We live our lives waiting.
It is well known that most of us think about “what’s next” without enjoying what’s now.
Consider when you’re out and need to pay for a parking ticket before going home. Think about waiting in line at a ticket machine. Most of us would consider this an ‘in-between’ moment. ‘This isn’t life’. We might feel frustrated and impatient at this wasted moment – “I could be at home right now!” tapping a foot as we wait for the person ahead of us. It is surprisingly daunting to realize that this is in fact life, and living. Most of our life consists of these in-between moments. Life won’t “start” when you pay your ticket and get back to your car. Life won’t start when you graduate college or next week after you’ve finished that project. There will always be tasks ahead, something you’re looking forward to or waiting to end. It is this mindset prevents us from appreciating the present.
Putting a stop to this default way of thinking, however, may not be as simple a pathway to happiness as we might think. What is ‘bad’ about thinking of the future is also what makes life tolerable. If we stop to think “This is it, this is life – me paying for this parking ticket is life“- that thought is both humbling and terrifying. Realizing the mundanity of life might inspire us to enjoy every moment. Chat to the person next to you in the ticket line. Look up from your phone. Alternatively, one could also feel that “if this is all that life is, why do I bother living?”
The waiting mindset – of always looking to the future for our enjoyment – protects us from boredom and buffers our happiness. It is both what keeps us wanting to live, and what stops us from enjoying life now and living in the present.