Experiencing happiness – past, present and future!

Do you enjoy planning and looking forward to a special event with a warm tingle of anticipation, setting an intention for future happiness?  Do you look back over favourite photo albums, listen to music you loved in the past, or reminisce about joyful memories, and re-experience the positive emotions they evoked at the time?  Or do you live in the moment and focus on simply being happy in the here and now?  Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three!

I’ve been musing on these questions while thumbing through a copy of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe brochure – as usual, satisfyingly thick and crammed with temptations – while planning my annual visit.  I first went in 2005 and loved the bustling city so much that I vowed I’d return every August to make up for all the years I hadn’t.  Pondering which of my unmissable favourites I need tickets for, and which undiscovered delights I might be swayed by – hmm, man in koala suit playing the ukulele? – started me wondering what it would be like if we weren’t able to visualise the future or remember the past.   

Would it be a great liberation to completely let go of old wounds and resentments – gone and forgotten – or do all experiences, even the painful ones, have something helpful to teach us? Would avoiding planning for the future release us from anxiety and the tendency to put off happiness until we’ve reached some distant destination, or would that be a purposeless way to live?   Do we make better choices when we are guided by our history and our hopes for the future?

Clients who come for coaching are usually encouraged to think about what they want for themselves and to set short-term and long-term goals.  The coach will help the client to explore what that goal means to them, and how well it fits with their values, beliefs and identity.  Sometimes, as the coaching conversation progresses, the original goal changes; or previously unthought-of options emerge for consideration. Sometimes the realisation that limiting beliefs from the past are now outdated can be liberating, and allow for new and more empowering beliefs to be installed.

Staying flexible and open to all possibilities, no matter how eccentric they may seem at first, is all part of the process. So in a way, we are holding the space open while the client creates their own desired future, learns from their past, and is grounded in their present-day experience. Reflection and feedback helps to deepen the insights, enhance motivation and connect to the true self and innate happiness.

So, much as I believe in the wisdom of tuning in to happiness right here in the moment – Robert Holden’s book Happiness Now! is a great read on this topic – don’t forget the value of choosing a happy future and reflecting on all the positive memories of your life with gratitude too.  As the French writer Gustave Flaubert said, ‘Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory’ – but don’t miss it in the present!

Have you got holidays or occasions that you’re looking forward to?  Does planning and anticipating for future events enhance or detract from your enjoyment of them?  Share your thoughts below!

Verse of the week

With the Festival Fringe on my mind, I couldn’t resist sharing a verse – perhaps one is enough! – from the wonderfully named William Topaz McGonagall, generally held to be Scotland’s worst poet, though also one of the most prolific!

From ‘Beautiful Edinburgh’

Of all the cities in the world, Edinburgh for me;
For no matter where I look, some lovely spot I see;
And for picturesque scenery unrivalled you do stand.
Therefore I pronounce you to be the Pride of Fair Scotland.

4 thoughts on “Experiencing happiness – past, present and future!

    • Wow thanks for the tip Keith – will check it out, sounds like one for me! Any more recommendations from anyone gratefully received, it’s word of mouth that’s got me to the most memorable shows over the years.

  1. Kay, fascinating blog as always.

    I agree there is value in learning from the past, enjoying the present and planning for the future. For me, I have learned that it is the proportion of my time I spend thinking about past, present and future that I wish to change.

    Throughout a career in sales and senior management I have become obsessed with outcomes, targets and goals. Whilst very important I have beed future focused at the expense of enjoying the present.

    With a young family, your blog has reminded me that I want to spend most of my thinking time in the present.

    Best wishes


    • Thanks Gary! Sorry for the slow reply but we have both been enjoying the moment (and the sunshine!) in Dorset for a few days.

      Read an interesting book while I was there called ‘The Antidote’ by Oliver Burkeman which has a chapter on the drawbacks of goal-setting, and suggests that a goal-free approach might even benefit businesses – think that might be a challenging thought for most of them!

      Have to agree with enjoying the present with your family though – our younger son in leaving home next Monday (gulp) so believe me they grow up all too quickly . . . think I shall be writing about that soon!

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