Let go of the past, stop worrying about the future, and appreciate the now to live a more fulfilling life.
“I ask myself, ‘What’s the most loving thing I can do for myself and others right now? ‘Then I get to it.”– Leo Babauta
You’ve probably heard the saying live in the moment. Or maybe you’ve heard the saying you only live once. But can being more present in your life really make you happier?
It actually can. Studies have shown that you are happier if you spend less time worrying about the future or focusing on the past and more time living presently.
Here are seven ways you can live in the now:
- Cultivate genuine loving relationships with others
- Put down your phone and experience the current moment
- Don’t allow your mind to wander when doing daily tasks
- Realize the absurdity of worrying over tiny moments in time
- Understand that worrying doesn’t solve the problem; it increases it
- Recognize how holding onto hurtful memories imprisons you
- Practice awareness and presence through mindful meditation
Do you remember being a kid and looking forward to your birthday or Christmas? Maybe you would count down the days until that favorite holiday. And then once the day passed you started the process all over again
I remember that at twelve years old I couldn’t wait to be fourteen. Then, at fourteen years old, I couldn’t wait to be sixteen. At sixteen, I couldn’t wait to be an adult with my own house and my own rules.
Then, after I became an adult, I kept thinking of memories from when I was a kid. When I reached adulthood, I had responsibilities that I’d never dealt with before. Working was necessary to pay my rent and buy groceries, not just to have some extra money to go to the movies on the weekend.
Then I realized that I never simply lived in the present moment. I was never satisfied with my now. I always thought, “Oh it will be better in the future.”
It’s kind of a paradox; isn’t it? You think you need to get to some arbitrary moment in the future and everything will work out. Then, you look back and think, “Wow life was so great back then.”
My grandfather wasn’t alive during my lifetime, but he told my mother a piece of knowledge that she shared with me at an early age: “Don’t wish your life away.”
This advice has stayed with me. You need to enjoy each moment rather than constantly looking forward to the next.
You get to the end of your life so quickly. Think about it. Have you ever reached the end of a day, week, month, or year, and thought, “Wow! Where did the time go?”
If you’re always living for the future, how will you ever enjoy the now?
The Connection between Being Present and Happiness
Living in the moment is one of the major sources of happiness. You may be thinking that’s a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. You may even think that you live in the present.
But, I’d like to challenge that idea. You probably think about the future or the past more than what you’re doing presently.
In the morning when you’re brushing your teeth, do you think about getting your pearly whites squeaky clean, or do you think about you what you need to do next? Maybe you have one of those never-ending to-do lists that you never manage to get done that’s constantly on your mind.
What about during dinner? Are you enjoying your food? Or, are you watching a video or checking something on your phone?
What about when you go on vacation? Are concentrated on taking photos from every moment, or are you staying present?
On Sunday evening, are you constantly thinking about going back to work on Monday? You can’t even enjoy the last few moments of relaxation from your weekend without the stress of the new week kicking in.
Mind wandering actually leads to feelings of unhappiness. In 2012, Matt Killingsworth, Ph.D., built an app called Track Your Happiness that asked people to answer questions about their day to day experiences in order to monitor their happiness. He collected over 650,000 real-time reports from over 15,000 people with varying ages, race, socioeconomic backgrounds, and education.
The answers to the questions ended up demonstrating a strong connection between living in the moment and overall happiness. The app would send them notifications to answer these questions at random points during the day.
Some of these questions include:
- How do you feel right now?
- What are you doing?
- Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?
After reviewing the results, Killingsworth found that people were far happier when they were focused on the present than when they allowed their mind to wander. But does the connection mean that mind wandering is the causation of these feelings of unhappiness?
Well, the data suggested that no matter what the task, people felt happier when they concentrated solely on what they were doing. So, say someone was doing something that would be considered unpleasant such as cleaning their toilet. The data showed that people that who were focused on cleaning were happier than those who allowed their mind to think of other things.
So, if this is true how does being present bring more happiness into your life besides just the principle of it? Well, being present can allow you to cultivate deeper more meaningful relationships with others and in turn create a happier life.
Harvard’s Grant and Glueck studies studied 724 people over the course of 75 years and found that long-term happiness resulted from strong relationships. This fact doesn’t mean that having a lot of friends or followers on Instagram will make you happy.
