A Quick Guide to Living in the Now

Everyone knows the key to happiness is not to dwell in the past or wish for the future, but to enjoy the moment — or to “live in the now,” for all you Wayne’s World fans out there. But how exactly are we supposed to accomplish this? The temptation to wish our lives away is so powerful. Like, while realistically we know we cannot afford a fabulous winter jacket, there is another part of our brain that, debt be damned, cannot wait another second to become a rich, fancy lady! So we spend money we don’t actually have yet, screwing our present lives in favor of an idealized future. And while living in the now was hard enough when we were younger, wishing away our present by thinking about our bright and promising futures, it gets even harder as we age. Certain options, such as competing on the Olympic gymnastics team, have come and gone. We are not only wishing for the future but lamenting what could have been in the past.

For all these reasons, the “live in the now” mindset is not easily achieved. Sure, you are good at living in the moment while hiking through a magnificent mountain range, but you probably struggle with it after spilling hot coffee on your crotch. Don’t worry. I got you. Here are some ideas I’ve brainstormed to get us living in every kind of moment in the new year.

Laugh at yourself, even as the spilled coffee is spreading across your underwear. There’s no use crying over spilled milk but it does help to laugh over it. Getting angry raises your blood pressure, makes everyone else around you uncomfortable and causes you to miss out on an important “stop down” moment in your life. What is a “stop down” moment? Well, I cut TV promos for a living and we do this thing where in the middle of a promo, just as it’s hitting its stride, we’ll cut out the music and throw a funny and/or badass one-liner at the audience to break up the pace and show people that there will be human moments amidst the intensity. It’s called a “stop down.” The way you react when bad luck forces a break in your life’s action should not be to lament the events that led up to it or fear some uncontrollable consequence — but to take a beat and then come up with a really great one-liner so that the trailer of your life isn’t so dense and intense. You’re only human, so lighten things up!

Realize that a picture of a baby on Facebook is just a picture of a baby on Facebook. It’s not about you. So someone roughly your age is able to raise a baby while you are still struggling to remember if you put on deodorant today? So what. Don’t let other people’s need to share force you to reevaluate your own life’s timeline. Trust your choices. In this moment, you are looking at an adorable baby that one of your friends is head over heals in love with. And that’s really all you are looking at. You are not looking at an indictment of your priorities. You are not being tasked to remember a once strong friendship that has since faded to the point that you didn’t even realize they’d given birth. Don’t let your mind lead you on an unnecessary guilt trip. Friendships naturally fade out then back in over time, depending on where life takes you. There’s no reason for a photo of a tiny human with poop in its pants to make you feel like you’ve failed. Marvel at the wonder of this new life and then get back to your own life’s timeline. I think you were about to take a nap.

If you are feeling sad and lonely, use the present moment to reach out to someone you love.
Sure, it’s easier to let yourself feel distant from everyone in your life. That is a very easy feeling to indulge. Perhaps you’ve decided the reason you are alone is because of that one time you told everybody that you hated the show Friends. They just can’t handle your hatred of Friends! And because you’re lonely now, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll probably feel lonely until the day you die, cursing the name of Chandler Bing on your deathbed! But, though it’s easier to sit around feeling regretful of your past and sorry for your future, with only slightly more effort you can actually reach out to someone in your life and tell them you want to see them. There is no reason to be shy. People love hearing from friends, old and new. It doesn’t matter whether that’s a plausible request — you could be 3000 miles away from each other. The important part is to reach out, take comfort in the fact that you are putting love out into the world and then stop wasting time wallowing in regret.

If something bums you out, go ahead and feel bummed out. Don’t bottle up negative feelings for later. I think maybe, just maybe, that’s what serial killers do. If you are feeling down, let yourself feel down for a while. I struggle with this for sure. However, I once watched three romance movies in a row right after a particularly painful break up. I cried for like six hours straight. It was one of the healthiest nights of my life, in retrospect. I didn’t tell any of my friends about the break up for at least 24 hours. When I did tell my friends, I told them everything because that was what was going on with me in that moment. There was no reason to sugar coat it. Sometimes it’s okay to just let feelings happen as they’re happening without lashing out or turning them into something else. Take comfort in the fact that at some point that pain will be squarely in your past and you’ll be too busy living in the moment to think much about it anymore.

When you start to feel frustrated, say, in a stuffy cubicle or while looking at a kickass guitar you can’t afford, take a moment to meditate. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Odds are, as you exhale, you’ll feel a small bit of peace wash over you. If not, just tell your stubborn brain to accept the peace, goddamnit. These moments, as cumbersome and oppressive as they sometimes feel, are moments you’ll idealize as part of who you are when you’re older. So take them in. Every moment is a formative moment. Don’t let your stress levels rise as you become eager to move on to the next activity or phase of your life – that can be detrimental to your overall health. Instead, refocus on what’s going well in your life these days. If you want, look at your “miserable” surroundings and take them in. For example, try to remember exactly how gross it is as the guy you are stuck next to on a crowded train chews obsessively on his cuticles. Try to remember whether he swallows them or has the balls to spit them back out in front of you. Bank that image so that later, over beers, you can recount for your friends in great detail what a nightmare the whole thing was.

These things might not be glamorous, but that’s reality. Most of us are broke, obligations are mostly boring and we embarrass ourselves often. But you only get one life so it’s best to experience what we have right this second. Wait. I know what you are thinking, but don’t say it. Don’t say Y.O.L.O. Let’s leave that acronym in the past.