Does Thinking About the Future Make You Happier?

Thinking About the Future

I was over at Ruchira’s blog Abracabadra recently and commented on one of her posts. As I was thinking about what to write, I had a sudden string of words pop into my head:

The path upon which we walk can can always be admired as we look behind, anticipated as we look forward, but only truly enjoyed in the present.

And oh my goodness, I have the perfect photo to go with that thought. (Maybe that’s why I thought it in the first place.) It’s from when I was at Mt. Mitchell and I was hiking the trail from the top to where we were parked. A cluster of clouds cleared and let sunlight shine on the forest floor, just as I was walking through. It was a present:

living in the present
The present path. Photo by C. Calhoun 2014

Of course, this thought isn’t that original. It hearkens back to a Dalai Lama quote I’ve run across a few times:

When asked about what surprises him (the Dalai Lama) most about humanity, he said:

Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

(Interestingly, as a side note, the Dalai Lama is reported to have not said this phrase, and that it’s an internet hoax. Instead, this supposedly comes from An Interview With God. I found this out as I was trying to locate the real source of these words. Regardless, they are a powerful reminder to live in the present as much as possible.)

However, I am completely guilty of thinking about the future too much.

I think about all the things I’m going to do next week, next year, in five years, in ten years, in twenty years.

do think about what I’m going to do today, making my lists and checking them off as I complete my tasks.

But I love how Ruchira’s quote made me stop.

And think.

(Okay, well, I do too much of that, too, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing…)

Why exactly is it so hard to focus on the present?

The Marshmallow Experiment

While researching a bit for this post, I read about an experiment conducted on children (don’t worry, it was a social experiment, based on anthropological research – stuff I love!).

It was about how four year old children will eat a marshmallow immediately, 70% of the time, when told that if they wait fifteen minutes, they could have two marshmallows. The ratio of kids who can’t wait is about 2/3 vs. 1/3 for children who do.

They found out this ratio transcends cultures – Japan, the U.S., the European Union….

Interestingly, they followed up with these children and after 15 years, the ones who could delay gratification tended to be more successful in life. They had higher test scores, achieved more, and had a higher overall life satisfaction.

But, this makes people who delay gratification for a better future, actually focused on the future, and not the present.

We all want a little success in our lives, don’t we?

So, What is it? Focus on the Future or Focus on the Present?

This is where common sense kicks in.

There needs to be a sense of balance.

I’m a graduate student right now, investing my present time for something that may or may not pay off financially in the future. (For the record, I personally think education is never a bad thing; improving ourselves should always be a priority, actually – in a classroom or otherwise.)

But there are those out there who work all the time to buy things and have things. I myself work – a lot: saving for retirement, creating a reputable career online and off, spending my weekends and weeknights blogging.

I’ll be the first to admit that I require more balance: I need more exercise, I need to get back to making bread.

It all comes down to priorities.

The key to finding balance is realizing where your priorities are – and not living in the future too much.

If your priorities are family and friends, and spending time outdoors, then you’ll find ways to make that happen.

I haven’t prioritized exercise in my life enough lately, and I aim to take steps to change that.

If I have a dream of traveling the world, wishing for it to happen someday is not going to improve the present.

It’s okay to have ambitions and future goals.

But, in the meantime, it’s critical to enjoy things along the way. In the present.

Because you don’t know if there really will be a tomorrow.

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  • Are you more future-focused or present-focused?
  • What are your priorities?
  • Would you eat the marshmallow now or later?

Let me know in the comments!




6 thoughts on “Does Thinking About the Future Make You Happier?

  1. The marshmallow experiment is interesting, with its ideas of rewards and being in the moment now. I try to reach for goals but also strike a balance of being in the current day, making the most of today. It’s so easy to get caught up in the small stuff (which, by the way, can be some of the most important stuff!)

    I thank you for sharing such a wonderful photo, brought on by your thoughts and the Dalai Lama quote. You always give me a lot to ponder! HUGS!


    1. Christy – indeed, right? Striking that balance is so critical and so incredibly difficult at times. 🙂
      Indeed, some of the small stuff is definitely important.
      A lot to ponder? Oy vey…I understand. My brain is always pondering. 😉
      I hope you’ve had a wonderful day! xo


  2. Hola Cyndi.

    Such an interesting post.

    “The path upon which we walk can can always be admired as we look behind, anticipated as we look forward, but only truly enjoyed in the present”… That is a very deep and meaningful quote.

    I tend to think in the future too but I like to live in the present and try to do my best to remember that present is all what we have HIC ET NUNC (here and now, as the greeks said).

    Carpe Diem (Seize the day) is a very important motto, I think.

    I am quite sure that we would be definitely happier if we follow our present joy instead of trying to chase projected shadows which spin out towards the future.

    And talking about all this is, I am sure you may like this video:

    Abrazos, Aquileana 😀


    1. Aquileana – aww, thank you – MUCHAS GRACIAS – por tus palabras. Voy a tratar de decir todo en español porque es bueno para practicar…algún día voy a traducir este sitio a español…una cosa a la vez, no? jaja
      Pues, también, pienso en el futuro per trato de pensar en el presente cuando sea posible. Carpe diem <– palabras ciertas.
      Tienes razón – pensar más en el presente y no persigue las sombras en un futuro desconocido…tan dificil…
      Gracias por el enlace. Dentro de poco tiempo lo voy a mirar. Abrazos.C


  3. A constant struggle for me. I am typically planning and incredibly anxious, and that’s all about future. I feel I am constantlybrryingnto refocus on the future and sometimes I manage for bits of time.


    1. Sarah- SOOOOO good to see you! I haven’t done a ttot blog hop for awhile…I feel like my focus is shifting a bit and not publishing much on the weekends…
      Anyways, I’m with you there: it’s part of my personality to look to the future at what might be and at what I can save for. 🙂 But managing for bits of time? YES! That’s actually a good way to go about it. 🙂


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