Monday, January 4, 2010

The Future Is Now

In his book, Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert writes about how the human mind tends to believe it can predict the future, and specifically, what will make us happy in the future. It turns out, however, we have a really terrible track record when it comes to future predictions of happiness.

Dr. Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, says that what is happening in the present moment will always color how we think the future will be. If we are sad right now, it is very hard to imagine that we will be happy later on. What this indicates is that present moment sensory reality trumps the mind's tendency to create an imagined future.

This tendency is good news, and can be used to our advantage to help us reduce suffering and increase our ability to act effectively. When we catch the mind creating a doom and gloom scenario about the future, we can disengage from this thought by turning our attention toward a sensory experience that is happening in the present moment. The mind will automatically default to the sensory input, and disregard the thought. As Dr. Gilbert wrote, "We can't see or feel two things at once, and the brain has strict priorities about what it will see, hear, and feel and what it will ignore. Imagination's requests are often denied. Both the sensory and emotional systems enforce this policy."

So modern neuroscience again confirms what the Buddha and others have been teaching for thousands of years: keep coming back to the present moment, and you will have a better chance at living a happier life.


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