“Use your precious moments to live life fully every single second of every single day.” ~Marcia Wieder
I recently came back from an amazing vacation overseas with my family. All of our travel went smoothly, everyone stayed healthy, and there wasn’t any drama or conflict among family members. Other than one flight being delayed, it was perfect.
On the way home from the trip my heart and soul were soaring from the fun we had enjoyed, savoring the memories in my mind and feeling grateful. I noticed, though, that when I returned home my mind slowly started to shift. Not because of the usual dread of coming back from vacation, but rather because things actually continued to go well at home.
My adjustment to my jet lag was fine, and the first day back at work was actually nice. By all measures I should have continued to feel pretty happy! Instead, I began to anticipate that something bad would happen.
I could hear the voice in my head reminding me that I had just enjoyed ten days of vacation, so surely it was time for something negative to take place—a cold, stress at work, something.
It was almost as if I was inviting something bad into my life to temper the positivity I was feeling in the moment.
Some people describe this is as “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” and in my family we called it “Catholic guilt.”
As I’ve grown older, I’ve done this a little too often, in several different areas of life.
If my kids have been healthy for a good stretch, I start to have sneaky thoughts about how they’re “due soon” for a bout of some type of illness.
If my finances are under control, I’ll wonder if we’ll have an unexpected repair that will take us off course.
It’s not a concern if those thoughts float in and out, but I seem to have problems when they linger and begin to detract from what I am doing in the present.
The truth is that life does change constantly, and there are ebbs and flows between happiness and pain.
In one instant our situations can shift so drastically that we will be left reeling, so expecting that every day will be wonderful is obviously both unrealistic and unhelpful. Yet I’ve found that anxiously awaiting some sort of tragedy or pain often diminishes my current happiness.
Waiting for the other shoe to drop is this tricky way that we rob ourselves of a good feeling in the now because we are nervously anticipating something negative in the future.
A balance between fear about the future and a naive optimism is possible; we could call this space living fully.
Living fully is where we acknowledge that life will bring suffering and beauty, pain and happiness, challenge and comfort, and it will all come at different times. If we live fully, we do our best to float gracefully between these times, aiming not to get “stuck” in a space of overwhelming tension.
This is not an easy task, but below are some suggestions for those who want to decide not to wait in constant fear of that other shoe dropping.
Tips for Living Fully
1. Find time to be present.
The beauty of being present is that, by definition, it doesn’t allow you to be anywhere else. When you find time to be in the moment, anticipatory thoughts about bad things happening may enter your mind, but you will gently and swiftly guide them to the side.
Each of us has our unique ways of being present, whether it be a yoga class or exercise, quiet observation of nature, or meditation. Even a few minutes of quiet can be helpful in getting centered and focused.
2. Try savoring.
Just like you might enjoy a good glass of wine or a bite of cheesecake, you can also savor positive emotions or events.
For example, I could recall the vacation I took overseas, reliving a particularly fun outing or adventure. I could talk about the trip with my family and coworkers, and look at pictures. As I do that I would begin to bring back those memories, and those positive emotions associated with these memories would also come back.
3. Introduce some logic to your thoughts.
Sometimes our thoughts can run away from us, going down a path that we know isn’t logical or helpful.
In the case of anticipating something negative, I’ve found that I can best stop the thoughts with this simple reasoning: “Yes, it is inevitable that something bad will happen at some point, but I don’t know when or where. So, I might as well enjoy what I’m feeling now so later I won’t regret not having enjoyed that time when things were going well.”
4. Practice gratitude.
Being aware of what we have in our lives orients us to the present. We can always find something or someone to appreciate, and in showing this appreciation we gain an increased awareness of its beauty.
Expressing gratitude can be private (e.g., keeping a gratitude journal or list) or public (e.g., writing a letter of thanks to someone), but I’m preferential to personal reminders of gratitude.
For example, when I am feeling the joy of doing something I love or spending time with friends and family, I try to remember to say to myself: “this moment is good.” Just saying that brings me to the present and acknowledges my gratitude in the moment.
5. Spend time with people who also like to live fully.
It’s no mystery that emotions can be contagious. Friends or loved ones who are perpetually negative can influence our mindset, particularly if we find ourselves feeling anxious or dreading something negative happening.
While we shouldn’t avoid or shun friends who are struggling, we can be purposeful about finding time to spend with those who give us a burst of positive energy through their ability to live fully.
Our lives are in flux, and change is inevitable. By not constantly waiting for the bad stuff to happen, and instead focusing on the now, we can flow more easily, joyfully, and fully through our days.