One of the classes I'm currently taking is expository writing. I had to write an essay on a thought or belief which was important to me, and this is what I came up with. It is a bit formal, since it was written for an English class, but it gets the point across. This is such an important topic to me, and is something I am truly trying to work on and embody in my own life, so I really wanted to share it with you .
This writing was initially inspired by the book, "Enjoying Where You Are on the Way to Where You are Going" by Joyce Meyer. Our pastor than lead a message on the same issue the weekend I began reading the book. It was an incredible message, and regardless of your beliefs or religious inclinations, was really something which applies to everyone. You can watch it online here. I got the point, and I've been working on being more present in my life ever since.
Searching for Joy, Finding Today
Modern day humans from every race, religion, and nation across the globe are facing an incredibly insidious epidemic. It has likely touched your friends, neighbors, and perhaps even crept stealthily into your own home. There is no immunization, and no medical treatment for this ailment. What is this plague, you may wonder. It has no one name, but rather floats ambiguously between many. Regret. Dread. Fear. It starts with a constant, nagging feeling of malcontent which fills our hearts and minds. It quickly grows into a thief that steals our peace and robs us of joy. It is an obsession with the past, or a habitual preoccupation with the future. It is the complete failure of so many people to mentally and emotionally live in the present. This epidemic leads to the total unconscious evasion of our everyday moments. It incapacitates, traps, and impedes without restriction. It inhibits people from actively living within so many irreplaceable moments, can stop us from fulfilling goals and dreams, and prevents us from experiencing all the joy that each new day can offer.
How many people do you know that truly enjoy life? Do you? How many countless millions are searching for happiness, as if it were a single, defined point at which one will eventually arrive. Life is a journey, and happiness is not a final destination. There is perhaps nothing more heartbreaking than being alive, and not truly enjoying your life. As human beings we were made to be constantly moving, constantly changing and growing. However this tendency towards perpetual motion also presents us with the constant hazard of becoming stifled by our mistakes, or so focused on our futures that we lose sight of our “now.” This preoccupation with the past, the future, or both can completely distract us from today, and cause us to lose days, months, and sometimes years of worthwhile and potentially joy-filled experiences within our lives while we are mentally and emotionally focused on other times and places.
We’ve all heard the phrase he or she is “stuck in the past,” and yet few consider how deeply damaging regret can be. It is such a useless and destructive emotion. One of the most traumatic things a human can do to their psyche is to burden themselves with “what-ifs.” The past cannot be changed, no matter how much we may wish it could be. While it is important to acknowledge our personal history, as it has helped shape who we are today, and who we will become tomorrow, it is equally important not to become so beleaguered by the burdens of hurt, pain, or guilt in our pasts that we are unable to move forward. The best thing we can do with the pain from our past hurts and the guilt from our past mistakes is to learn from them, and then leave them. Move on. Give the past a quick glance in your rearview as you pass them by on your way to a better today and tomorrow.
Another stealthy thief of our “now” is a constant, obsessive focus on the future. We must not allow our desire to achieve our goals and dreams to overwhelm our present. As humans we are all uniquely gifted individuals, and we all have the great potential to develop and use those gifts to fulfill specific missions within our life, and yet those missions are as constantly changing and developing as we do. We are meant to have vision, goals and dreams to strive for. Our goals fill us with hope, and can motivate us toward positive growth and development. Yet, “potential” is a readily tossed about word these days. How many times have you heard someone say he or she “has so much potential.” Well, future potential can be a wonderful thing, and yet it can also cause us to completely devalue our present if we become so focused on our future potential that we stop seeing what we are doing now as important. Every phase, every season, every process of life is important in the whole, grand picture of our lives. Life flies by. Childhood passes to adulthood in a blink, and quicker than we can fathom, it’s over. It is so important that we don’t overlook any of the unique seasons of our lives as menial or unimportant.
