Our consumer society is greatly to blame here: if every advert promises you success if you’d only buy this car, wear this watch, acquire this handbag, then dissatisfaction with what you have and what you are is an inevitable outcome. Putting your life on hold, in the belief that this job, this thing, this event, will magically make it all right, holds no chance of peace. Noticing what is right under your nose ”” which is the wonder of being alive in a world already full of possibilities ”” brings riches no material item ever can.
Martha Gellhorn, the war correspondent and one-time wife of Ernest Hemingway, was a close friend of mine. By the time she died in 1998, Martha was in her late eighties, but she was still as alert and fiery as a woman of 30. Her body, which finally betrayed her, had aged, but her mind never did, and I think her secret was that she always lived in the present. Not for her harking back to better times, complaining that things today weren’t as good as they had been; not for her complaining that if only this or that would happen, then her life would be magically transformed.
Most of us don’t live like this. Our mental chatter, or the civil war in our head, as Bob Geldof once memorably described it to me, goes something like this: “If only I hadn’t done that, then everything would be all right.” If you think like that ”” and most of us do ”” you end up doing things not for their own sake, but for the result you hope they will have. So, when you go to a party and manage to strike up a conversation with a hot director, you’ll be missing what he says, because what you’re actually thinking is: “Perhaps he’ll give me a job.” The party passes you by as you’re too busy concentrating on some future goal to appreciate what is going on around you.
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