Step into the Future: A Simple Technique for Being Happy in the Moment

Have you heard the song Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone) by the band Cinderella? ’80s glam metal may be out of vogue, but the message behind the song rings as true as ever.

We have a tendency to take things for granted while we have access to them. And as soon as we lose that access, we feel regret, wishing we had appreciated it more while we still could.

For thousands of years, Stoics have advocated a technique to handle this problem, commonly known as negative visualization. This technique allows you to better appreciate your current lot in life by vividly imagining how much worse off you could be. While no doubt effective, this approach is a little intense.

Another approach is starting a gratitude journal. One study suggests that logging gratitude in a journal even just three times per week can have a positive impact on our happiness.

In my experience, gratitude journals are more effective when paired with techniques for working with emotions and attachments (e.g. mindfulness meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)). Otherwise, you may feel nagging anxiety while expressing gratitude for something, because deep down, you’re afraid of losing that thing. So along with gratitude journaling, I use Calm for meditation and Moodnotes for CBT.

More recently, though, my favorite exercise for finding happiness in the present moment is what I call stepping into the future.

If I’m waiting for the subway, shopping at the grocery store, or am in a reflective mood, I think about what life will be like, ten or even twenty years from now. The more vividly I can do this, the better.

I then step into the life of my future self and try to emulate how I would think about the present day. Will I wistfully remember certain aspects of my youthful days? What about today will I wish I could go back and experience again? Will my life be drastically different that far into the future due to new obligations or age-related problems?

This exercise typically results in a bittersweet feeling of happiness and acceptance that my future self will likely not have the same lifestyle freedom nor youthful vitality that I currently possess. It almost feels like, for a moment, I was my future self and have just been given the gift of traveling back through time to live as the younger version of myself again. A sci-fi-esque chance to relive my youth; to make the most of time and opportunities I might be at risk of wasting.

It’s impossible to know what your future will look like, but you can safely assume that you’ll continue to age and face the challenges that come along with that. For that reason, this exercise is a strong reminder to appreciate the aspects of your life you may not be able to enjoy in future decades. It’s a reminder that certain goals and dreams should be acted on sooner rather than later. It’s a reminder to choose happiness in the moment.

How to Maintain Your Gratitude Journaling Habit Once and for All

Practicing gratitude can make us healthier, happier, and more enjoyable to be around. But I’ve found both gratitude letters and journaling to be a pain.

Gratitude letters are hard to make time for – writing a genuine letter to someone is not a quick, five-minute task. The gratitude apps I saw on the app store were clunky or ridden with ads.

Solutions like The Five Minute Journal worked well for me, but I hated carrying it around with me everywhere. On days when I was traveling, if I didn’t bring my journal in my bag, my journaling habit fell apart. The lack of consistency drove me mad.

That’s why I was so glad to see that the creators of The Five Minute Journal finally created a mobile app. At first, I was a bit turned by the price tag, but given that the hardcover version was ~$20 for a few hundred pages, paying $5 for an app that allowed for unlimited entries and PDF exports seemed totally worth it.

In short, the app is phenomenal. Not only is it significantly easier to do my journaling through my phone on the morning commute, but by allowing photos to be associated with each entry, it encourages me to be more mindful of capturing something great about each day. Continue Reading…

When a Gratitude Journal Fails: How to Stay Happy in the Face of Suffering

gratitude-suffering

The following is a cross-over post from my other blog, JonGuerrera.com. On that blog, I write about topics I consider very personal, but in the case of today’s post, it was applicable to Living for Improvement as well. The topic? The interplay of attachment and gratitude, and how one doesn’t work without the other. If you’ve ever tried gratitude journals before, you’ll appreciate this post. Enjoy!


 

In your first few minutes of reading about positive psychology, you’ll likely come across the recommendation to start a gratitude journal.

There’s strong research demonstrating the power of gratitude. Anyone serious about improving his or her happiness should be looking into ways to express more gratitude throughout the day.

However, like anything that deals with emotions, gratitude can be tricky. When I started out, I would write three things I was grateful for each morning. I’d express gratitude for my youth, my relatively good health, the health of my friends and family, the ability to afford things that make me happy, and more.

After a few weeks, it dawned on me: I had an easier time seeing the positive in my day. For me that’s huge, and all it took was a few minutes each morning. Talk about a win!

However, things took a turn for the worse… Continue Reading…

The Secret to Happiness: An Important Lesson From 75 Years of Research

The Internet is full of opinions about how to best live a fulfilling, meaningful life. But what if I told you that a study has been underway for the last 75 years to answer this very question?

Enter Robert Waldinger.

Waldinger is the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This study is arguably the longest, most thorough longitudinal study in history. The question it seeks to answer: What allows us to remain healthy and fulfilled as we progress through life? Continue Reading…