Over the last few years a lot has been written about the Buddhist-inspired health benefits of living in the present. Now that we’re all doing yoga, borrowing from Eastern philosophy, and trying to slow down our busy lives, the idea of happiness through abandoning worry is an appealing perspective on how to slow down a chaotic life. But ignoring the lessons of the past and refusing to plan for the future – not to mention the opportunity to savour happy memories and envision forthcoming triumphs – has never much appealed to me.
And that’s why I was happy to see the results of a new study stating the best route to happiness is balancing your focus between the past, present and future. The study by San Francisco State University found that a “balanced time perspective” can make people feel more vital, grateful and satisfied with their lives. The ideal balance is a positive attitude about the past, an ability to enjoy the present, and a focus on goals for the future. In order to respond well in a variety of situations, it’s best to have “cognitive flexibility,” which can keep you from dwelling too much on the past, focusing too much on the present, and feeling too much terror about the future.
The researchers at SFSU recommend looking at your life to figure out if there’s an imbalance. If you have trouble letting go of past relationships you likely spend too much time in the past. If you find yourself spinning your wheels and unable to make plans (or any progress with those plans), perhaps you spend too much time in the present. And if you never have any sense or appreciation of time, always checking off things on a ‘to do’ list, perhaps you spend too much time in the future.
The balance of these perspectives can manifest in a million ways – how you spend your money, how you choose a mate and how you treat your health – so it’s worth exploring your personal habits to see if you could use an adjustment.