If you often find your mind wandering, you’re not alone. Most of us spend time thinking about the past or future, making plans, or reliving milestone moments. It can be easy to get lost in these other times and suddenly realize that you aren’t fully aware of the present! However, living in the present is essential to find the most happiness and fulfillment.
What Does “Living in the Present” Mean?
To actively live in the present means being aware of your surroundings, feelings, and thoughts related to your current location and activity. What does that mean to hear people say that living in the moment is the key to happiness? Or that thinking about the future steals from the present? Our minds are very good at evaluating, anticipating, and assessing. Still, often we use these skills to analyze events of the past or future rather than simply the present. In doing so, we are missing out on the entire experience of the present moment – time, by the way, that will pass regardless.
Why Should We Live in the Moment?
Being present, focusing on individual tasks, and noticing our surroundings seem anecdotally important. Why do we need to consistently live in the moment rather than focus on the past or future? Reliving the past or dreaming about the future aren’t inherently destructive actions, but doing so at the expense of living fully in the present can become a problem. Psychologist Dr. Elyssa Barbash, Ph.D. tells many of her patients that “depression lives in the past and anxiety lives in the future. Alternately, calmness and peace of mind live in the present.” With so many distractions in our modern world, it can be hard to believe that living in the now is the best way to be happy.
However, researchers from Harvard University concluded that most people spend almost half their time thinking about something other than the principal task. Doing so also leads to greater unhappiness. Notably, it’s not just about whether you think of pleasant or unpleasant things when your mind wanders. Taking your attention away from the current circumstances to anticipate an upcoming trip or exciting event still generally leads to less happiness. If you want to maximize your satisfaction, start focusing on the present.
How Can We Shift Our Mindset to Focus on the Present?
You’re not alone if you spend too much time thinking about anything but the present. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to begin slowly training your mind to transition away from living in the past or future.
Learn to listen to your body
Mindfulness is the practice of noticing how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally at the current moment. Some people find it challenging to incorporate this method into their lives because they aren’t used to paying attention to their bodies. Take some time to learn how you feel in various situations. Do you get tired quickly when sitting down? Does your chest feel tight at work? And do you automatically smile when you go outside? These cues from your body can help you pay attention to what’s happening around you and be more intentional about how you spend your time.
Take a technology break
One of the easiest ways to be more present is to take a break from technology. Mindlessly scrolling through news or social media, playing a game, or watching a video can distract you from noticing your surroundings and thinking about how you feel. Put down the phone and look around!
Practicing gratitude is a great practice to find your center and feel satisfied. Rather than thinking about how you wish things were or how they’re not like they used to be, find a reason to be grateful for how they are. State your gratitude aloud or write it down, then do the same in various circumstances throughout the day.
Focus on your breath
If you’re having trouble getting your thoughts to return to the present, focus instead on your breathing. Deep, rhythmic breaths allow your mind to dismiss other thoughts actively. When you’ve taken several breaths, see if it’s easier to focus on the present.
Being more present in your life is a worthy goal, and it’s easy to start practicing with these tips.