When Do You Live?: The Importance of Being Present in 2012

In just a few short days, we will all be ringing in a brand new year. And across America, people will be making New Year’s resolutions aimed at improving their lives. That’s why I wanted to make my own suggestion as to how you can make 2012 the best year yet. As you’ll see, my recommended resolution doesn’t have to do with weight or money or exercise or any of the “usual suspects”—but I think it can still make a profound impact on how happy and fulfilled you are.

First, let me tell you about a TV segment I saw several years ago. An elderly woman was being interviewed because she had recently celebrated her 100th birthday. One of the questions the interviewer asked was, “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during all of your years?” After a little thought, the woman replied that as she looked back over her life, she realized that she had spent a large amount of her time on earth worrying about things that never actually ended up happening. She said that she now regretted all of those hours she had spent in anxious—and ultimately useless—thought, and she told viewers to be careful not to fall into the same trap.

As I watched that interview, I realized that I had spent much of my own life doing exactly what the 100-year-old woman said not to (and I figured that she knew what she was talking about). Just like her, I had spent what probably added up to years of my life wondering about frightening what-ifs and worrying about bad things that might come to pass in the future. On top of that, I also tended to replay my mistakes in my mind and beat myself up for them, over and over and over again.

In other words, I had spent a lot of my life not living in the present moment. I was so fixated on the past and concerned about the future that I wasn’t enjoying all of the blessings and wonderful people who were already around me. Now that is a real tragedy. So, please join me in resolving to make 2012 the year we all really live more in the present.

Here are three relatively simple steps to help you keep this resolution from January to December…and beyond!:

1. Let go of the past. In my experience, this is the most difficult of the three steps to accomplish. That’s because in order to stop dwelling on things that have already happened, you have to forgive yourself and others for insults, mistakes, and wrongs that you’ve been holding on to. I could write an entire book on the subject of forgiveness (other people already have!), but it’s important to realize that by allowing anger and resentment of this kind to reside in you, you are essentially welcoming toxic thoughts, harmful stress, and even physical illness. When you experience true forgiveness, though, you are preserving your health and literally freeing your thoughts from negative bonds.

2. Think ahead (realistically). Whenever you find yourself worrying about what might happen in the future, confront that worry head-on. First, determine how likely it is that your doomsday scenario will actually happen at all. In most cases, it will be a relatively small possibility. Next, think through all the implications of this possible event if it did happen. You’ll probably have to admit that it would not kill you or destroy your life forever, and you might also see that there would be a remedy within your reach even if it were not that desirable. Now that you’ve mentally dealt with this worry, you can stop dwelling on it.

 

3. Be aware. Lastly, simply make an effort to experience now. Notice and appreciate what is going on around you and use all of your senses. Also, try to be aware of when your thoughts start “living” unhealthily in the past or in the future, and then make a conscious effort to come back to the present. This will take time and effort, so don’t be discouraged if you find yourself falling back on your old mental habits more than you’d like. In fact, just be happy for now that you noticed your mind negatively focusing on the past or future. As time goes by, you’ll notice that your emotional and mental states are increasingly positive and present as you spend more and more time in the here and now.

Ultimately, I don’t want to look back on my life with regrets like that elderly woman in the interview—and I bet you don’t either. I truly believe that by living more fully in the present, we can all live the wonderful lives we were meant to live! And 2012 is the perfect time to start.

The Negative Friend Dilemma: Surround Yourself with Happy People

This week I want to look at a type of situation in which your reaction can make or break your happiness: a friendship with a negative person. Whether you’re a man or a woman, young or old, outgoing or reserved, I’m willing to bet that there’s at least one person in your circle of acquaintances who leaves you feeling less than fulfilled after the two of you spend time together. Using an example, here’s my take on how you might best approach that relationship in order to up your happiness factor:

One of your friends loves to complain about everything. Her marriage, kids, looks, everything! Each time you see her, the conversation turns into a major vent session that leaves you feeling exhausted and negative. In the middle of a girls’ night out, for example, she’ll mention how unhealthy Mexican food is and that none of the entrées on the menu are allowed on the new diet she just started. Or when you run into her while picking up your daughter from dance class, she’ll want to gossip about the latest scandal involving the science teacher at the middle school. You can’t ever seem to talk about things that actually make you feel good!

Choose this: Without being rude, you start spending less time around this person and more time around people who are more positive. Casually listen to your friend’s conversations when you are together and try to join in only if you have something positive to contribute. (Remember how negative you feel after these rants!) When the opportunity presents itself, kindly excuse yourself and join in on another conversation or nicely segue into talking about the weather or your upcoming vacation.

NOT that: After hearing your friend rant on the negative topic du jour, you realize anew how unhappy you are with your weight or your husband, and you join in on the negativity. Soon you’re in a foul mood that rubs off on your family after you return home.

Why? Quite simply, surrounding yourself with positive people leads to happiness. In fact, studies show that you will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with in terms of your happiness levels. And negative people only drain energy from everyone around them, even though that may not be their stated intention. When you give your friend positive advice and do not allow her to suck you in, she will eventually seek out someone else to listen to her woes. I have found that negative people crave pity and sympathy—so be understanding, but don’t overdo it. Gradually, try to hang out more with positive people. I can tell you from experience that their positive attitudes will rub off on you, and I promise that you will begin to enjoy more mutually beneficial relationships…and life in general more, too. Remember, your attitude will be greatly enhanced or tremendously dragged down by the people you spend the most time with, so please put more thought each day into who these people are!