Francesco Carta fotografo/Getty Images Lindsay Dodgson Some people find it hard to live in the moment, and enjoy what's happening right now. This is because they are either dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future. This is called "mental time travel" and it can actually stop us from being truly happy. By keeping your mind in a negative place, you're bound to miss out on all the good things that are happening. The way to get out of this negative loop is to identify and then try to lessen the bad thoughts that are most likely to dampen your happiness.
Living in the moment is easier said than done. Some people have all the confidence they need to enter a situation without any anxiety of how it's going to go. Others struggle not to look ahead, or fret over what happened in the past.
For example, if you're about to go on holiday, you either look forward to the break unconditionally, or you worry about all the things that could go wrong — what if someone forgets their passport? What if someone gets sick, or you get into an accident?
These kind of thoughts can detract from the pleasure of the experience altogether, according to professor of psychology and brain sciences Susan Krauss Whitbourne
in a blog post for Psychology Today. Rather than counting down the days before your break, you get more nervous about it. Similarly, when it's over, instead of looking back fondly, you focus on the things that didn't go to plan.
This mindset is known as "mental time travel," and our consciousness can often be preoccupied by it, according to a study led by psychologist Barnaby Dunn,
published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy.
The researchers examined the difference in how dampening appraisals (thinking "this is too good to last") or amplifying appraisals (thinking "I deserve this") affected how we remember and anticipate events. In other words, does being optimistic or pessimistic impact how much we look forward to something, or how fondly we look back on it once it's over?
They found that when mental time travel is negative, people won't work as hard to get the rewards from an event, nor will they learn from their past experiences, said Whitbourne.
Dunn et. al. point out that dwelling on the negatives, either in the future or in the past, is a sign of depression. You're essentially dampening your experiences, and unable to enjoy the experience as much as you could if you lived in the moment. By keeping your mind in a negative place, you're bound to miss out on all the good things that are happening.
There are seven dampening appraisals you might be thinking without being aware of it. How much you're mentally time traveling could depend on how much you relate to these statements:
1. I think about things that could go wrong. 2. I think "I don't deserve this." 3. I think "My lucky streak will end soon." 4. I remind myself that these good feelings won't last. 5. I think about the things that haven't gone well for me. 6. I think about how hard it is to concentrate. 7. I think people assume I'm bragging.
"If you're agreeing more than you're disagreeing with these statements, it means that you will have trouble finding joy in your experiences," wrote Whitbourne. "Furthermore, these thoughts don't just impair your memories for the past. When you dredge up these thoughts as you plan an event such as a vacation, party, or night on the town, you're priming yourself to let your thoughts wander in a pessimistic direction."
It can be hard to change this mindset when you're used to it. It could be a way of subconsciously protecting yourself in case things go wrong, or you might have developed the habit without realising. Whitbourne said it could also come from feeling guilty about enjoying yourself and taking time off work, or worrying about the expense of the holiday you're planning.
She added that the way to get out of this negative loop is to identify and then try to lessen the bad thoughts that are most likely to dampen your happiness.
"Fulfillment in your day-to-day experiences involves getting the most out of them, both before and after they occur," she wrote. "By learning to avoid the jinx trap, yours will be that much more enjoyable."