5 gifts to give your future self

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

I almost skipped my bulb order this year. I’ve taken to heart the idea of not pushing myself too hard during the pandemic, especially with a one year-old, a career, and half a dozen home projects besides. When would I have time for all that digging?

But then I thought of the months we would be staring at “sad brown sticks,” as my friend Ali describes the hydrangeas and other deciduous species in the garden, and imagined the electric welcome of daffodils. With a little effort now, I could give myself and my family a shock of color right when we will need it most.

I talk a lot in this space about the idea that joy is something we can create, not just something we have to find. Of course, I don’t mean that we literally “manufacture” joy — that we should fake or force it. But rather, by designing more opportunities for joy into our lives, we increase the frequency and likelihood of it happening. Planting bulbs, and gardening in general, is a way to effectively seed joy for our future selves to harvest.

It’s a good time to think about this, now, as the year winds down and the cold air settles in. The next few months will be a blur of decorative gourds and costumes, candy and stuffing, twinkle lights and holiday parties. But after the tinsel comes down, we will find ourselves deep in winter and in need of joy. And what could be more magical than to wake up one ordinary February morning to a burst of it, sent with love from the one who knows us best?

With this in mind, here are five simple things you can do to make life a little more fun, easy, and joyful for your future self:

Schedule free time

Many of us don’t feel like we have enough time to be able to do things we truly enjoy, just for ourselves. And if we look at our calendars for the next few months, we may be right. Meetings, appointments, family obligations: these things fill our time so much that we can barely see daylight. But look a little further out, and our planners often look at lot emptier.

The problem with this — and I’ve fallen into this trap countless times — is that it’s easy to give away our time when we look at the calendar and see all that blank space. After all, it seems like we have so much of it! A simple gift we can give ourselves, then, is to get ahead of things and hold a little of that space for ourselves.

Pop into your calendar and identify a block of time — maybe a few hours, or even a full day — to take purely for enjoyment. If you need to request time off of work, put the request in now so the time is protected. If you work for yourself, mark it on your calendar and don’t let yourself get tempted to give the time away later.

Preorder something

The prevalence of two-day shipping and local delivery services have gotten many of us hooked on immediate gratification. (For a darkly funny take on this, see Ronny Chieng’s bit on Amazon Prime from his Netflix special.) Preordering a book months ahead can feel silly, frustrating even, when what you really want is a book right now.

But the lag between preordering and receiving opens up space for anticipation, which research shows can heighten our joy, and can make an object feel like a surprise gift. Books are a commonly preordered item, but not the only one. Many smaller, independent clothing companies are now selling their collections on a preorder basis, which allows them to better understand consumer demand and reduce waste. By preordering, you not only get to the joy of looking forward to your purchase’s arrival, but you also help support smaller businesses and more sustainable manufacturing.

Organize an area of your home

Creating an organizational system is one of those subtle gifts that can erase so much frustration and add so many small moments of joy to daily life. I really began to see the power of this when, deep in the ninth month of pregnancy, we overhauled our pantry. Gone were random packets of flour and sugar that leaked their powdery contents every time I baked. Gone were the bags of months-old chips that had gotten buried behind boxes of crackers and cookies. Nuts, beans, grains, and snacks all went into clear, vacuum-sealed storage containers with their contents easily visible.

Yes, it was nice to be able to open the pantry and see everything right there. But there were other benefits too. It was easier see ingredients and easier to measure them too. This meant that I made more foods like muesli and muffins at home, rather than buying them pre-made. There was zero friction to adding nuts or seeds to a salad, making it easy to incorporate more diverse foods into our diets. I was even more open to trying new recipes. Before, I would look at a recipe and think, “Ugh, this is so many ingredients. Do I have all these? And even if I do, do I have the energy to find them all?” Now, I’m unfazed by even a long ingredients list and because I know I can go straight to cooking.

Organizational projects can seem overwhelming and tedious, but by making it easier to do the things we love, they often unlock surprising new forms of joy.

Tend to your body

On a day-to-day basis, making healthy choices can be hard. We know we want to take care of our bodies and do things that make us feel good, but it’s hard to see the meaning of each little action in the moment.

One thing that can make these choices easier is envisioning what we want our lives to look like in the future. After all, you and your future self share a body — she’s just inheriting one with a few more miles than the one you’re in right now. What could you do now that would make it easier for her to do the things she loves?

Two things I’ve been focused on here are posture and mobility. Stretching every day takes a little bit of effort, but maintaining and increasing range of motion is something that I can imagine creating a lot of joy for me in the future. Being able to swim, hike, snowshoe, and keep up with Graham without pain would be the best gift I could possibly ask for — and it’s one I can give myself through just a few minutes a day now.

Free your mind

At the same time, one of the best gifts we can give our future selves isn’t anything we can acquire, but rather something we can let go of. What are you carrying that burdens you? What possibilities might open up if you were able to free yourself from it?

This might be trauma from your past or limiting beliefs you’ve absorbed from society. It might be something that has been squashing your confidence or holding you back from taking a leap you’ve been dreaming about.

One that I’ve been working on is my internalized attitudes toward aging, and especially toward aging women. (More on the topic of aging joyfully here.) As a 40-something I still think of myself as young, but our culture is starting to consider me old! As I unpack the stereotypes that have made me view the experience of aging as one of loss and negativity, I realize that I’ve been conditioned to greet certain changes with dread. Shedding the beliefs I’ve absorbed through decades of seeing anti-aging skincare ads in magazines and older women cast in depressing, unsexy roles is liberating me to welcome my future self, rather than fear her.

What other gifts could you give your future self? Share your ideas in the comments!

Image: Alisa Anton via Unsplash

October 11th, 2021


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    Discussion (6 Comments)

  1. Joyce Tennison on October 11, 2021

    Love your energy, writing style, and ideas. I think of Dr Barbara Fredrickson here in Chapel Hill when I read your work❤

  2. Karen Johnson on October 12, 2021

    Love this article…especially planting bulbs, taking care of my body, and organizing. I know the joy these can bring. A couple of minor things that occurred to me are: buying seasonal items (like holiday wrap or summer clothing) on clearance and sticking them away for the next year. It’s always a joy to discover them when you get those items out. Also, I am always so thankful when I buy presents for my grandchildren when I see them or think of them and stick them away for their birthday. Look forward to seeing ideas from your readers!

  3. Laura Templeton on October 12, 2021

    I love to open the freezer and find  blueberries and strawberries I flash froze from summer, spaghetti sauce left over from an large batch, and extra loaves of banana bread ready to warm up on a frosty morning. I’ve never thought of preparing that food as giving my future self joy but it actually really does 
     light up my day! 

  4. Carol on October 12, 2021

    Laura, I just put banana bread and homemade spaghetti sauce on my calendar for next week so I can freeze them right up! I’m ready for the future already. These sound delicious. 

  5. Elise on October 14, 2021

    I love this. So true that planning for joy makes a difference. One of my favorite things is to buy theatre tickets for months ahead. Then I can look forward to it for a long time, and when the day come it feels like a free splurge. I am always so grateful to my former self when I do that.

  6. Paula on October 25, 2021

    The easiest one (my dad taught me) is also the best for night owl/mom me – prepare your coffee pot the night before and in the morning it’s such a pleasure to only have to press a button! 🙂


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