“What day is it?”
“It's today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
— A.A. Milne
The enduring wisdom of Winnie the Pooh is something many parents realize as we read to our kids. Many people of my generation first met Piglet and Pooh when our parents read A.A. Milne's books to us. As children they were just entertaining stories, but as adults we may recognize the deeper truths found in them. A child may smile and giggle at the banter between Piglet and Pooh, but an adult appreciates the message about making the most of every day.
There's a dark side to the experience that we gain as we age and become parents ourselves. The same perspective that allows us to appreciate the deeper meanings of children's stories also makes it harder for us to experience their straightforward joys. As adults with hectic lives and busy schedules, sometimes it seems like we spend more time worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Life is simpler for our kids, at least when they're young.
The Happiness of the Present
Young children are masters at living in the present moment. Every new toy is an object of fascination (for a little while at least) and every imaginative idea easily becomes reality. As we “grow up” we gradually lose this ability to live in the present. With more responsibilities comes more to worry about, more to plan for, more to reflect on. It gets harder and harder to be “in the moment” with ourselves and each other.
I believe living in the present is absolutely necessary in order to get the most out of life. It's a skill we can develop through practice and attention, and as parents we can help our children learn to do the same. KIDmandment 4 is Living in the Present, and it's a challenge we have to work on for ourselves as parents so that we can set the example for our kids. After all, what we do is more powerful than what we say!
Dwelling On the Past, Worrying About the Future
Living in the present means letting go of baggage from the past and preoccupation with the future. When we live in the past, we hang on to painful memories of times we were hurt by others or didn't succeed at something that was important to us. Carrying these negative memories around with us only gives them the power to continue to effect us in the present.
When we spend too much time focusing on the past, we can define ourselves by things that happened long ago, instead of who we are today. Whether we get trapped in negative images of ourselves or positive, we don't give ourselves the chance to grow and move forward. Changing the way we think about the past is a start. Instead of holding on to it, we can learn from it, use it as an opportunity to grow stronger, and move on.
Likewise, living in the future can be just as destructive. Daydreams and big plans are great, but we can't fall into what many people call the “I will be happy when…” syndrome. This encourages us to put off our happiness today and believe that we will be happy when the future comes — and this implies that we can't be happy in the present. We can! In fact, the past is gone and the future is not yet here, so living in the present is the only way we can be happy.
Live in the Present
To have lives that are full of excitement, development, and positive growth, we have to be conscious creators of our own lives. By being aware of our feelings, our natural energy, and what we are doing in the present, we can actively live in each moment. This also means stopping ourselves when we want to complain about the past or worry about what the future will bring. Through the example we set of living in the present, we can teach our kids to do the same and help them live happier, more fulfilling lives as a result.
Another benefit of living in the present is that is teaches us what is really important. Spending time with our family or friends, reading a good book, going for an exhilarating hike or even a walk around the block, these are the things that bring us happiness. We're all tempted to think that happiness is an expensive car or a dream vacation, and we get caught up in those thoughts. But in the present moment material possessions don't seem so important — it's our relationships and our actions that have true meaning.
I believe that happiness comes from within us, here and now. That doesn't mean I don't get caught up sometimes and stuck in the past or the future. But when I catch myself, I try to pull back into the present. When we live our lives in the present, we increase our own happiness and also set an example to help our kids do the same.
How do you stay in the present when the past or future distract you? Join the conversation by tweeting @JeffOddo!