When we find ourselves in circumstances which are unpleasant or disappointing there are two common strategies our mind uses to escape.
We idealize the future or we romanticize the past.
The first strategy is to think about the future and idealize what our lives might be like down the road.
“Once X happens, then I will be happy.”
X can be the vision you have of living overseas, or getting the job you really want, or getting married (or getting divorced), or having kids, or anything that hasn’t happened yet, but that you expect or even hope will happen in the future.
The second strategy is for our mind to look backward and romanticize the past.
“Life was so much better before y.”
We remember when we lived near the ocean, or when we were active and healthy, or when we were in college, or before we had kids, or before we went bankrupt.
In both cases we don’t like our present circumstances, so we idealize or romanticize as an escape. As a result, we sacrifice our present situation, as though it has nothing to offer us but suffering.
But our real challenge is to find joy or value in the present circumstances of our lives. That is the only real life we have. Even if we are working toward making changes in our lives for the better, we have to find value in the effort we are making, while we’re making it.
Let’s say I live in Vermont, and I am going to take a train to Chicago to visit my mother. I’ll be on the train all day. If I spend the time on the train simply anticipating how wonderful it will be when I get to Chicago, then I have wasted a whole day of my life. So I have to find joy on the train. Maybe there is some interesting scenery. Perhaps I can talk to some people and make some new acquaintances. Or I might write some haiku poetry.
Once you get to the future (which never really happens) you will find that it is not ideal. Like most situations, it will offer you both pleasure and discomfort. The question of whether the life that awaits you exceeds your expectations or disappoints you, has more to do with your attitude than your circumstances.
But regardless of what the past was like, and what kind of future awaits us, the one thing we have to work with is the situation we are in right now. “Right Now” you are in the best situation that is possible – because there is no other situation that is available.
So find some joy or beauty, even just a moment’s worth, in your present circumstance.
Don’t sacrifice your life, not for a day, not even for an hour. Don’t substitute an imaginary life for a real one.
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......