“It’s ruinous for the soul to be anxious about the future and miserable in advance of misery, engulfed by anxiety that the things it desires might remain its own until the very end. For such a soul will never be at rest — by longing for things to come it will lose the ability to enjoy present things.”SENECA, MORAL LETTERS, 98.5b-6a
Being miserable before the misery even arrives is kind of a waste of a good time. Don’t let anxiety about tomorrow overtake you today. Don’t put a down payment on misery. That’s the guidance in today’s chapter of The Daily Stoic.
You will waste the joy of today, and totally miss out on the opportunities for happiness in front of you, by stressing about things that may or may not even come to pass in the future. You miss the chance to smell today’s rose when you’re worried about maybe pricking your finger on a thorn tomorrow.
It’s a choice. You don’t have to worry about theoretical worst case scenarios — creating unnecessary fear for yourself about things that might not even happen. Try keeping things superficial instead. And then use that saved mental bandwidth to think about other things, and tackle other challenges, and take action on your goals.
Even if the bad thing does happen, what’s the point of starting early on your misery, and thus missing today’s joy? It achieves nothing.
Longing for the future
In Seneca’s quote above, he’s not just talking about dreading future terrible things. He’s also warning against “longing for things to come”, and hoping for good things to hurry up and arrive already.
Kids do this a lot, don’t they? They can’t wait to grow up and be adults, and have all those responsibilities that they think they want. We all know how that story goes — they wish they had slowed down and enjoyed their childhood more, while they were young.
Well, news flash: adults do this too.
I’ve been doing it a lot lately. I’ve recently started to feel very strongly that I’d like to move our family to another country, Costa Rica to be exact. I’ve done an inordinate amount of research, and now we’re just waiting for our kids to get vaccinated and COVID to calm down a bit, before we can take a trip down there to do some reconnaissance and make a final decision.
I can’t wait. Why can’t time just hurry up so that we can move down there and start our new lives in paradise? I’ve been dreaming and longing in my head for that future indeterminate time when everything is ‘perfect’.
Along the way, I lost the “ability to enjoy present things”. My wife had to point that out to me. She basically said that we can’t lose sight of the present moment, and miss the joy that’s right in front of us, by longing for things to come. We have to live in the present.
So, I’ve adapted. I’m no longer making a down payment on misery about dreaded things, nor missing the roses along the way when anticipating future joy.