An unhealthy preoccupation with the future often brings about unnecessary stress, worry, and fear. How frequently do you ask yourself “what are you going to do?” about a problem which isn’t even facing you today, such as a forthcoming test or bill. Perhaps an even more frequently occurring problem is dread, a close cousin of fear. We set ourselves up to miss the joy that can be found in little moments by having preconceived negative perceptions about the future. For example, I detest traffic. I used to sit at my desk at work, dreading the time when I would have to get up, head out the door, get in my car, and sit in traffic. I feel similarly about laundry, or cleaning the bathroom. I had set up such a negative attitude about these tasks that I have missed opportunities for happiness, and denied myself the joy that can be found in even the most menial tasks and commonplace moments. Simply changing how one approaches such tasks can truly bring so much to your life. Instead of dreading something you know has to be done anyway, find a way to enjoy it. I now use that time in traffic to enjoy music, or listen to a book, or meditate, or pray. When laundry day nears, I rent a movie to watch while I fold clothes. As for the bathroom cleaning, I still haven’t found a positive approach to that, but I’m a work in progress, as we all are. We can’t escape the future, so there is no point in dreading it, worrying about it, or fearing it. Since we can’t avoid the future, if we wish to maintain peace and joy in our everyday lives, it is important to consistently approach it from a positive perspective.
While learning to manage and mediate fear and worry is essential to living in the moment and finding our joy, to truly experience happiness we must also learn not to base it on external things. The world and most of the people in it are not going to change to suit your mood or personal preferences. Likewise, if we base our happiness on our ever-shifting circumstances, we are going to be constantly searching for our peace and joy, likely believing it is just out of reach. Life can be a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs. If we are dependent upon good circumstances to have a positive attitude, we are likely to be an emotionally unstable mess, particularly during times of hardship and trial. Consider the preponderance of addictions, depression, suicides and failed marriages which occur amongst the Hollywood elite. These individuals have attained what many people would consider “ideal” circumstances; money, power, privilege, and influence. Yet despite all the wonderful external things which these people possess, many of them are exceedingly unhappy. Neither circumstances, nor material things, nor power and influence can enable one to be truly happy.
I cannot number all of the time I’ve lost over the years condemning myself to a life of discontent by placing (often ridiculous) restrictions on my own happiness. “I’ll be happy when I lose ___ pounds,” or “I’ll be happy when I finish school,” or better still, “I’ll be happy when ___ treats me right and we don’t disagree anymore.” On and on I would go. Constantly telling myself I’d finally be happy when I had attained a certain goal, or when circumstances, or the people around me had changed. I’ve also spent immeasurable amounts of time worrying about, fearing, or even dreading tomorrow. I would constantly allow my head to be filled with thoughts like “what if I can’t pay my bills this month?” Or ,“am I raising my daughter right?” And the biggest of them all, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?!?” Life is so precious and so brief, and I am so thankful for my experiences and my faith, through which I have learned to change my thinking, shift my perspective, and live within today, finding joy in each moment—even the difficult ones.
This is not a new principle. The phrases “live in the moment” and “live each day as if it were your last,” are both sayings that have long been spoken in our culture, and yet so many people are seemingly unable to do this. Peace and joy are two of the most precious assets in our lives. Joy is not simply the presence of happiness in our lives; it is also defined by the absence of the worry, regret, and fear which can steal our peace. It typically isn’t the circumstances, things, or people around you that cause you to be happy or unhappy; rather it is how you respond to these things which define your emotional state. Living a joy-filled life is a decision. It is an attitude formed deep within our hearts. We must make the decision to positively approach each day and learn to enjoy each and every moment of our lives, as each moment is immeasurably valuable. As The Beatles George Harrison once said, “Its being here now that's important. There's no past and there's no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can't relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don't know if there is one.” Don’t make the choice to live for the yesterday which has come and gone, or the tomorrow which may never come. Live in the present, enjoy every moment, and gain all of the fulfillment and joy that can be found in today.
Original Image via pinterest, photography source unknown, edited by me