Being in the NOW
"The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental health."
Like much of the world, my family and I celebrated Christmas last month and that included an annual tradition of watching several of our favorite holiday movies which range from the nostalgic to the comedic, to the serious. My favorite tradition with my family is to watch the movie It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve because it teaches a lesson of gratitude and thankfulness for what we have, the importance of friends, and not to live in fear of what could happen. But my own personal favorite Christmas story and movie (now in many versions) is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
I’ve come to realize that what really touches me about A Christmas Carol is that it leaves the impression of how important it is to live in the present and to be engaged with those around us. As the main character is visited by a ghost of the past and a ghost of the future, he realizes all that he missed in his past and how dreadful his future might be if he doesn’t change his present behaviors in prioritizing money over humanity. He awakens on Christmas morning to realize he still has a chance to change his life and he lives out the rest of his life in kindness towards others. Many historians believe it was the Charles Dickens story which influenced the modern cultural traditions of celebrating Christmas.
In the same way as the character in the story, I think we can miss the joy of the present when we spend too much time reminiscing about the past or imagining the future. It’s actually an important part of effective mental health to be able to live in the moment and engage meaningfully with those around us. In fact, research has proven that we tend to idolize the past as if it was somehow better than it really was, and we can pretty easily imagine a better future which most often leaves us disappointed in the present. Modern day marketing has capitalized on this flaw in our thinking by convincing us that a product or material good will somehow quench that spot within ourselves that seems wanting.
I felt a little sad by the evening of Christmas and I realized it was because it was the Christmas before when our daughter stopped home for a visit which went entirely too fast. I’m realizing as she has moved since then and now lives in Portland, Oregon, that our time together is getting less and less, at least in this season of our lives. I was glad though that I was able to be in the moment at least while we baked some cookies together which is our annual tradition. We both shared a good laugh later when we each admitted neither of us wanted to bake this year, but we didn’t want to disappoint the other. It was nice to realize we both would have enjoyed just sitting together and catching up on our lives together. We can look forward to that next year though, very hopefully when she moves back to the east coast if all goes as planned.
If you found yourself feeling down at Christmas though, you’re most definitely not alone. You might be at risk of feeling down with the New Year still close in our minds, although often thinking of the future gives us more hope than we may find in the present. My hope for you though is to find ways to enjoy the moments you’re in right now, rather than dwelling on the past or future.
Mindfulness is a great way to combat those holiday blues of times better in the past or better ahead. Mindfulness is sometimes equated to meditation, which it can be, but in simpler terms it is merely paying attention to the moment we are in right now. A great way to do this at holidays is to go around the room or the table and ask each person what they are thankful for this year. It’s a great way to remind people of the present, the little things which are important in our lives, and it can better imprint those things into our long-term memory. Then when we look back a few years from now, we can remember nice times together rather than comparing what was then to what is now.
Above all, find the positives in your holiday celebrations. I hear so much about family drama which we all have, to one degree or another, and sometimes that drama can risk spoiling our special moments or events in life. Instead, no matter what happens or how it goes, think of what is good about your holiday or your life right now and focus on that good thing and even consider telling someone else about it.
I’m reminded of how easy it is to find the positives or the not so positives when I remember holiday celebrations growing up. On the way home from a family gathering, my father would have nothing but negative things to say about our relatives. But when I would hear my mother describe the same event to her friends later that week, she would have nothing but warm and positive things to say. I always found that amazing since they were both at the same event and I realized I would much rather be happy like my mother than miserable like my father.
So my wish for the rest of your year is to find more positive things about the present moment you’ll in. A great example of that to me is portrayed in the the movie “Polyanna” made by Disney in 1960. It tells the story of an orphaned young girl taken in by her unpleasant aunt who lives in a town of grumpy and unpleasant people. Polyanna is the name of the young girl in the movie and she goes about the town meeting people and playing what she calls “The Glad Game.” The game involves helping someone see something they should be glad about, even when there seems to be nothing of the sort. Over time she changes the whole dynamic of the town in helping people be kind and compassionate to others. She even changes the church pastor in helping him realize there are just as many “glad” passages in the Christian bible as there are about warnings of sin and death.
I find myself very glad for that and glad to have the privilege being able to share my thoughts here on Therapist-Thoughts.com. I’m privileged to know many of you who read my articles and to have an opportunity to speak good things into your life where I can. On that note I will wish you a happy week and month ahead and even a happy rest of the year! I hope you can already think of things that are better for you this year than they were last year. Even if you don’t think so at first, I’m sure if you really put some thought into it, there are things you will discover and be glad for!
Have a great week!