There's a child-like joy that comes with ordering something online– whether it be clothes or kitchen gadgets. We sit anxiously refreshing the U.S. Postal Service or FedEx pages to see when our items will arrive, and we become overly excited, hopeful and anxious.
According to Owen O’Kane, a psychotherapist and author of "Ten to Zen: Ten Minutes a Day to a Calmer, Happier You," even the smallest positive future events can motivate us when we're feeling down – especially during the pandemic, which has been filled with unexpected disappointments.
This is why people look forward to dinner reservations, hair appointments and yes, receiving packages.
"It's anticipatory pleasure that something positive and good is going to happen when you get this parcel, and a lot of people realize that placing that order and waiting for it does feel good," he says.
But it's not the purchase itself that elicits this happiness. Experts say there's something about the anticipation of waiting that is exciting for those in need of change in their lives.
It gives us something positive to look forward to
When our package finally arrives, many of us are satisfied. But that initial excitement has probably waned because our obsession with our parcel represents much more than the item we purchased.
"What we're talking about here is hope and having something to look forward to," O’Kane explains. "Having something to look forward to can help some feel a sense of, 'OK whatever is going on in the moment isn't forever,' and reassures that things can improve."
For some people, the arrival of a package may also represent "an imagined positive future where you can control your needs for a book or blender or blouse," making life feel more manageable and less monotonous.
"It can be helpful to anticipate good things in the future," says Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist from Pasadena, California.
"You had a hard week at work, but you keep yourself going because you anticipate the next 'Ted Lasso' episode on Friday. Or your new oven mitts. It’s a formula that has fueled many helpful clichés through the years: Tomorrow is another day."
Howes adds waiting for a parcel can also serve as a temporary distraction from the monotony of your life because it gives you something new to wake up to and get excited about.
"You're distracting yourself from other feelings that might not feel so pleasant, like anxiety, boredom, even dread," he says. "When you are imagining a positive event in the future, you’re feeling only that joyful anticipation. And tracking it down to the street of the delivery truck makes it even more personal."
O'Kane agrees, noting "There's something about the anticipation of the unknown: 'Is it what I expected? Is it bigger or smaller than I thought?'
"It's a curiosity that's quite exciting for many."
Why we get so angry when our packages get delayed
Anticipation isn't always a good thing.
In September, people went into a frenzy when USPS Postal Service announced that their it's mail delivery would become permanently slower. And now, many are worried about their items arriving on time, appearing broken, or simply not living up to expectations.
This phenomenon is called pre-parcel anxiety, and it's more common than you would think.
"We live in a society where we build expectations and uphold perfectionism. We want things here and now. We want efficiency and struggle with patience," O'Kane explains.
A delayed package may seem insignificant to some. But for others, getting your hopes up only for them to be thwarted is angering and anxiety-provoking.
"We feel ripped off, sometimes on a personal level. We all want fair transactions, and when we do our part and the other party drops the ball, anger is often the result," Howes says, comparing it to "broken, ignored or forgotten" promises.
"Some even throw the slight on the pile of past broken deals and say 'this always happens to me!' which only makes it sting more."
However, O’Kane says these reactions are telling about more deep-rooted internal issues in our lives that go beyond a delayed package.
"Anxiety is intolerance to uncertainty, and a lot of people struggle with not knowing or not having control. So it's really symbolic about something bigger, about that need to control and needing everything to be perfect."
How to find hope in your life – without depending on online orders
It's important to practice self-care and treat yourself with occasional gifts. However, experts caution comfort shopping is only a temporary fix.
"It’s a distraction from bigger problems, but that’s all it is," Howes says. "The bigger problems haven’t gone away, and the distraction hasn’t done anything to change the bigger problems. It only helped you escape them temporarily."
O'Kane adds many people often seek external solutions, such as luxury purchases and even alcohol, "as a way of feeling better quickly." However, a healthier long-term coping mechanism is to look inward and appreciate your life with "mindfulness, gratitude and savoring."
It's more about "finding contentment and peace with where you are right now, with your current stuff, without having to wait for the delivery, or the supply chain, or the good fortune," he says. "It’s not about having what you want, but wanting what you have."
So the next time you feel the impulse to order and track something online, consider why.
"I think you’ll find that shopping for and receiving an item is stimulating on some level, but also about the most passive way to live. Challenge yourself to take action in your life instead of waiting for it to arrive," Howes adds.
Looking to improve your mood?: Experts say to take more baths.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cyber Monday 2021: Our unhealthy obsession with tracking packages