The Great Gatsby is an amazing read. I can’t believe I only just read it a few days ago. It is an exquisite story that made me ponder about one of its themes, the dangers of clinging to the past. This tragic narrative struck me with its beautiful but harsh reality, then finished me off when I realized how the poor choices of the characters were so akin to how we are in real life.
A similar thought chewed its way into my mind as I was still utterly stunned at how the story played out. Most of us through most of our lives, tend to think too much of our past and worry a lot about our future. The present, which is the moment we live on, is nonchalantly ignored.
All of us have experienced this, clutching too much to our past and letting it dictate every decision we make towards our future. Our life, relationships, career choices, and any other important decision we have before us, we tend to settle it through the eyes of our naïve past selves.
It’s not our fault. The social constructs of our time have repeatedly beaten our fragile young minds that we are who we are, despite the many changes we undergo throughout our lives. People all around us never notice our present self and instead only see the former us. We then fall through the same way of thinking until it becomes the norm, slowly dictating our future decisions.
Then there’s the similar issue of worrying too much about the future. This mindset is not completely wrong because we only want what’s best for ourselves and our family. But there is a fine line between worrying too much about the future and striving towards it. In some instances, worrying endlessly leads to focusing all our thoughts and efforts on our future, ignoring the joys of the present.
The Stoic Idea of the Present
One of the main values of Stoicism is living in the present. For the Stoics, thinking about your past and future is futile because it deprives you of the valuable time you could have spent doing something you love — it deprives you of the now.
What can we do to lessen this worry of mainly, the future? (I used lessen because we can never get rid of our worries and fears, for it is a part of human nature.) We can lessen this by accepting and appreciating everything that’s going on in our lives. This is a two-step process.
By accepting, even the worst things in our lives, we come to the point where we are brave enough to accept the reality of our situation. This is one of the hardest things to do in life because we are finally ignoring the fake-happiness goggles that our eyes have been, through no fault of their own, wearing. Like a person leaving Plato’s cave, we finally see life, in this case, our lives, in its truest form. Once we have accepted this situation, once we have adopted the it-is-what-it-is attitude, we will then undoubtedly feel great frustration that will turn into desperation to leave this stage. This is where the second step comes in.
To fully alleviate our fears of the future after accepting our present situation, we need to be doing something that we know will be beneficial for us. Yet sometimes, after seeing the truth about our lives, there is a tendency to feel depressed about our current state. It may freeze us and throw us down into the spiraling abyss of sadness and feeling of worthlessness.
The power of appreciation will build a bridge and prevent us from falling into that terrible hole. It may even be that motivation we need to push ourselves into bettering our lives. It can be simple as appreciating waking up in the morning and having another day to work towards your goals in life. It doesn’t have to be a pervading kind where you appreciate every single thing. Appreciate the little things, and grow from there. As long as you are positive and expressing gratitude in your life, that is enough.
After accepting with all of your heart the path where you are in life, and in turn learning to appreciate even the little things that make you happy, it will be easier to lessen your worry of the future. It will give you some control and positiveness in your life, and it might just be what you need to fully live in the present without your thoughts worrying about the future.
It is important to note another idea of the Stoics. To live a fulfilling life, you must accept the fact that the present is all that we have. We should confine ourselves to it because the past is done, and the future is uncertain. The present is our most prized possession. According to Marcus Aurelius, we should not disturb ourselves too much by picturing our life as a whole; we should not assemble in our mind the many and varied troubles which have burdened us in the past, and will undoubtedly come again in the future. Focus on your joys and difficulties today, and meet your future troubles as they come.
Always keep those values in your mind and your heart. Whenever your past strikes you down to your most vulnerable state, making you feel unworthy of even a speck of happiness, keep this in thought: that the past is done, that you are now in the present and you have the power to make every choice beneficial to your happiness. Then, when the anxieties of the future constrict you with its unpredictability and you feel like you have no choice but to remain where you are, keep this somehow reassuring thought: that the future is uncertain, no matter how many plans you have towards it, so why not act now?
“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”Charles Dickens