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Treasure Today (Because Nothing Lasts Forever)

Live for today because nothing lasts forever

Have you heard the twist on the old saying that goes, "Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?" While this may well be the procrastinator's motto, it casts its spell on us all. It goes hand-in-hand with some other tragic sayings like, "We never appreciate something until it's gone" and "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" and "Tomorrow never comes."

A few weeks ago, in my post Is Ignorance Bliss?, I put forward the idea that, as we mature, our idealizations are sullied by the facts of life. Some readers asked, What are the facts of life? These are the realities that we find so difficult to accept as children—facts that we don't want to believe but are so essential to believe if we are to live effective, satisfying lives.

One of these facts of life is that time passes. Loss is inevitable. As I like to put it, nothing is forever.

You might ask, Why is this so-called fact of life so essential to psychological well-being? Who wants to dwell on the reality of loss? Isn't that just depressing?

Actually, I think that the opposite true. When we deny the reality of loss, we take our lives and all that we treasure for granted. If we think we will have them forever, we feel no compunction to get off our duffs and do the hard things that are necessary to honor and cherish them. If we give in to the childhood fantasy that everything just takes care of itself, we do not feel the conviction of responsibility to do all that we can to preserve, protect, and invest in our lives, each and every day.

Think about it this way. Without the awareness of the passage of time, we let opportunities go by rather than seizing the moments when they come. How many opportunities do we let pass us by while transfixed under the spell that we will get another tomorrow? The opportunity to step up, to take a risk, to do the right thing, to make amends, to say "I'm sorry" or "I love you."

As human beings, our first-order inclinations are toward survival and self-protection. If we are honest, we can acknowledge that this leads to a kind of laziness. We want to hide out, to shirk responsibility, to let someone else do the dirty work. Left unchecked, this natural human urge keeps us in our cocoon where we never get anything much done and never get anything much out of life. Now that's depressing.

The good news is that, if we can develop the courage to face the fact that loss is an inevitable part of life, we help create the conditions in which we can get up and get rolling. Herein lies a paradox. It is only when we see ourselves within the limitations of time that we can become aware of the value of time. This is the path to a most desired state: living in the moment. Here, we can be guided by a set of much more uplifting sayings like, "Carpe diem" and "Be here now" and "No regrets."

September is a time of anniversaries, a month to recognize the passage of time. Summer is over and a new academic year is beginning. We feel this rhythm even when the actual school years are a distant memory. This September is particularly poignant, as we remember and honor the tragic losses of 9/11, ten years later. It is psychologically healthy that we do so. For it is in remembering and honoring our losses that we find the determination to pick ourselves up and get to work on what we need to do today. It helps us to remember that we must do what we can to live our lives as fully as we can while we have the time. Mindful of the importance of each moment, we are inspired to live each day by Todd Beamer's now famous words on Flight 93, "Are you guys ready? Let's roll."

Copyright 2011 Jennifer L. Kunst, Ph.D.

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