When I was in my early 20’ I haven’t thought too much about the time and how long life is. I was focused on finishing university and finding my first job. After a lot of failed attempts, I got my first job as a software developer in Nokia. It was hard. I had to learn a lot. I always try to do my best so it took long hours and weekends to work at the level I’d expect from myself. Days and years passed and here I am thinking about whether everything I did and the time I’ve spent working was worth it.
“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” — Confucius
I have a wonderful wife, I like what I do, I can say I have financial freedom. And yet, I sometimes regret those long working hours, stress, and everything it took to get where I am right now. I set my bar high. I keep thinking about past failures and possible future scenarios, about how things will work out if I manage to be successful if I will ever able to build a dream house, visit places I’ve always dreamt about, and so on. I’m always stressed and it’s hard to turn off the inner voice. One day, after reading ‘A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy’ book, I realized one thing. I spend too much time thinking about the past and the future. And unfortunately, I tend to completely forget about today. And I think we all do. Time passes when we worry about things that happened and that may happen in the future. Did I waste my 20’? Did I choose the right path? Was it worth working so much? What will happen if I screw up something at work? What if something I worked on fails tomorrow? Am I good enough? That kind of question kept popping into my head slowly sucking the joy of my life. But honestly, what’s the point of constantly thinking about that kind of thing if we have so little time here?
The tail end
During our lifetime everything has a start and an end. It’s our nature to not appreciate things we already have and people who are around us. We tend to get used to our health, things we have, our friends, our parents, our spouse. There’ll be most certainly a day when we’re gonna eat last pizza in our favorite restaurant, drink last beer with our friend, or see our parents for the last time. And then we’re going to regret not enjoying these moments enough or not spending more time with the person we’ve just lost.
“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.” — Wait But Why
Sounds extremely scary. If you’re a parent, you can also inverse it.
By the time my children graduate from high school, I already have spent with them 93% of the time we ever going to have together.
The situation is pretty much the same with your old friends, with your brothers and sisters. Every day, we’re in the tail end of something but it’s very hard to, or even impossible to figure out what’s gonna disappear from our life tomorrow.
If you take it further and optimistically assume you’ll live 80 years then if you’re 32 like me you have 58 summers, winters, springs, and autumns left. 40% is already gone. Every year, as we grow older, we have more responsibilities either at work or in personal life. And we have the feeling that time passes faster. Yet, we keep thinking about things we’ll do at some point and fool ourselves that, when that day comes we’ll be happy. The problem is we thought the same about today, at some point in the past. If we worked hard we have things we dreamed about. We’re in the relationship we always wanted. And yet, nothing has changed. We keep thinking about our future imaginary happiness or past failures and completely forget about today.
As we think about all the future events which are supposed to make us happy we’re the victims of so-called Impact bias which is a tendency for people to overestimate the length and intensity of future emotional states.
From field studies to laboratory studies, we see that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, and on and on, have far less impact, less intensity, and much less duration than people expect them to have. — Dan Gilbert - The surprising science of happiness
The problem with future happiness is that we don’t live in the future. Nor we do in the past. We live today and if we can’t appreciate people around us, the little things like having a coffee with wife or friend, seeing our parents, taking a walk, reading a book, or anything we do on daily basis, we won’t ever be happy. If we can’t let go of things that worry us and don’t mean much, we won’t ever be happy. As it’s extremely easy for me to forget all of that, I try to remind myself every day a few things. Set your priorities very carefully. Be grateful for the things you have. Live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect of you. And stay present, because that’s all we have.