How do you feel about the present? Is it to be enjoyed and never mind what happens next? Or is it to be endured until something better turns up? Over the years, I have found myself veering between these two points of view and struggling to work out how to make the most of now.
On the one hand, what is life if not a series of present moments? If we never allow ourselves to enjoy them, always looking to the future and hoping things will improve, life will pass us by. I was saying last week how important it is to keep our eyes on our chosen destination – and it is – but of course we want to enjoy the journey as well.
On the other hand, if we live only in and for the present, the risk is that we’ll never get any further, never fulfil our potential or build the life we want.
There’s a tension here that can be tricky to resolve but I think the answer can be found through some honest soul-searching.
First of all, let us count our blessings. In Western culture, the pervasive pressure to earn more, consume more, have more can sometimes cause us to feel we ought to be dissatisfied with our lot, when in fact we have more than enough for our own needs. And, anyway, it’s always useful to remember to appreciate what we’ve already got and not always focus on what’s missing – apart from anything else, this helps us to maintain a positive attitude.
If you’re one who tends to dwell in the future, I encourage you to have a good, hard look at what is really going on. Is the place that occupies your mind actually the future or is it a daydream? If you’re enduring the present in the hope of a better future, when and how is that future going to come about? If your response to these questions is less than concrete, I’m afraid you may be just daydreaming of a better life, a life that will not be yours until you can force yourself to confront the truth of your present situation, make some realistic plans and take action to create the future you want. Whether you find it frightening or whether you find it liberating, the fact is you are the only one who can do this. Stop waiting for life to happen to you; go out and make it happen!
If you’re one who tends to live for the moment, I’m guessing it’s not working for you or you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. My suggestion is that you stand back a bit and survey the big picture. Think of ‘now’ in a larger sense than literally this minute; think of it more as this phase. Then think of this phase in the context of the rest of your life. Yes, it’s important to enjoy – or at least get something positive out of – each phase, but it’s equally important to balance this with making progress. Otherwise, what you may tell yourself is enjoyment actually rings hollow.
Thinking in terms of a journey (which, as you will have noticed, is my favourite metaphor for all this), just because we’re travelling towards our desired destination it doesn’t mean we can’t get huge pleasure out of all sorts of things along the way or even on detours – but the fact that we’re broadly moving in that direction is part of the joy.
What I mean in practice is this. If you take ‘now’ too literally, you may consider you’re nurturing yourself by lying on the sofa eating chocolate and watching junk on telly for hours. Look at the bigger picture and what do you see? Probably not a fulfilling life spent in productive ways, with the odd day off on the sofa (there’s nothing wrong with sofa, chocolate and undemanding telly per se – it’s what they represent). I suspect what you may see is a lot of time spent trying to escape from reality, a reality that is never going to change while you continue to lounge around avoiding it.
And so we see that living in the future and living for the moment can be two sides of the same coin. A happy life is one in which we’re moving purposefully forward, relishing the challenge of obstacles to be overcome, enjoying the view as we go and the rest stops along the road. For me, this is the way to find the right balance between valuing what I’ve already got and not settling for a life less than the one I dream of; for me, this is the way to make the most of now.