Over the next few months, I'll be basing my articles on this "12 Steps to Happiness" post.
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We have reached the second half in our series, Step 7 - Live in the present. What does that mean exactly? I'm not talking about forgetting everything that has ever happened to you, because I do believe we are all the unique product of our past decisions, experiences, nature as well as nurture. How can we deny what makes us, us? Likewise, the majority of things we do or don't do are in view of what consequences they might have and thus geared toward a future we're trying to influence. Wouldn't ignoring the future mean we live without purpose, without goals and dreams? The answer, again, lies somewhere in the middle.
I was first introduced to the concept of living in the present by reading "Happiness" by Matthieu Ricard. Well, I might have dabbled with it before (the million times I got way ahead of myself and fantasized about catastrophic or heavenly outcomes that never materialised), but only recently it started making sense to me: it's about letting go. Being able to acknowledge, enjoy, reap the benefits, learn - and move on. Not being tied down or defined by negative stuff from the past, not being paralysed by fear about the future.
Memories are a generally a wonderful thing, but if they bother you, why do you keep thinking about them? True, you can't go inside your brain and erase them (at least, not yet) but repressing them, not dealing with what happened, is a sure way to make things worse. What's so difficult about facing the bad memories, allowing them in, asking them what they're here to teach us, and then letting them go? I realise they might be scary, but the idea to face going over and over the same thing forever without managing to get a grip on it is scarier, isn't it?
As for getting a grip on the future, that's a little bit trickier, since there is a much higher percentage of uncertainty involved. You may plan and prepare yourself, but at the end of the day there will always be circumstances beyond your control. What can you do? Make decisions based on what seems right at the time. Inform yourself as best you can, weigh out your options, and go with what feels good and reflects your values. If you wait to make a decision, then that - waiting - is the decision you made.
Are you living mostly for the future? It is common to postpone plans and meetings thinking, "I'll get to that later. That trip, that diet, that movie - not now, I don't have time, there are more important things to do." If that is how you feel, excellent. If that is what makes you happy, there's no reason to change. If there's the smallest part of you wondering if maybe there won't be rewards in the afterlife or reincarnation, then how about making the most of what you have now? After all, right now might be all you have. The most drastic image to bring to mind is "what if you get run over by a bus tomorrow". Have you told everyone you love how you feel? Are all issues with your parents resolved? Do you know what your kid's favourite song is?
I invite you this week to think about what you can do right now to fill your life with joy, bring peace to your mind and be happy. Carpe diem.