Have you ever noticed that when we talk to one another about our lives, we often ask, "what's next?"
For example, when someone is in school, the first thing we ask is, "when will you be done?" Or, if they're in their last year, it's, "what are you doing when you graduate?" When a couple has been dating for any length of time, we wonder, "when will you get married?" The wedding is barely over when we inquire, "when do you think you'll have kids?" and once that first kid comes, it's a constant harassment about the subsequent siblings! If the mother was working before her pregnancy, we ask when she'll return to work; she often finds herself planning the future "when my kids are such-and-such an age." An employee is going to take that perfect vacation 'when work slows down' and friends think they'll reconnect 'when my schedule opens up.'
For some reason, we have come to believe that what comes next is somehow better or more deserving of our thought energy than what is happening right now. Because of this, the future becomes an escape ("this will be over soon"), an expectation ("life will be easier then" ), or even an excuse ("I can take care of that tomorrow"). What's worse, however, is when the prospect of what might happen paralyzes us from acting in the now. "Worry takes potential future misery and makes it present anxiety"
When we convince ourselves that where we're headed is either significantly happier or alarmingly scarier than where we are now, we completely miss the benefits of reflecting on where we've been and the opportunities available by taking advantage of the day we are in. Why not ask a student how they've enjoyed their education up until this point? Or find out how a couple has grown in their relationship? What joys and challenges is a parent facing at this stage of his child's development? What is particularly meaningful to a friend about where her time is being spent right now?
I believe that if we spent more time considering how far we've come rather than abstractly hoping that things or people will just get better in some distant future, we would experience more joy today. If we stopped waiting for (or worrying about) "what's next?" and started appreciating the dozens of choices happening at this very moment, we would actually feel more in control of our lives.
Many of us have been hit with the unexpected death of someone we care about. Usually, when death happens, we put a passing thought to the idea that "there's no day like today" because we realize that that person was literally here one moment and gone the next. This very moment will be gone in an instant - will it have been worth it? Or will it have been wasted on wondering or complaining or ignoring its fullness?