Everyone agrees on the virtues of living in the present moment. Why is it so difficult to do in practice? Much of my life I spent looking to the future: “When I graduate…, When I get my first good job…, When I get married…, When we have enough money to…, When we get our own house…” When we focus solely on the future, we rob ourselves of the enjoyment of the present. We forget that we are right where we need to be at the present time and that we should enjoy the ride. For me, it’s not just looking to the future, though. I also engage in the contradictory practice of looking fondly on the past and pining for what was. I can’t have it both ways! In fact, I shouldn’t have it either way.
This weekend, my wife and I went away for a night to celebrate our anniversary. Now that we are parents and alone time is scarce, we cherish all our time alone together. After all, we got married twelve years ago because we love spending time together! During these last four years as parents, I’ve often looked back at our married life before parenthood and regretted not enjoying our alone time enough. Recently, though, I’ve realized that’s a revisionist assessment. I might not have appreciated the freedom of our alone time before having a child, but that does not mean I didn’t enjoy it at the time. I’d been looking at our pre-child time together through the lens of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” but that is unproductive and unfair. Instead, I need to re-frame it as, “Now we can enjoy our time together and add to that an appreciation of its scarcity.”
Likewise with our son: each day he learns, grows, and changes. We’ll never again experience the person he was yesterday. If we focus on enjoying the time we spend with him every day, we never have to look back and say, “We wish we would have enjoyed that more.” The photos and videos can trigger a nostalgia that is unencumbered with regret. We can look back on those images confident and satisfied that we truly enjoyed those moments at the time.
Each day is truly a gift. That is a large part of what this project is all about for me. Taking time to express gratitude and recognizing that there is something special about each moment can help us to enjoy the best of life every day.
What was wonderful about today? How do you appreciate the present moment?