Human experience is a curious thing. Whenever or wherever you are, the present merely seems like the present. Your life feels remarkably like one ordinary day after the next.
This sameness of daily life, and correspondingly, how things look so different in the rearview mirror, are just concepts of your psychology.
We’re adaptive creatures, meant to thrive when placed in any environment. Because of that, our brain is comparative. We look at things in terms of changes from the usual because that’s what has been evolutionarily helpful. For example, you don’t regularly register the feeling of your clothes on your body until it changes or something reminds you, like this sentence.
Our day-to-day existence is subject to this. Our brain always considers our highs and lows in context with our normative line, or in layman’s terms, our average day. If there’s a drastic change in circumstance, like moving to a new school, then that normative line is reset over time.
The implications of this are that everyone feels the same highs and lows, even with drastically different lives. A member of Congress agonizing over writing an amendment to a proposed bill may feel a similar level of anxiety to you trying to finish up an English essay just before it’s due. Objectively, they’re crazy far apart in importance, but subjectively, it’s a lot closer. Emotionally, your day and a Congressperson’s day are about the same. Barring depression, which causes a brain chemistry imbalance in your normative line, everyone’s average day is about the same.
Similarly, college applications have taken up most of my brain space over the last few months; however, after their completion, I feel the same. My day-to-day life is a lot freer as a second-semester senior, and I remember how much work I had to struggle through last semester, yet the realism of it has faded. I feel not much happier or sadder now than before.
Replacing the workload of college applications, I have given myself academic projects: BattleCode, the Solar Regatta team, Mock Trial. They’ve risen to occupy the same unfilled space.
There is a lesson to take from this: live in the present and be grateful for that present. You will always have negatives in your life, and you’ll look to the past or future with envy. Things were so great when I didn’t have to deal with this, or life will be phenomenal once I’m past this. And it’s not true.
Eventually, you’ll be in the future, and it’ll feel just the same as before. And when you look back, you’ll see all the positives in that past-present that you somehow missed while in it.
Life is one and done. The present that you are in now, yes, at this exact moment right at the end of January 2022, is the time to enjoy yourself, rather than a supposed future time “when you’re free.” (Clearly, don’t blow off schoolwork. That’s not my meaning.)
Value where and when you are. Isn’t the fact that we’re living in this amazing world, at this amazing time — the fact that we exist at all — wonderful? Our ability to quickly adapt to life is helpful to carry out our daily business, but it can keep us from seeing how marvelous our present really is. Sometimes, only a perspective change is needed to see past the mundanity of daily life to the beautiful now.