Why is it so difficult to properly enjoy what’s right in front of us? And why are so many events easier to enjoy or savor after they’ve happened? In this animation from The London School of Life, philosopher Alain de Botton talks about why we have trouble staying anchored in the present moment, and the role memory and mind wandering play.
1) We edit out the bad parts. The brain is a great editor, sifting through our experiences to construct meaningful narratives. “Hours of mediocrity can be reduced to five or six perfect images,” says de Botton. “Nostalgia is the present enhanced by an editing machine.”
“Nostalgia is the present enhanced by an editing machine.”
2) There’s anxiety. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the present: rejection, the possibility of natural disasters. Even if none of those outcomes occur and we “edit out” those moments from the present, that anxiety gets shifted to the next moment.
3) Our minds wander. Despite our best efforts, a word or an image can pull us inward and our thoughts can spiral toward an argument with a colleague or a trip we’re planning six weeks from now.