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How to Plan for the Future without Missing Out on Today

If we’re always planning for the future, then we’re not living in the the moment

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One barrier that can keep us from happiness is delayed gratification. We tell ourselves, “Someday I’ll . . . .” Even I do this.

When I started working and seeing clients over twenty-five years ago, a financial planner contacted me and told me that if I saved my money, invested it wisely, retired thirty to forty years later, I would have enough money that I wouldn’t have to worry about working anymore. I wasn’t necessarily planning on retiring, but I did like the idea of financial freedom. So I started to think about ways I could save money, putting it into an investment plan so someday I could have all the time, freedom, and money I needed to sustain myself and my kids so I wouldn’t need to work anymore. I could work, but I wouldn’t have to work. I spent a lot of time thinking about that. I’m pretty good at delayed gratification and putting things off for the future.

After finishing high school, I went through another fourteen years of schooling before I even started working full-time in private practice, so I was pretty good about waiting for the future. Unfortunately, I was too good at it, and in the process of now waiting for retirement, I wasn’t living nearly fully as much as I should have been. I was very fortunate that I was able to learn this lesson well before retirement and didn’t miss out on enjoying these past twenty years. But I did have to learn it—how to live now and plan for the future.

How do we live now and plan for the future? It’s really one of the key factors of leading a happy life. If we’re always planning for the future, then we’re not living in the the moment. Living in the now, day by day, week by week, year by year, creates a beautiful life. When we look back on our life, we can say, “Yes, we’re enjoying our retirement, and we enjoyed the journey getting here.”

To find happiness, live in the now, and enjoy the journey of life, we need to make sure that every day is a special day, one that we can look back on at the end as we put our heads on our pillows and say, “If I don’t wake up tomorrow morning, it’s okay because that was a good day!” The truth is we really don’t know if we’re going to wake up tomorrow morning, so it’s important each day to make sure there are special things throughout our day, today, that make it a beautiful.

Yes, we still plan for the future, but we make sure that if today is our last day it’s a good day. And no, we don’t chuck everything that we invested in and go live a crazy day and then have to deal with a financial mess tomorrow. That’s not what I’m talking about. Instead, we make sure that every day is one worth living, that we’re not counting too much on living a life of “someday, I’ll . . .” but do live each day fully.

It’s very simple to do this, to live in the now and make each day worth living. At the beginning of each day and throughout the day, we say, “How do I make this a beautiful day?” We want to have moments throughout that are truly wonderful so it ends as a very rich and full day.

Let me share examples of what I do, and together, we’ll explore some things you could do to make your day a beautiful one. Mind you these scenarios do change for me; what I’m doing now might change from what I’m doing six months from now, or even next week. These are the things I do pretty much every day that give me pleasure and put a smile on my face so that when I put my head down at the end of the day I say, “This was a good day.”

For me, my family is very important to me. With my children, I get the benefit of taking them to school every day, which is something I really enjoy. For my daughter’s class, I get to stay about fifteen minutes and read to the kids, which is a special time for my daughter and me to share together. I schedule my work a little later in the day to make room for my children in the morning and to have time to walk along Laguna Beach on my way to work. This beach is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I really enjoy watching the waves and ocean every day.

Throughout my day, I do many other things to appreciate each moment. I enjoy meditating and do that in the morning when I first get up and again in the evening when I go to bed. When I eat, I spend time eating very slowly to appreciate them fully, so when I have my morning juice and my afternoon salad, I really enjoy them.

I have readjusted my schedule many times throughout my life and will continue to do so as needed. When I change it, I still make room to enjoy the moment—I just find new things to make each day special and beautiful. For example, someday I won’t be taking my kids to school. They’ll be in college or working on their own, and then I’ll be doing other things, and that’s fine.

What can you do to make every day is special? If you enjoy the outdoors, make a point to be outside every day if that works for you. Listening to beautiful music that’s uplifting and positive can be very healthy. Connecting with friends and just stopping for a moment to talk can make our day special. Most things that I do don’t cost me any money, and yet they often give me the greatest pleasure in being in the moment right now. So find those things that work for you and make them part of your life every day.

Now there is a caveat here. Some things we do might seem to enrich our lives and make our days special, but they’re actually harmful. Addictions an obvious example. Everyone knows that drugs are unhealthy for us, but still people are addicted to drugs and do them because they want to have a good time. How we know something isn’t good for us is by their after-effects. What do we feel like after we do it? Does it uplift us? Does it uplift the people around us? Or does it tear us down and maybe even hurt other people?

Other examples of addiction we might not recognize so easily. For example, we watch TV shows, movies, and listen to music that, at the end of a long day, can seem enjoyable, but they don’t add anything positive to our lives. These forms of entertainment might be making fun of people, putting us in a sad mood, or showing dark images that get planted inside our head or put words in our mind that are harmful. Like drugs, they seem like something we enjoy doing, but we can tell they’re not really good for us and they hurt us in the long run. We need to stay away from those types of things.

Another example is eating to excess or eating foods we know are not healthy. Eating food that tastes so good and is rich but is not good for us can later lead to gout or obesity. Eventually, such addictions can hurt us physically and even emotionally. Instead, finding foods that are good for us and eating them with pleasure is best.

You have to be the one determining what is or isn’t good for you; nobody else can decide for you. Look at how it affects you in the short and long term.

Now the reverse can also be true. For example, if someone is a couch potato and starts moving around and perhaps walking outside regularly, it may initially cause some pain and soreness. However, a little bit of sensible reasoning will tell us that stretching our bodies, getting outside, spending time in nature, and moving around are really good for us. There might be a slight adjustment period, but once we start doing things that are good for us, put a smile on our face, and make us say, “This was a good day. I enjoyed today,” they are going to be beneficial to us in the long run.

Every day in our life is not going to be blissful. But since we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring—or if it will come at all for us—we can only enjoy today. We make sure every day has beauty in it, so when we look back on the day we can say, “This was a good day.” This is what our key to happiness is going to be. If we do this, if we make sure we can rest our heads each night and say those words, then we will find happiness in the now. If we can do this daily and stop putting things off until “someday I’ll . . .,” we end up with a string of beautiful days making a necklace of a wonderful life.

It’s in our hands whether or not we have a happy life. All we have to do is right now, today, decide on making it a good day and letting tomorrow worry about tomorrow. If we do this instead of saying, “Someday I’ll live life,” we end up living life now and creating happiness for ourselves and those around us.

It’s very simple; all we have to do is actually do it one day at a time—just today. Tomorrow, we’ll do it again, but we won’t worry about that now; we just do it today. Each day, we create one good day, and then we will find we’ve strung together a life that is happy.

Imagine we have a bow and arrow and are aiming at a target. The farther we stand away from the target and aim at it, the harder it is to hit. So if we get right up to the target and aim at the center of that circle, which represents happiness, then we’re going to hit it. Being very close to the target represents “today,” while being far away represents far in the future, and standing almost out of sight of the target is like saying, “Someday I’ll . . .” The farther we move back, the harder it is to hit that happiness target; but if we stand right up to it, then we’re probably going to hit it. We don’t know what the future holds, and from a distance, we don’t know if we can hit the target. But we do have confidence in hitting the bull’s eye of happiness when we stand right in front of it. Each day, we can do that—walk up to the target and become the grand master of archery, the grand master of happiness.

Happiness is very easy to find as long as we look for it right here, right now. Let’s focus on being happy today. That is a target we can all hit. Tomorrow when we get up and it’s our new today, we’ll do the same thing again. Happiness is something we can all have right now.

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