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One of the strangest things about human beings is that we seem to be wired to believe that where we are in life, that the people and things all around us, are somehow their final versions… that everything is how it will always be. That our homes, our families, our likes and dislikes, our daily routines… they’re all carved in stone and won’t really change much if at all.
Intellectually we know things will change, of course. No one really thinks they’re still going to be doing the same things with the same people at 78 as they were at 18. But most aren’t emotionally aware enough to let themselves think about just how things will change over time. To welcome the vulnerability.
We even think our tastes in music won’t change and yet looking back, we know they already have. Psychologists have taken to calling this the “end of history illusion” – our inability to foresee change in our lives despite knowing how much change we’ve already experienced. We believe to the core that we are who we are, who we’ve always been, and who we will always be… and we’re so incredibly sure of it. That even though we talk about ourselves as ‘growing’ and ‘changing’, that we’re really the same person despite this, and that everyone and everything around us is as well.
The older you get the more you realize that the passage of time isn’t a linear path either; that time speeds up each year, and this perceived reality contributes to this generally vague awareness that things are more constant than they actually are. The first time you realize that an experience you can remember so well that it’s so a part of your being was, in fact, 20 years ago, you realize that time has sped up beyond your ability to catch up to it. Most everything in your life has changed since then.
With this passage of time, of course, we have also experienced these life changes more often, so we’re better at adapting to them… sometimes to the point of not even acknowledging them at all. Is change still change if you don’t notice it?
How often do you stop what you’re doing to think about how unique a moment in time actually is? That the environment you’re in, the people you love and who love you, your clothing, your job, your hairstyle, your joys, pains, and stresses – they will never be the same again. It’s physically impossible to recreate this exact moment no matter how hard you try. Of course, lots of people do try and recreate periods of time – to “go back to when they were happier” or to recapture old thrills. And it almost never works out for them.
Most people probably haven’t stopped to audit all the small changes that add up to big change over the last few years of their lives but most would agree that in sum, their lives aren’t nearly the same as they were, say, just five years ago. Such is the nature of life. It can’t be slowed down or paused, and it sure as hell can’t be stopped. It can only be lived.
I suppose it’s more comforting to let yourself forget that nothing lasts forever while it’s being experienced. Yet things will never be the same again, and no amount of self-delusion will change that. So if something is important to you, cherish it.
The important thing in all this is to recognize this reality and embrace it… to take stock every once in a while. If there’s one constant in the world other than change itself, it’s that every positive psychology book on the market has a chapter on gratitude and its importance to us. You don’t need to keep a gratitude journal to be thankful for the here and now. To realize that life will never be quite the same again… that it should be appreciated takes just the awareness that things will eventually change.
You simply need to remind yourself every once in a while.