I often end the day laying in bed listening to music to clear my mind. Typically, I just pick a random radio station or playlist and let it go. Before the first song is over I am lost in thought, so the music really doesn’t matter. It just provides background noise.
However, last night I was lying in bed listening to music and the music kept drawing me out of thought land. The playlist I chose just happen to be full of the songs my friends and I listened to back in high school and college. It didn’t take long before my thoughts left the trials and tribulations of the day and went to all the fun times of years past. As the memories replayed in my mind, I couldn’t help, but smile.
My smile eventually turned to sadness. Sadness stemming from the fact that those times are over. Sadness representing that those times can never be recreated. Even if all the players were still around and somehow all came together, the experience wouldn’t be the same. Rather it be having a family, jobs, or simply the challenges of life, we are all different people now. The past is gone never to be returned.
Is that truly sad?
Yes and No.
If I am living in the past, Yes. In times where I am living in the past, I put the past on a pedestal. The past is the gold standard and anything I do can never live up to the gold standard. Intuitively this makes sense. The past is over and all I have are the memories. I don’t necessarily remember the hardships and the bad times, but I always remember the good. In short, I have selective memory. In the present, I am actively experiencing the good and the bad, so naturally these experiences aren’t as good because they have the bad attached. Then, when I compare the two I am unhappy.
If I am living for the present, No. When I am living for the present, I understand that the past can’t be compared to the present. The two are simply different entities. The main player in the game (me) is completely different. I don’t have the same goals, thoughts, actions, mindset, or enjoy the same activities that I once did, so why does it make sense to compare the now to what I once did? It doesn’t. In times when I look fondly upon the past, but live for the present and see them both for the different experiences that they are, I find happiness in the present.
Which approach is right?
I never want to forget any part of my past rather it be good or bad. I, especially, don’t want to forget the people who have been a part of making me who I am today because some of them only exist in the past. That being said living in the past has resulted in some of the most unhappy and lonely times of my life. So, unquestionably, the right approach for me is to live for the present while still recognizing the past as part of life’s journey.
How do we live for the present?
The following is what has worked for me:
- Recognize that you are living in the past and it is making you unhappy.
- Stop trying to recreate the past. The timing isn’t the same. The players aren’t the same. You may sometimes see flashes of greatness, but you will never fully recreate the magic. Stop trying.
- Don’t put the past on a pedestal. Look fondly upon the past and accept the experiences as part of what makes life a truly great journey, but don’t raise the past up as something that is unbeatable. If you do that, the present will never measure up and you will miss out on the rest of the great journey of life.
- Live in the present. Embrace the present as you did the past when it was new.