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Where is Your Happiness? Past, Present, or Future?

Updated on August 21, 2012

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?

Looking back can get you stuck.
Looking back can get you stuck. | Source

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.

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.

  1. The first thing you must do is settle your past accounts. Forgive those you need to forgive, and put to rest your personal regrets.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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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    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 

      6 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      I'll admit that I'm more a person who looks towards the future than the past, although I've recently discovered just how beautiful each day is...and yes, it is most certainly a gift. Thanks for this article - brilliant advice on how to live in the present. Voted up, awesome, interesting!

    • Deepak Chaturvedi profile image

      Deepak Chaturvedi 

      6 years ago from New Delhi, India

      You may live in past present or future but when ask are you happy no one cauld give you the right clue as we don't know when we feel happy.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 

      6 years ago

      I try very hard to live in the present but often get mentally trapped in both the past and future. Usually if I just go and play with my children it snaps me back to the present. Great hub you've written, as usual ^_^ voted up and shared.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great Hub and very informative, once again, Julie! Yes, I used to think in the past and future a lot and never the present (my middle & high school grades show it LOL); now I think in the present and only think about the future when setting goals for graduation and paying bills. I personally think that remembering the past is only important when you have to learn or remind yourself of a key lesson to have you move forward in the present. Adding to that, i think it's only important to think about the future when considering the following: How much money to take out via the next pay check for bills, when moving out, when to have celebrations coming up a month away, etc. Always work in the present and your future will be brighter :)

      Great hub and thought inspiring, Julie!

    • KellyMediaBest profile image


      6 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      I love the ending of this article. I think I am a little bit of both the person who dwells in the past, as well as someone who is anxious about future good times. I have always hated Sundays which makes me think I am more of the person who looks to the future. I get depressed after amazing vacations and times of fun with friends, and immediately think about and plan the next adventure in my head. I find myself every so often trying to accept the present and marvel at the little things in life. It really is the only way to be truly happy; there is always something to be thankful for in the moment.

    • unknown spy profile image

      Not Found 

      6 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      A valuable hub Julie.. you inspire me more to write informative hubs that could benefit all readers :)

    • CrisSp profile image


      6 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      I think we are all in this together. I personally tend to cling on the past and forgiveness isn't easy as well but I'm getting there. One step at a time, redeeming happiness, attaining everlasting joy--here and now.

      This is a delightful read!

      Gratefully yours,


    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I'm not a fan of living in the past or dwelling on what if or what could of been. It is what it is for a reason. Life has taught me to try my best and not to worry about the future. Instead I do my best to live one day at a time and appreciate what I have. Fab hub!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Very beautiful, thank you. Arlene and I enjoyed, for the most part, our time together. We enjoyed planning things and creating a future, and reliving the past. Together we live in all three.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      I used to live in the past, but now I think I live in "the now". Great Hub with great advice.

      I voted it UP, etc.

    • rcrumple profile image


      6 years ago from Kentucky

      Julie -

      I don't recall the exact quote, but doesn't it go something like "Those who forget their past mistakes are doomed to repeat them?" I believe age is a factor in this topic. When I was younger, I lived in the present and future. My past was "too recent" to be considered a past to me. The older you get, the more experiences you've enjoyed, or learned from. The "I can conquer the world" isn't as strong as it once was, even though there are still goals to achieve. When working, one can be living in the future, when with loved ones the present, and when on Hubpages (where creative writing is telling stories) in the past. There has to be a balance of the three, and the ability to decipher when which is to be enjoyed. And yes, I still want to bungee jump! lol

      Great Hub! You always present your facts with professionalism!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      6 years ago from New York, New York

      Julie once again great advice and agree that it is difficult to live in the present and the here and now. However it is essential for one's well being to try to do just that and very much agree witht he concept of being happy each day with the smallest of accomplishments. Writing these things down takes it a step further and very much do like your idea. Thanks you for this positive self-help article. Have voted up much, shared and tweeted too!!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi, such great advice, my brother is constantly living in the past, in fact he drives me mad, I remember this, I remember that, and harping on about it all the time. He has totally given up the present and the future, whereas I tend to be in the now, but do lean towards the future, I think if we have stuff we haven't done then its time to do it, if only I could take on board that knowledge too! lol!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I think it's good to consider all of the events in your life but like you said at a certain point you have to forgive and move on from the past. Thinking about the future is good but if you live in the future you forget about the present. Great hub with good information!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very useful information young lady! Gratefully I already live this, but valuable read for anyone who can't seem to kick-start their life.

    • CarlySullens profile image

      Carly Sullens 

      6 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      I remember a time in my past when I needed you and you needed me.... I am thinking of the future when we will fly to a new destination together... and in the now I say, "Hell Yes!"

      Voted up++++

      You rock in the past, you rock in this moment during the hub and you will continue to rock in the future!


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