Instead, true happiness is a result of a genuine connection with others. How do you develop that type of connection with others? You need to be fully engaged with that person when you’re together.
How often have you checked your phone when you’re sitting across from someone that you’re having lunch with? Your phone can wait. That person who sent you an email, text, or direct message can wait.
Put your phone down and experience that limited time that you have to spend with the person sitting across from you. People in your life will feel more appreciated, and you’ll develop deeper and happier relationships with the most important people in your life.
Why is it so Hard to Live in the Moment?
When you reflect on the past, you are looking at a shorter, edited version of the reality that happened. Even the best days of your life have periods of time within them that were boring or even uncomfortable. Or, if you had what you would consider a bad day, there might have been times within that day where you were genuinely happy.
Your brain locks onto the most exciting moments within a day and discards the rest. Your memory assigns good or bad feelings to every meaningful moment in your life. Consequently, nostalgic thoughts are a skewed sense of reality.
When your mind wanders, it latches on to those memories. If you had a happy childhood, you might enjoy thinking about your childhood more than living in the present moment. Your past might have memories that seem happier than your present-day today.
Or memories from the past might constantly resurface because you haven’t let something go. Plus, when you constantly tell yourself to not think about a bad memory, you, in turn, meditate on that thought more.
If you find yourself constantly thinking about the future, you could either be trying to escape your current reality or obsessed with the idea that things will get better in the future. You could even simply be worried about the uncertainty that the unknown future holds.
You are trying to get away from the simplicity of the present moment.
None of these ways of living are healthy. You can easily become addicted to the habit of excessive thinking.
Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now, believes that just like any other addiction such as drugs or drinking, you can become addicted to over thinking. You can overcome this challenge by bringing awareness to your present moment and by practicing moments of not thinking.
How to Let go of the Past AND Stop Worrying ABOUT THE FUTURE
It can be difficult to only concentrate on the present moment. It’s actually a skill that you have to craft and teach yourself. Here are some basic ways you can live in the now:
- Realize the Absurdity of it All
I want you to do this exercise. Take yourself back to a time when you had to speak in front of a group of people and you were nervous about it. Was your heart thumping inside your chest? Did you feel your face start to warm? Did your hands begin to get fidgety?
It felt absolutely nerve-racking. You didn’t want to do it. But, what was the worst possible thing that could have happened at that moment? What exactly made you so anxious to stand in front of a group of people? You weren’t going to have rotten tomatoes thrown at you. You weren’t going to die.
Now, think of what act actually happened while you spoke in front of the group and what happened afterward. Did anything bad happen? Maybe you stuttered a bit from the nerves. But did anything horrible in the grand scheme of things happen?
You have to realize the absurdity of it all. Your mind can create a mountain out of a molehill.
There’s no reason to stress over such small moments in your life. Everything passes, and in the grand scheme of all time, you’re still alive.
Meditate on what you do have in your life rather than worry about what you don’t.
- Understand that Worrying Only Increases the Problem
This part of overcoming worry probably took me the longest. And, sometimes I still need reminders to make sure I don’t get lost in my worry.
So, let’s say you are actually experiencing a life-changing problem. This time you are actually facing a mountain not just an imaginary one that you created for yourself. How will worrying about the problem solve the issue?
You’ll spend more time worrying than facing the problem head on and coming up with a solution. That doesn’t help anything. You end up wasting time that could be spent in a more productive way.
Or let’s say the problem is entirely out of your control. Again, how does worrying solve the issue? It’s better to just accept your situation, live in the moment, allow the problem to pass, and be thankful for the small details of your life.
- Recognize the Prison that You Create for Yourself
Maybe you’re someone who holds onto past events and carries those events in your mind. You have to realize that holding onto the past only hinders you from achieving your future.
It only hurts you when you concentrate on something hurtful someone told you. It only hurts you when you allow something that someone did to you keep you from living in the now.
By holding onto hurtful past memories, you create a prison for yourself. Don’t allow others to steal your joy. Be responsible for your own happiness, and focus on what you can do today to make your life better.
- Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation is scientifically proven to alter your mental and physical well-being. A daily practice can reduce stress and anxiety drastically and bring mental clarity.