You hear it all the time. “Live in the moment.” “There’s no time like the present.” “The present is a gift.”
But what if it’s not?
Everyone endures some kind of daily struggle, whether it’s sitting next to a rude person on the subway, mind-numbing traffic, or getting a bad grade on a test. Issues are always arising at large, like feeling unhappy in your relationship or grappling with a dangerous situation.
Either way, the present isn’t always as glamorous as it seems, and it can be extremely hard to enjoy it while it’s happening, no matter what cheesy quotes are showing up on Pinterest that tell you otherwise. So that’s it. The present sucks and life sucks and we have no hope for reconciling our problems, and our only option is to continue waiting and putting our happiness into the future until we’re 80 and look back, realizing we’ve missed it all. Well, good thing my dramatic self is here to save you! Because none of that is true. In reality, despite daily struggles and certain seasons of life that may challenge us more than others, living in the present may be the only way to stay grounded and to avoid resentment and regrets in the future. No, it doesn’t mean you have to live every moment to the fullest and never let your hopes and dreams guide you, but it guarantees that while you’re working towards the “next best thing,” you won’t miss out on what life is offering you right now. Because if cheesy Pinterest quotes are right about anything, it’s that the present is truly all that you have.
So, here are some ways to stay present and allow yourself to realize that you are more in control than you think.
In order to stay present, you must truly let go of the past.
Oftentimes, clinging to the past is so easy, and the past holds us so strongly because we are probably discontent with our current situation. If we were happier, more content, or even just showing more gratitude for the present, we would have no reason to cling to something that has already passed. Yet you do and I do and he or she does, and it is an extremely easy trap to fall into.
The truth is, we glorify the past in our heads. Like most things, we come up with the version we want it to look like in our heads and ignore all the other problems that were actually happening alongside the good. Like now, you may be clinging to the past or future thinking that you’re drowning in all of life’s problems, but I bet if you let yourself, you would find some good in there. What we focus on is what we will experience.
Now, I’m not saying that the solution to all your problems is to “focus on the good” and “be positive,” because my anxiety-ridden brain knows that’s not really an option sometimes. But when talking about the past, we must realize that it’s probably glorified in our minds and that is giving us an unattainable illusion that will make things in the present even harder. Especially when you fail to realize that you can make the present even better than before, but you’re too focused on the past to achieve that.
As life just unfolds the way it does, it’s helpful to also note that whatever happens in certain phases of your life that you wish either didn’t happen or may have continued were meant to stay in that phase of life. Otherwise, things would have gone differently. Not only are you preventing yourself from enjoying ANYTHING in this phase that you may look back on and cling to in the future, but if nothing else, you simply can’t change the past. You did not have the knowledge back then that you do now. And that’s okay.
Remember: Every emotion, mood, or situation you are currently in is going to change. Life is constantly changing, and whatever particular phase of life you’re in now won’t last forever.
I used to put so much pressure on every single emotion or thing I went through every single day. I used to think that whatever emotion or mood I was feeling that day was what would define my life (yes, I am very dramatic). And if things were to change, I would fear that change and ironically cling to the past.
I’ve come to learn that the quote “the only constant in life is change” could not be more true. I have learned that not only does every condition change in life, but every change could lead to something better or something new in your life that will shape it in some way. And knowing that things are going to change takes the pressure off to feel everything I need to feel when things aren’t going that great and really just redirect my focus to whatever I’m doing in the present.
If you’re in a bad place, knowing things will change can liberate you to take little steps every day to change it without focusing too much on the bigger picture. Yet, if you’re in a good place, be grateful. Restrict yourself from thinking too much about what’s coming because it will come, and the saddest part of good moments in life is missing them as they are happening.
Showing gratitude is life-changing. It provides clarity and focuses on what you do have in your life, whether it’s what you are trying to attain or not, rather than what is missing. It’s easy to feel average and swept under the rug when we feel so many people around us are thriving. Yet, that’s just it—we FEEL that that’s the case, and we imagine that everyone else is doing better. Being grateful doesn’t only ground you and show you what you actually do have in this moment, but it puts life into your control and can make us feel like that really good cup of coffee we had, that really nice thing a family member said, or that really good weather you experienced today is actually just a special little gift from the universe to you. There’s always something to be grateful for.
If you feel powerless at this moment, remember that you ARE in control.
The interesting thing about the larger scale of life is that there’s a lot that’s not in our control like where we were born, who we meet, or what may happen in our lives. Yet all of those things eventually become the past or haven’t happened yet, and it’s only the past and the future that we truly can’t control. No matter how much worrying and thinking we do, life will happen the way it happens. There is so much in your life you can control today, like how you take care of yourself, what boundaries you set for other people, and what or how much you buy. The more you start taking control of things, the less scary the unknown will be. You are way more in control of this moment than you think.
Give credit to where you are in life right now and find what it can offer you.
Most often, what prevents people from being fully present is the imaginary “better”—the life that they want to have and hope to have rather than what they already have. As I said earlier, life is truly just a collection of experiences and we ascribe our own emotions to them. What you’re going through right now may seem bad because it may truly be a negative situation in your life, but if it’s something that can’t be immediately controlled or resolved, it may be time to look at what your life can offer you right now. Crappy situations can often lead to better ones by learning from them and letting them lead to what your mind and soul really need.
Look around you. Ask yourself “what can my current situation offer me?” “How can I take life under my control and use what I have to my advantage?” Remember, this looks different for everyone. Don’t look at what you lack in the present, but how it is truly a tool in your life right now.
Be mindful of consuming content that glorifies life.
“Social media is a highlight reel.” You’ve probably heard this many times. Yes, social media is a highlight reel, but there is so much more to it. It is a place to get sucked into other people’s lives and opinions, whether good or bad. Remember that no matter who you are watching on social media, or any sort of media for that matter, is also a human that experiences the same mundane, universal human experiences that you do. Be aware that the way someone else’s life may look does not take away from your own, and while it is far too easy to compare our lives these days, it is a much better use of our time taking in our own surroundings and appreciating the unique life we have rather than idealizing another life you barely know about. Focus less on idealizing other lives and more on glorifying your own life for yourself.
Just like with everything in life, there’s a balance. Sometimes you need that extra fear or worry to motivate you or maybe reflecting on the past will teach you something valuable, but life is constantly changing. There is a new kind of freedom when your mind lets go and confront the present head-on. So, I urge you to stay present, stay grateful, and stay hopeful. The present can truly be a gift if you let it.