How Many Winters?

As snowflake clusters fall softly to the ground this morning, I watch, coffee in hand. I appreciate the spectacle and wonder: "How many winters do I have in my future?"

I say it not to be morose but to ensure I cherish this one. This day. This snowfall. This moment. I want to soak in what this experience offers me. I've written before that memories are my most prized possessions, but I think the ability to stop and spend time in the now—doing what feels right in the moment—as often as possible is even more precious.

We are not our past, we are not our future. We are what we are and what we experience now.

It seems so simple a concept yet I need constant reminders of it, sometimes in the form of natural beauty, sometimes in the form of a warm smile, sometimes when work turns into a flow state, sometimes by mere accident.

So many great thinkers have written about the importance of how we treat the present and that  what adds the most value to our lives is free. Why is it that a truth that is so self-evident can be so elusive at the same time?

The Future Is the Reward, Or Is It?

We lose touch with the present early in life. We're taught to wait, to work hard for a future reward. We're taught that we need to "behave" for extended periods of time to get something that, eventually, we'll be entitled to. We're in a constant state of waiting, patiently or not, for some future payoff.

And we're wrong.

What if I said that if we're waiting for something or someone, we're behaving badly. We should be focusing on what we're doing now and experiencing it to decide whether or not we're in the right place, doing the right things, for us. Waiting, and doing what's wrong for us in the present as we do so, is mortgaging the present for some future payoff that may or may not materialize. What we do in the present, if it is what we want to be doing, shouldn't feel like a tradeoff. It should feel natural. It should feel like that's what we want to be doing, now.

Being truly wealthy, [Jean-Jacques Rousseau] suggested, does not require having many things; rather, it requires having what one longs for. Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.
— Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety (2004), p. 42-3.

Take saving money, for example. There are two types of savers: forced savers and willing savers. Forced savers are focused on the future "I will be happy when...". Willing savers are focused on the now: "It feels good to save, it makes me happy.". The payoff should be in the present, not the future. We need to selfishly do what will make us feel good now and, if we really listen, we'll do the best thing for ourselves and we won't need carrots and sticks to monitor and correct our behaviour.

When we need those inducements, it's because we're not paying attention. We're not paying attention to how we feel in the present. Why, because we've decided that spending our time in a dream state, our head forever in the future is desirable, acceptable. That it's what makes the present bearable.

Excuse me?

By sacrificing our present we're sacrificing who we are for an indefinite period. We stop living. We stop paying attention to what matters at this moment, and this one, and this one still.

Living for tomorrow is not living at all, because tomorrow never comes. It's forever out of reach.

The prospect of our own extinction may draw us towards that way of life on which our hearts place the greatest value.
— Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety (2004), p. 222.

If what we're doing now does not serve us in the now, we need to rethink how we spend our time—and other resources—because it clearly doesn't fit our values. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that doing hard things isn't worthwhile. What I'm saying is that doing things that are "hard" aren't really hard if that's what we feel we want to be doing. Right here. Right now. And by doing these "hard" things that we want to be doing right now, we're feeding our present—and likely our future, but we don't even need to think about that, now do we?

Those really are beautiful clusters of snowflakes, and this is a most rewarding session at the keyboard. 

How many winters do I have in my future? Does it really matter?