Arsène Wenger is the manager of Arsenal FC – the English football (soccer) team I fell in love with as a child and continue to support in adulthood. Wenger, widely considered a philosopher of the beautiful game, said the following in an interview: The only possible moment of happiness is the present. The past gives you regrets. And the future, uncertainties.
If there is a common theme among intelligent and insightful thinkers in their commentary on happiness, it is that it is an experience of the present. This perspective, I think, is more true than false. But I also think that in order for one to go on day by day, one must generally believe and have hope in tomorrow.
Whether a person gets into a deep (non-clinical) depression or melancholy, or gives up entirely on a dream or a person or a thing, hope (along with faith), is the last defense that must be defeated. Without hope, which though is distinct from happiness, but can be argued as a necessary factor in maintaining happiness, the desire to live, to love, and to continue, is lost.
But what if you have hope – the belief that an uncertain future can be better, but you do not have happiness in the present? And what if you went as far as to trade in the present (security of) whatever happiness you do have, for the uncertainty of the future? This, I’ve often found, is what happens when you’ve left a place before you’re actually gone.
The plain truth about being ready to leave a place before you’re actually gone is this: You spend much more time living in the actual future than living in the present (or the past). There is a caveat, however: the future seems more real than the present. Indeed, it is not the best way to live but it is also how you know this place is no longer for you; no longer yours.
The love that you’ve found and the lessons you’ve learned are not enough to keep you here. But you want to live in the real present again, you need to live in the present again. And you can longer do that here; the present is no longer here.
It ceases to matter how much you love a place or the people, if you stay, and stay longer than you should, you will eventually experience resentment more than anything else. It is best to leave a thing or a person or a place before you begin to resent it; before it begins to feel like it has taken more from you than you had to give.
Before you’re already gone, it will feel like your work here is done. For you, it will feel like there is nothing left to be learned or loved or endured or appreciated; all that is left is waiting. And waiting will feel like a punishment. And it might even elude you, that you do in fact have another lesson left; you have one more thing to endure – patience.
But what is not left is happiness. You’ve already given that up. Traded it in for anxiety and uncertainty. And for you, it is worth it. Giving up your happiness is worth it for the hope of your possibilities. The anxiety and uncertainty of the future is not enough to diminish these hopes. And that’s how you know you’ve already left – you would rather live in the uncertainty of fear than in the security of whatever happiness you had in what used to be your present.
Perhaps it is foolish and unwise and a bad investment. But either way, the risk has already been taken. Either way, you’re no longer here – you’re there. Here is now past tense. Here is now already a memory; the story you have begun to tell yourself is about a place that you used to know.
Happiness, indeed is a thing of the present as Wenger and many thinkers throughout time and space have cautioned. But when you’re ready to leave a place before you’re already gone, you’ll know one final thing for sure: It is not that you do not know how to be happy here, it is that you no longer wish to be happy here anymore.
But your hope isn’t gone – it’s elsewhere. Your present and your future is elsewhere. Your physical body is merely waiting to join you; your physical body is merely waiting to join your happiness and your hope.