Yesterday I was walking down the block with my daughter, a cup of tea in hand. As I sipped my tea, feeling the crisp fresh air on my face and listening to my daughter’s lovely voice, I felt joy. I experienced everything as wonderful and peaceful – here was a truly perfect moment. But as we neared home, all of a sudden my sense of being joyous in the present left me. I longed for the walk to continue. We entered our building because I had a scheduled phone conference, but I kept thinking about how I had felt just minutes earlier. I no longer felt peace or joy and was now experiencing a twinge of sadness. I wanted to continue the pleasure of the walk home with my daughter instead of going back to work.
There is nothing wrong with desires and pleasure seeking; it is perfectly normal to want wonderful things and experiences. Most of us are engaged on a daily basis in seeking pleasure one way or another. We may seek it through work, sports, hobbies, helping others, engaging in learning or other special endeavors. But longing to repeat an experience that has already happened is a type of pleasure-seeking that can leave us feeling miserable. Our minds become so focused on repeating a past experience – even one that happened just five minutes earlier – that we can’t appreciate the new moment we are in.
My example is a simple moment with my daughter that resulted in mild emotional discontent that lingered for the afternoon. It is similar to when we get disappointed that our night out with friends was not as fun as “usual” or a meal is not as great as we remembered. These are not events that ruin our lives, but they do dampen the present moment as we are always comparing it to “how great it was last time.” The emotional pain can be greatly heightened in more complex situations such as a past relationship, job experience or accolades from our peers. Our minds can get so busy with thoughts of past pleasures or achievements that we don’t show up clear-minded in the next, new moment. Without even realizing it, a longing to recreate the past can become our focus and our goal, instead of reaching for new and creative ways to find joy.
So the next time your mind starts longing to recreate an experience that has passed, try to take a deep breath and guide yourself back to the moment your are in. Living in the present provides the instant perception of wonder and is its own great enjoyment. When we experience good things without wanting the experience to be repeated, we suffer less pain and fear, and we increase the potential for a lasting joy and greater success.
Of course we can make plans and have goals similar to ones we have already enjoyed or achieved, but to avoid that painful longing and not limit our present potential we must let go of expectations and attachments to past experiences. Try to allow each new moment to offer you a new beginning and remain receptive to the chance for new enjoyment. As it is said, we can’t step in the same river or drink from the same cup of tea twice!
Who knows, when you let go of the desire to relive past experiences, MAYBE the moment you’re in will surprise you and bring more joy and peace than you ever imagined possible!
Originally Published in Psychology Today