it and it sometimes won’t live up to that expectation.” To make sure you don’t fall victim to this overexcitement, simply fill your calendar with many events and experiences to look forward to.
And perhaps the notion that the rest of your life is a downhill ride means you need to shift or change something so you can enjoy it more frequently, says Silvershein. Regardless, try to remember that you can never know what the future holds—and more than likely, it probably holds some great peaks.
For more inspiration, here are the best self-development books, according to our Well+Good Council. And to gain more insight, here’s the lowdown on the big five personality traits you need to know about.
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