Most people exist, that is all.
Their days bring them little fulfillment because their thoughts are elsewhere.
- Some have their minds stuck in the past
- Many are firmly aimed at future goals
People who dwell in the past are split into two camps: those whose glory is found in distant successes, and those who are haunted by harms they cannot forgive.
We find future-dwellers in two clusters as well. The “if only” folk know that their happiness is near at hand if only they get that partner, house, or job. The delayed gratification group is sure to inherit the earth … someday.
What unites them all is the common thread of missed opportunity. They are each missing out on being fully alive today.
I have been all these people
I’ve spent time in each of these camps, only to find the lodgings sparse and the company inhospitable.
Being of a pragmatic bent, I wanted out of the backward-looking group quickly. I do acknowledge the benefits, though, particularly when one learns to rewrite the past.
We can (re)characterize ourselves as the heroes of every encounter, and there are good reasons to so do. Being anything less than brutally honest with ourselves, however, turns out to be harmful to future performance.
One can live in a superposition of states, of course. In one day, it’s possible to be lost in pleasant memories, angered at past slights, swept up in a daydream of how great it’s going to be, and hard at work creating the future.
I spent more years than I care to admit in a thick brew of “if only” thinking spiced with a healthy dash of delayed gratification. I knew that if I worked hard and sacrificed, happiness and success awaited.
I was prepared to accept any hardship that contributed to my future prospects.
It took me asking the following question to realize I needed to change.
What do you ultimately want?
Looking at people’s behavior provides us with only indirect clues. Asking people is scarcely better, because they will tell you that the clues you see are the answer.
In my case, I wanted jobs, money, and prestige because I thought they would make me happy. What I ultimately wanted, though, was to be happy. Today. Not sometime in the future. Now.
If what you want is to be happy now, you must become the master of today.
- Yesterday is gone. The time to reflect and take lessons of each day is at the end of the day. When you arise, let it be with a focus on the day at hand, knowing that you have all you need in hand.
- Tomorrow is always a day away. You may set grand plans, and you may work your strategic magic towards their attainment. But you act your plans out today and today alone.
My old friend Seneca provided me with the push I needed. He was whispering in my ear for some time before. Then he said this, and it changed everything:
Set yourself free for your own sake; gather and save your own time. While we are postponing, life speeds by. — Seneca
Let Seneca and I serve as your reminder that this moment is all you have.
You didn’t just waste it reading this story. It was possibly the best three minutes you ever spent.
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