- Mental Health»
Where is Your Happiness? Past, Present, or Future?
Are you the kind of person who looks forward to holidays? Perhaps you are the storyteller late into the night, regaling tales of days gone by. Maybe you are the perfect person for a morning cup of coffee because you are such a great listener.
We are all creatures of habit. Some of us may live in anticipation of the future, others may revel in the past. There are those lucky few who truly enjoy the present. Which one are you?
People who are stuck in the past
Here are some of the positive and negative symptoms of someone who is living in their memories. Not all of these traits are bad, it is simply about how much time you spend looking back. When it becomes more about the past then about the present, you know you need a little help getting back to today. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you spend a lot of time daydreaming about the past?
- Do you try to live outside of your current age (for example, a middle aged woman dressing like a teenager)?
- Are you known for being a great storyteller, someone who is constantly remembering the past?
- Do you obsess over past decisions?
- Do you hold grudges for long periods of time?
- Do you play the 'what if' game in your head?
People who are stuck in the past want to regain something that was lost or missed. Perhaps you missed a great job opportunity or relationship, or you had a breakup that you never quite processed. Here is the problem: Since you are so busy living in the past, you are apt to miss the present opportunities too! You then keep adding to the pile of regrets, furthering the cycle. People who are stuck in the past have trouble with the concept of forgiveness.
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Who do you need to forgive?
In many cases, you need to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for acting immaturely, missing the mark, or letting an opportunity pass you by. In other cases, it may be another person who is keeping you stuck in your memories.
When people choose to withhold forgiveness, it is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. So how do you forgive yourself (or someone else)?
- It is important to acknowledge SPECIFICALLY what the infraction is or was.
- List it out on a piece of paper. Use as much detail as possible.
- Validate the emotions, even if they are hard (anger, sadness, regret, remorse, etc.)
- Release the other person (or yourself) from the need to be punished. This one is hard for many people, but can only be done when you realize how much others have forgiven you too. We are all broken people in need of forgiveness.
- When the temptation arises to rehearse the injustice, try to distract your mind. Remind yourself that you have forgiven that wrongdoing and you are moving ahead.
People who always look to the future
Of course there is nothing wrong with looking ahead. We all anticipate upcoming events and celebrations with excitement. Here are some questions to ask yourself. Remember it's about how often you do this, not if you do it.
- Feel a 'let down' after a holiday or special time and console yourself by planning the next one.
- You are a perfectionist who likes everything just so before embarking on that next goal.
- You put off an idea, waiting for the "right" time to jump in with both feet.
- You crave excitement and adventure, and feel a sense of depression when there isn't some new challenge to sink your teeth into.
- You use the phrase, "When I am ____________, then I will be ____________" a lot.
People who are constantly aiming for the future are usually running from unpleasant feelings or emotions. Perhaps you are dissatisfied with your job or relationships, and the thought of planning the next cruise helps to alleviate the depression. Future minded people are also notoriously perfectionistic. They feel that they can't do what they want until all the perfect circumstances line up. They are afraid of failure, and put off risky endeavors into a time to come, rather than jumping in right now.
The problem is that you will always be chasing the carrot. When you can't seem to get a grasp on it, it will be tempting to blame the world, other people, or the things that are not aligned perfectly just yet. When you do have the opportunity to do something amazing, the let down afterwards impedes your ability to enjoy it.
What are you afraid of?
Sometimes it is boredom. The mundane day to day life is hard on the soul who thinks life is one big party. Future minded people are always looking for that next high. Maybe it is your fear of failure and rejection that keeps you from starting something today.
It is terribly cliche to say it, but every day is a gift. When you look to the future, your chance for missing the present opportunities is high. The regret mounts, rehearsing the lie that says, "See, the circumstances aren't right. It is safer to wait."
So how do you live in the present?
Living in the present is not easy to do if you have lots of big feelings you are trying to push away. It'lll take some work, but it is well worth the effort.
- The first thing you must do is settle your past accounts. Forgive those you need to forgive, and put to rest your personal regrets.
- Identify your fears. Fear cripples us from the life we have the potential to lead. How many times are you motivated by fear and anxiety versus conviction and confidence?
- Surround yourself with people who know how to live in the present. You'll know them instantly, because they are a joy to be around. They can listen, they are spontaneous, they are helpful, compassionate, and calm.
- Take a risk every day. It doesn't matter if it is tiny. You want to do something out of your comfort zone every day. Stretch yourself. If you can't do it, find someone to kick you in the pants!
- Adopt an attitude of gratitude. At the end of each day, write down all the things you did, and what things you are thankful for. It takes some training, but with time, your mind and heart will start to see the good in life, rather than what is missing.
Adjust your expectations
The secret to contentment lies in your expectations. If you think life is meant to be your constant source of pleasure and comfort, you will spend much of life reveling in past parties or future promises. Life is more than chasing a feeling. There is deeper meaning than the pursuit of our own comfort. When we can adjust our expectations about what we deserve, happiness is the result.
Don't be afraid of failure. Failure is one of the greatest life teachers we are given. Failure is inevitable if you are determined to push your limits and stretch yourself.
Become a lover of details. Joy is in the small things like a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day, a purring kitten on your lap at night, or hilarious comment from your child. When you can appreciate the details of life, you will realize that happiness is the easiest thing in the world to find.
About the author
Julie DeNeen is a freelance writer and mom to three beautiful children. She has a background in psychology, and is a chronic "look to future" girl who has had to learn the hard way, how to appreciate the present. She's getting there!
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