Lately I’ve been barraged with things, mostly problems and sad news, on a lot of fronts – nothing major overall, though some have the potential to be. I feel like life has slowed to a slog. There have a few depressive episodes, but mostly I’m just feeling worn-out and frustrated. In the midst of this came a brief but instructive dream:
I’m in a classroom – and for once, happily, it’s not the stereotypical stress dream of coming to a class where I suddenly realize I’ve missed classes all semester, so even if I can somehow get a good grade on the final exam I’ll probably flunk anyway. No, this time the teacher handed each of us a quiz with two columns to fill in, and gave us these instructions: In one column we were supposed to list things that we were for, in favor of, particularly things we were especially passionate about, whether it was personal or something larger like causes. Then in the second column we would list things we were against.
The teacher added, however, that each part was to be done separately, with more time given to the for than the against.
When I asked why, she replied, “Because it often takes people a lot longer to come up with things they’re for than things they’re against”.
This is a long-time and recurring issue with me. When bad things are happening I tend to focus much if not most of my mental energy and attention on them, no matter what other good things are going on around me. I let those good things, and good moments, slip by me. I look back at certain past times and realize, only in retrospect, that I was happier than I realized at the time…but I blinked, and they were over.
*Blink* College is finished. *Blink* This temporary job I loved is coming to an end. *Blink* My niece and nephews are suddenly teenagers, with the oldest getting ready to head out of state to college.
So why does it take so much longer for people to fill in their column of good things? I suspect two reasons that could apply to myself: One, it’s a longer list than we might initially realize. And two, we tend to concentrate more on the bad than the good, so the bad seems like a longer list, and we’re quicker to come up with items to include on it.
I’m certain that what this dream was ultimately telling me is something that I try to keep in mind, but have a hard time remembering: Whatever else might be going on, live in the moment.
There are still plenty of good moments I can mark down on my list if I’m just paying attention. My niece may be leaving soon, but she’s here right now. My nephews are older but still fairly close by. I still have my parents. I still have a permanent job I love. My closest friends are all scattered to the winds, but I can still keep in touch with them by computer. Some of my animals have health issues, but for now they’re all still with me. My car has issues but otherwise still runs fine. My health issues are much more inconvenient than serious. I have been to funerals recently and have one more ahead of me, but they come at the end of a long series of happy memories with those loved ones.
Or sometimes, like today, I can intentionally stop and take a moment. I know I’m typically happier on warm days, which today was again after a series of cold ones, so after checking the mail I spent a moment outside, just doing nothing but taking in the smell of air that was sweet with coming rain and the forest behind my house.
When I can be in the moment, be here now, that is when I draw the most happiness out of life.
I have a lot of items I can list in that quiz’s first column. I have a lot of tools in my toolbox that can make for happiness. I just need to remind myself of this more often.