“Am I making the most of my life? Or am I just going through the motions, each day passing by in an uneventful blur? Is this really all there is?”
So many times in my life, I’ve asked myself these questions. Usually it’s when something amazing has happened. But it didn’t actually make me feel as happy as I expected it to.
For so long, I remember waiting for my life to really start. Waiting for the perfect job, the perfect partner, the perfect living situation—that “one perfect thing” that would finally provide me with a deep and lasting sense of happiness.
But, you guessed it—this never happened. I got bored of the perfect job after six months and needed a new challenge. I argued with the perfect partner and learned some hard truths about relationships. My perfect flat got infested with cockroaches (for real).
The problem was that I was waiting for something external to make me happy, rather than just, ya know, being happy that I was alive.
Why waiting for happiness never works
Nothing, and I mean nothing, can make us happy—at least not in any lasting way. No job, no person, no house, no car, no amount of money. We’re fully responsible for creating, and maintaining, our own happiness. But instead of taking responsibility, we often postpone joy and seek instant gratification instead (hello, alcohol) because we think we have all the time in the world to do, be, and experience all the things we want.
Let me be clear. We only ever have this moment. The past only exists in our memories, and the future only exists in our imaginations. We can only ever experience joy in this moment, in the present, right now.
I recently read The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying by Bronnie Ware (a fantastic book that’s definitely worth a read), and boy, does death put things in perspective. Reading the stories of people who reached the end of their life filled with regret is truly sobering. I don’t know a single person who wants to get to the end of their life and wish they’d done things differently.
The good news is, we don’t have to. We have today. Now is the time to pause, reflect, and make a different choice.
Looking back on our lives
The very best way we can do this is to project ourselves into our future and imagine that we’re looking back on our lives.
For example, we imagine we’re 80 years old. We know death is imminent, and we can feel it approaching. We reflect on our lives (as if they’ve unfolded in the direction we’re currently heading in), and we ask ourselves the following four statements:
1. I spent too much time worrying about…
This statement highlights how often we sweat the small stuff. We get so caught up in the minutiae of daily life that we forget that one day, our whole experience is going to come to an abrupt end. Imagining ourselves on our deathbed has a way of putting things into perspective real fast. In stressful moments, we can practice asking ourselves: in the long run, is this really worth worrying and stressing myself out over?
2. I spent too little time doing things such as…
As modern humans, we tend to spend way too much time filling our days with things we don’t choose (especially if we work for someone else), and not enough time doing the things that bring us joy. If we let hobbies and passions atrophy, we may regret not fulfulling our potential in these areas later on. When we reflect on our lives, we may also find we don’t spend enough time with our family, friends, or loved ones, hanging out in nature, or even just relaxing and rejuvenating. Realising this gives us a great reason to ask: how can we carve out more time for these?
3. If I could go back in time, from today onward I would…
This statement gives us a prime opportunity to identify what changes we could make to bring more nourishment into our lives, and reduce or eliminate the activities that are depleting us. We can begin to put together a plan of action for what we need to do to become the best version of ourselves, the one we know we have the potential to be. What can we do, starting today, to bring this vision into fruition?
4. The legacy I’m leaving is…
This is a great statement to reflect regularly. I tend to ask myself, “If I died today, what legacy would I be leaving?” If this answer isn’t what I’d like it to be, I know I’m not on the right track, and I need to course correct. If we realise we’re not heading in the right direction when we ask ourselves this question, now is the time to start creating a legacy that’s aligned with our values, our authentic truth, and what we believe is our true work in the world.
Remembering that death is pretty much always a possibility, at any time, is one of the best ways I’ve found to keep myself in the moment. We’re not immortal. This life won’t last forever. It could end any day.
Aiming to live as if we might not be here tomorrow can keep us focused on the ways we can bring joy, peace, and happiness into our lives in the ways that feel right for us, in each and every moment.
Over to you: what else helps to remind you to live in the moment?