I recently listened to an interview with Petula Clark who is now in her early 90s. She talked about achieving happiness by forgetting the ‘good old days’ and instead, focusing on living for today.
The comment made me think about how many retired people spend too much time living in the past. They meet former coworkers for coffee or lunch and spend the time reminiscing about the good old days. They travel together and belong to the same clubs.
I am loosely associated with an informal group of former colleagues who have an annual two-day get together to keep relationships alive. They usually partake of a couple of dinners, some libations, golf for those who play, and, perhaps a theatre outing. Stories get told and re-told.
Good fellowship abounds. Everyone enjoys the time together.
But sometimes I leave the gathering wondering if there isn’t too much reminiscing. Do such gatherings promote living in the past?
Because every day is precious, spending too much time thinking about the ‘good old days’ — days that may not always have been so good — is self-defeating. Too much focus on the past may cause your present life to suffer.
I try to focus on living in the present. Most of the time I’m successful.
I’ve thought about some techniques that work for me — techniques that help can help all of us to live for today.
1. Practise gratitude for the blessings of each day. By appreciating the good things I have and the things that go right and not focusing on regrets, I list my daily blessings.
Sometimes the blessings are simple like the fresh snow this morning, the bright sunshine and our new snow blower to clean it up! These small things deserve gratitude.
2. Don’t waste time with negative thoughts or negative thinkers. Some people are full of complaints that things aren’t the same as in the past. With just a few words they can suck the air from a room and create unnecessary tension.
Avoid spending precious time with such people. When your own negative thoughts bring you down, try to consciously shift your focus to something positive. You can’t control other people or situations but you can balance your reaction.
3. Keep perspective. Nostalgia is understandable but it’s important to stay realistic. Albert Einstein famously said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”
A good balance comes from the wisdom garnered during the ‘good old days’ coupled with understanding the advantages from the wonderful things in your life today.
4. Understand that life isn’t perfect. Living for today doesn’t mean that bad things that leave you longing for the past won’t happen. When stress comes, stay flexible and adaptable.
Sometimes you have to grieve, undergo pain and move on to cope with changing circumstances in life.
Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous quote “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” often brings comfort and perspective.
5. Celebrate. Celebrate everything and celebrate often. Living for today means celebrating every birthday, anniversary, civic holiday, and change of season. Whether you plan a summer picnic, an evening of looking at the stars, a winter sledding party or a special dinner, find lots of occasions to have fun and create new memories.
Life is short. Think about the things you want to experience now instead of focusing on what is over. Retirement can last 20 years or more and that’s too long a time to think about the ‘good old days’ instead of living for today.