It is not uncommon for each day to feel like a race or a checklist where we move from one task to the next as quickly as possible. There are a lot of demands on our time and attention. In order to juggle it all, we must constantly be aware of the next item on the list or the next thing that needs to happen.

While this ability to plan and prepare for the future is helpful, it also has a downside. The more we live in the future, the less we live in the moment. It’s easy to become so focused on the next thing that we miss what is happening right in front of us.

If We’re Not Present, Where Are We?

Our minds are a powerful force. The ongoing chatter of thoughts, memories, and ideas can easily distract us from being present. It is natural for the mind to view the present through the lens of either the future (how will what is happening now impact what will happen later?) or the past (how did my past experiences lead me to this moment?). (1)

When the brain is busy interpreting the past or projecting the future, it cannot fully experience the current moment.

Likewise, our constant use of technology has negatively impacted our ability to keep our minds in the here and now. Studies have shown that focusing on our phones instead of the people we are with leaves us feeling distracted and less socially connected. (2) Something as simple as the ding of an incoming text is enough to draw us out of the present.

Mindfulness Brings Us to the Present

Why the Present Matters

Fully engaging in the present moment is key to happiness and satisfaction in life. (3) We may have many good memories that give us a feeling of pleasure, and our plans for the future can fill us with excitement and anticipation, but happiness occurs in the moment.

Happiness is a state we must embody, meaning we have to experience it when it happens.

In addition, we can only experience a genuine connection with others by giving them our full attention. When we love someone, we want to spend time with them. It is not enough to just think about past time spent together or imagine what it will be like when we next get together. We seek the presence of our loved ones in real-time. There is no substitute.

Mindfulness Brings Us to the Present

Mindfulness is the tool that connects us to our immediate experience. It allows us to be aware of what is happening within and around us without the distraction of the past or future.

Mindfulness practices ground us in the moment. When we use meditation to train our minds to wander less and focus more, we can bring that mindfulness to everyday life. When we practice yoga or connect with nature, we anchor our attention to the present.

Our busy minds and the world of technology and fast information continually invite us to imagine ourselves as someone or somewhere else.

But we can only be ourselves, alive in the here and now. The present moment is the only one we can actually live.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this. – Henry David Thoreau