Learning to live in the moment: Why not do it now?

In our interviews with hundreds of America’s elders in the Legacy Project, I learned that older people know some things on a deep level that the younger generation doesn’t. Perhaps the most important of these insights is a simple one: Life is short. The elders, from their vantage point, know how quickly life passes, and they urge us to savor it along the way. Rather than focusing only on our long-term plans and ambitions, the elders tell us to learn while we’re young how to live in the moment.

This point was brought home to me in an interview with John, 70, who lived much of his life looking toward the future, striving in his distinguished academic career. His lesson is to learn to savor life’s daily pleasures. He learned this in his sixties, but suggests younger people learn it sooner.

I don’t say people shouldn’t think about the future. But when you really give yourself up to the present, when you’re in the room and you look around you, and there are other people in the room and you’re able to really zero in on those other people, and being able to really sense what they’re feeling and tap in to their own presence, then it’s not aimless at all. You feel very connected, very grounded, and it’s energizing. So you receive energy by making those connections in the present moment.

And it’s not just with people. The same thing is true with a walk in the woods. If you can really open yourself up to hearing the sounds and smelling the smells, and feeling the touches, the wind, and all those things, then you increasingly feel like an integral part of that system, so that you too have feelings, and they begin to connect with what’s going on around you. You may feel small, but it’s not a very frightening smallness. Instead it’s a feeling of being a part of a larger something. There’s a connectedness that is very, very reassuring. So that’s what I mean by being present and being connected to now.

I think you inevitably look at the future, but to the extent that you can still appreciate what is going on today and at the moment, then exactly what that future is going to be continues to be an open question, and that openness I think has great value. You’re allowing in some sense your intuition to play a role, and not being afraid that somehow that intuition is going to compete with and overwhelm your reason. That the two can work together, and support one another, influence one another.

It’s not easy, particularly for those of us who spend a lot of time in academic institutions or other jobs where the rational part of you is applauded. Living in the present and enjoying life isn’t something that you complete, or accomplish; it’s something that you strive toward, something that you work on, something that you engage with. It’s a process, at least in my experience.

I suggest, based on John’s insights, that we all take at least a little time each day to stop and enjoy the present moment. Many of the Legacy Project elders point to peaceful savoring a major key to happiness.

7 thoughts on “Learning to live in the moment: Why not do it now?

  1. The ONLY way to live is to always stay in the moment. All of life occurs in here wehere we are living. To understand this and live this way, makes all of life a joy and makes worry and fear virtually non-existent. A “little” time each day, is like saying let’s live a “little.”

  2. I find that many Americans do live in the moment, but in a shallow, greedy way. Denying the existence of AGW to justify short-term gluttony is a good example.

    Of course, I understand the difference between that and what the man wrote, but there’s still too much hedonistic living-in-the-moment without concern for our collective long-term future survival.

  3. I am a young person, but I don’t feel like it. Like many of the elders that you have interviewed, for whatever reason I have already learned to embrace the “living in the moment” mindset and to not get caught up in future plans or past blunders. I’ve learned that I am more emotionally healthy when I take the time to go for a walk in the woods or to just sit on a bench in the sun for a while. For me the problem lies in the fact that hardly any people my own age understand this concept. My peers are only thinking about SAT scores or whether they will be accepted by the college they want. Or if they are enjoying the present, they are doing it in in an incredibly unhealthy manner! (I.e. sex, drugs, etc…)
    Is there such a thing as living too much in the present? Can it be a hindrance to a young person, holding back ambition and promoting mediocrity?

  4. Hailey You have a great grasp of the living in the moment mind set. It is difficult to do, but like anything worth doining practice helps. I find that some of the best times are staying focused with the people that you are immidiately interacting with. You form a bond even if its with someone you will never see or meet again. At that moment you each shared a part of life together.

  5. Living in the moment is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I sometimes do it and it’s really fun to take stock of the environment you’re in and notice every little thing about it (often it seems like you’re the only person in the room doing it!), but then again, I also enjoy planning the future a lot, and it can be very helpful.

    I’m 22, and I spent a lot of time planning to apply to the PhD I’m doing, planning the city, area and sort of house I might live in, planning the hobbies I would do, etc, and now I’m enjoying the fruits of all that planning, and they’re all the sweeter for the expectation!

    I think it’s possible that there’s a time to think about the present, the future and even the past (it’s lovely to look back at old memories with friends every now and again, and remind each other of the funny things that have happened), and perhaps there’s even a perfect ratio to aim for (although I don’t claim to know it). Maybe most people spend too little time thinking about the future, but surely “what” you’re thinking is more important than the “when”.

    I think what’s important is that you should only project positive emotions onto the past and future (excited about planning, rather than stressed, or fondly remembering, rather than regretting)… and you could also address things neutrally: “I accept that this happened and I should move on” or “I should be aware that this might happen in the future and be prepared”…I don’t pretend that I’m successful at never regretting anything, or never worrying about anything… but that’s what I’m aiming for! Whereas in the here and now it is good to confront whatever comes your way, whether it’s a problem to be solved or a beautiful moment to be cherished.

    I know I sound like the cheesiest of self-help books over here, but that’s really what I’m thinking right now. Maybe I’ll change my mind one day.

  6. I am having a really hard time understanding the concept of “living in the present”.
    I’m 24 working for some boring Software company doing boring stuff.I have no interest in what i am doing currently for living.Neither this job is well respected.My job does not require any special skills.So i always think about getting a good job with good salary.I tried everything since i graduated but i did not find success.so there is a constant disappointment in my head and that leads to concern for future.and that inadvertently leads to nothing but future planning.
    I really want to live in the moment.but I cannot stop thinking about the future.The more I think,the more stressed out I am.
    So how do people like me (if any) enjoy the present.
    P.S- I’m not in a good financial situation.I just cannot quit my job and contemplate about the future

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