Why is it so hard for us to live in the current moment?
When I got into the top law school of my choice back in December, I celebrated my accomplishment briefly — but within a couple of days, my mind started spinning into action. My thoughts started moving on to the ‘next big thing.’ I started thinking about planning a summer internship abroad prior to law school; then, my mind moved onto pondering fellowships to work internationally for a year, potential joint degree programs, and scholarships for law school. I started researching JD/MPP programs, LLM programs, fellowships to do an M.A. in human rights in the UK, opportunities to travel and do research in Asia…you name the opportunity, I had probably considered it (well, other than medical school – sorry Mom and Dad!).
I simply couldn’t live in the present and bask in the moment for too long. Even though I had just achieved something that I had worked towards for years, my mind had immediately moved on to the next thing I could achieve. While studying for the LSAT, I had imagined what it might be like to get into one of the top law schools: I’d be overjoyed, things would suddenly be perfect, I’d have achieved inner peace and be totally zen about life. But in reality, none of those things happened. I was thankful, joyful and thrilled. Yet I didn’t suddenly rest and relax. I kept worrying about the next accomplishment or life goal to tick off my list.
My dilemma is perfectly summed up by Gretchen Rubin over at The Happiness Project:
A common happiness hurdle is the arrival fallacy. We think that we’ll be happy once we arrive at some destination: a new job, a new apartment, a promotion, whatever. But often, arriving doesn’t make us as happy as we expect. [...]
Too often, I don’t take the time to experience the satisfaction that comes from finishing. I turn immediately to the next thing I need to do, or the next finish line I need to cross, without pausing for a little moment of triumph.
Instead of turning to the next finish line, we need to learn to immerse ourselves in the present. Life has to be more about the process, the journey — not just ticking off endless items off our life list. But it’s easier said than done.
Since arriving in California about a week ago, I’ve found myself being far more present than ever before. It’s because I’m doing things I’m excited about: I’m getting to volunteer with the Global Fund for Women and Asylum Access. I’m also finally getting to spend time with the person I love. And of course, the weather is beautiful and I’m spending my free time exploring the bay area and going to Palo Alto, Lake Tahoe, and Sausalito on weekends. Life is full and enjoyable and pretty much perfect, so I don’t feel the urgent need to keep researching future options and possibilities. In fact, I don’t really want to leave.
For me, at least, I’ve come to realize that constantly plotting my next step comes out of not fully being happy where I am in the present moment. If I work towards a situation where I’m in the place I want to be in life, of course, I don’t need to satisfy myself by trying to cross the next finish line. But the challenge for me – and I suspect for you too – is enjoying the moment even when the moment isn’t picture perfect. For those times, Gretchen Rubin suggests taking a moment to step back and appreciating each of your accomplishments. I’ll add: spend a few minutes each day writing down three things you’re grateful for, and three things you enjoyed about the day. Take a few hours each week to simply do something you enjoy, regardless of how busy you are. Only then can we keep enjoying the process, and thus, enjoying life before it passes us by.
Are you enjoying the present, or constantly moving on to the next thing? How do you make sure to savor the current moment?