The Shortcut to Happiness is Taking it One Day at a Time

Stop waiting for that thing to happen and start making the most of the moment you are in.

Margaret Pan
Nov 21 · 5 min read
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Photo by Svetlana Pochatun on Unsplash

Taking it one day at a time has always been my #1 philosophy.

It’s also a very misunderstood one. Throughout my life, a lot of people around me have looked down on my decision to not make long-term plans and to take it one step at a time.

You see, taking things one day at a time doesn’t mean that you’re lazy, unproductive, that you don’t have dreams, or that you’re a pessimist. Far from it.

Yesterday, I was browsing the channel of School of Life, a global organization dedicated to helping people develop emotional intelligence and lead more fulfilled lives. I first started following them a couple of years ago, and since then they haven’t failed to amaze me, video after video.

Anyway. I stumbled upon an old video of theirs, that explained and highlighted the importance of taking things one day at a time. Finally, I felt understood.

Here are the most important things that were said in the video that explain why the shortcut to happiness is taking it one day at a time.

Learning to Live One Day at a Time Eliminates Anxiety About the Future

Stop for a moment and think about this: how much time do you spend every day worrying about the future? If you’re anything like me, you probably worry a lot about what might be.

You and I are not alone in this. If you consider it, people are constantly thinking about the future, waiting for an upcoming event, for an upcoming meeting, for something that can only happen in the future. For example:

  • Meeting the love of their life
  • Having enough money to buy a new house/car
  • Beginning a new career
  • Learning some new skills

By focusing too much on our future goals/dreams/hopes, without realizing it, most of us end up in an endless loop of impatience, anxiety, and even depression.

The solution to that is simple: learning to live one day at a time.

In the School of Life’s video, our narrator, philosopher and author Alain de Botton explains:

“One-day-at-a-time-thinking reminds us that, in many cases, our greatest enemy is that otherwise critical nectar: hope and the perplexing emotion it tends to bring with it, impatience. By limiting our horizons to tonight, we are girding ourselves for the long haul and remembering that an improvement may best be achieved when we manage not to await it too ardently.”

Taking It One Day at a Time Is the Antidote to Life’s Unpredictability

Here’s one harsh truth about life: It’s awfully unpredictable.

It can bring you a lot of struggles and difficulties that will push you to your knees. One moment everything is great and then, something happens and you feel like your life is falling apart.

The bad news? There’s no way to stop life from unfolding the way it does. The future is and will be uncertain. The good news? With the right approach and attitude, you can prevent life’s unpredictability from affecting you too much.

In the words of Alain de Botton:

“Taking it day by day means reducing the degree of control we expect to be able to bring to bear on the uncertain future. It means recognising that we have no serious capacity to exercise our will on a span of years and should not therefore disdain a chance to secure one or two minor wins in the hours ahead of us. We should — from a new perspective — count ourselves immensely grateful if, by nightfall, there have been no further arguments and no more seizures, if the rain has let off and we have found one or two interesting pages to read.”

Trying to predict our future, or control what happens to us is pointless and a complete waste of time. Once you accept that life is unpredictable, meaning that it could crush all of your plans in a matter of minutes, you realize that the only solution is to take it one day at a time and celebrate every little win that comes your way.

One Day at a Time Means Appreciating the Little Things

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the phrase “you should learn to appreciate the little things in life” more times than you can count.

I’m also well aware that when you’ve just been fired from your job, when you struggle to make ends meet, or when you feel lonely and alone, it can be difficult to appreciate, let’s say, watching the sunrise.

In many cases, it can be really difficult to acknowledge the true beauty of the little things in our lives. We are so heavily occupied with the pursuit of “more” that we are no longer content with what we already have.

Yet, as Alain de Botton explains, taking things in life one day at a time, teaches us exactly that — to be grateful for every little thing we have in our lives:

“Given the scale of what we are up against, knowing that perfection may never occur, and that far worse may be coming our way, we can stoop to accept with fresh gratitude a few of the minor gifts that are already within our grasp.”

Final Thoughts

I’m by nature a very anxious person, which means that, if I didn’t learn to take things one day at a time, I would be suffering multiple mental breakdowns, one after the other.

Most people claim that there is no shortcut to happiness. And although you can’t just press a magical button and become instantly happy, learning to take it one day at a time, is the best “shortcut” to happiness you could ever find.

Remember, it’s absolutely normal — and necessary — to make plans for the future and hold out for the things you want. But, dwelling on tomorrow’s uncertain decisions means missing out on today.

Don’t stress too much about the future. Work hard to become the best version of yourself and everything else will work out.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Margaret Pan

Written by

Thoughtful writer. Personal development, psychology, and relationships. Let’s elevate your life together: https://bit.ly/34xX3iH

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 138,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Margaret Pan

Written by

Thoughtful writer. Personal development, psychology, and relationships. Let’s elevate your life together: https://bit.ly/34xX3iH

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 138,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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