I find that many people find life to be disappointing because they are seeking to live out the future before it arrives. Too many people give their hearts to the future, thinking they will find happiness at some later time. In the process we are always chasing after rainbows and have not learned to live and enjoy the present day.
Blaise Pascal was a brilliant mathematician and philosopher who lived in France from 1623 to 1662. Not only was he brilliant, he also had great insight into the human heart.
Pascal observed that humans are the most paradoxical of all God’s creatures. On the one hand we are one of the grandest of all living beings, yet we also experience the greatest misery of all his creatures. The reason is because we can think and reflect upon our existence, which is the reason we are so grand, but is also the basis of our misery.
Think about how we have the tendency to scope out the future before it ever arrives. We are always wondering “What if?” Envisioning the future is a natural part of being human, as it is natural and wise to plan for the future. But it is also true that we can spend too much of our time imagining a brighter future rather than seeking to live well in the present. As we play out the future in our imaginations, we often inadvertently throw our lives out of sync with present reality. We do not seem to be aware of how in our future imaginings, we have this amazing tendency to arrange our lives around future expectations of happiness. And the fact that we are always contemplating a future life of happiness, reveals something about our lives in the present that we are not happy and not content. Pascal put it this way:
We never keep to the present…we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming…We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end.
Then he puts his finger on how most people live their lives –
Therefore we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.
Pascal also recognized that one of the reasons people are so unhappy is that no matter where we are in life, no matter how well things are going right now, we always seem to be able to contemplate a better life in the future, a much better life than we are experiencing right now.
Isn’t it easy to imagine a much better life than we currently have? As you think about your life right now, isn’t there some way you can make it better, more rewarding? Couldn’t you be happier? So many people live with these hidden thoughts:
Couldn’t my marriage be better?
Wouldn’t it be great if my children were (you fill in the blank)?
My life would be wonderful if I had more financial resources and a higher income.
Isn’t there a more fulfilling occupation for me out there?
My life will be better when I lose 25 pounds.
I can’t wait until retirement, then I will really be happy.
I also notice how so many people wonder what their lives would be like in the future, if they had made certain decisions or choices in the past. They end up playing the mental exercise of “What if?” I have had numerous men tell me their life is haunted by the decisions they have made in their lives and consequently see nothing but a grim future.
We live too much in the future, always planning to be happy, always contemplating a better life somewhere in the not too distant future. It is just around the corner. But as time slips by, people begin to realize that life is never going to really get better and they live out their years with the realization that life is terribly disappointing.
This is why Jesus tells us to live one day at a time, because each day has enough troubles of it’s own. (Mathew 6:34) Furthermore, Paul instructs us to be content in the now (Philippians 4:11) and that the strength to find contentment is found in Christ. (Philippians 4:13).
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.