-An extract from Venerable Pomnyun’s book, Life Lessons–
P: When we are young, time seems to crawl at a snail’s pace, but as we get older, time seems to fly by. As we all know, time passes at the same speed for everyone, but why does it feel different for the young and the old? When we are young, we are impatient to become adults, so we sometimes add a year or two to our age. Since the young are impatient to grow up, time seems to drag along.
Once we hit adulthood, however, we want to seem younger than we are and even lie about our age. This is because while time brings growth when we are young, it causes decline after a certain age. Our smooth skin becomes wrinkled, gray hair begins to peek out among the dark hair, and our once inexhaustible physical strength begins to weaken day by day. Even though we are still young at heart, our bodies feel their age.
Then, at the thought of “I’ve grown old without having achieved anything,” we become afraid of the future and dwell on the past. Therefore, as we age, we keep reminiscing about past events and become nostalgic about the past.
We may wistfully think, “Those were the good old days.” But were we really happy then? Are all young people happy? Ask middle school, high school students, or even college students if they are happy. They will all tell you that life is tough. We may remember the past as a time filled with happiness, but in reality, we weren’t always happy.
Our regrets are a reflection of our dissatisfaction with ourselves now and our current lives. When an opinion poll was taken of people ranging in age from teens to 50s and they were asked to describe their biggest regret, the top answer, regardless of age, was “I should have studied harder when I was in school.” People felt that their lives would have turned out better had they been better students.
In the same way, we constantly feel regret about the past and cling to the past. We think to ourselves, “If I had only known then what I know now… If only I had made this choice instead… and write a scenario of what our lives could have been. We regret the choices we made in the past and feel unhappy with the way we are now. When we cling to the irreversible past, the present can only be miserable and unsatisfactory.
So, what is the secret to having a happy life, free from regrets? It is to live fully in the present whatever your age may be. Teenagers should focus on what teenagers should do and those in their 20’s should focus on what they should be doing at their age. Teenagers should dedicate themselves to their studies. As an adult, people have to take responsibility for their lives and earn a living, but teenagers only need to study and will be praised just for getting good grades. Teenagers don’t realize that they will experience such a period of time only once in their lives. Because they don’t know how good they have it, teenagers thank life is hard.
In their 20’s, people may experience the bliss of falling in love and the heartache of breaking up. This is a special privilege of the young. Even if they fail in a relationship, the experience enables them to have a deeper understanding of people and become more mature. However, because such experiences are difficult to go through, they are impatient to get older in order to avoid heartbreaks.
While people find life hard and sometimes even miserable during their 20’s, as they grow older, they miss that time and think, “Those were the good old days.” People in their 40’s and 50’s lament their mature age. However, after 10 years, they think, “If only I were 10 years younger.” Being old is all relative. When a high school senior sends a high school junior on an errand, he says, “You do it, since you are young. This oldie will get some rest.”
Children fail to fully live in the moment because they try to behave like adults. Young people wish to get older quickly because they feel life is so hard. The elderly, envy the young thinking, “Life was better when I was young.” Such foolishness results from their inability to appreciate the happiness they have been given in the present moment.
Therefore, while the young should be happy to be young with plenty of energy and dreams for the future, the elderly should appreciate how a lifetime of experiences has brought them a great depth of understanding. That is, we should be positive about ourselves and improve our present lives. Those who are content as they are, whether as children, as young people, or as aging adults, will be happy throughout their lives. In fact, those who live fully in the present without clinging to the past and being afraid of the future are always in the prime of their lives. Then, instead of being sad as we age, we can live happily until the end of our lives. The reason we are full of regret, dissatisfaction, and misery as we age lies in our inability to remain centered on true values and being swayed by worldly values. In other words, we have been taken hostage by countless worldly desires such as attending the best college, earning more money, achieving a higher social status, and making a name for ourselves.
In order to maintain our focus on true values and resolve life’s issues, we must set aside our desires for wealth, a successful career, fame, and heath which have been our priorities until now. Because these desires were in the way, and we were busy pursuing them, we were blind to what is truly important in life. Only when we let go of those desires are we able to open our eyes and finally see the path to real happiness.
Take a good look at yourself to see if you are squandering your life as if you are going to live forever. Since we don’t know when we will die, we should do the best we can today. Then, we will be able to live a life without regrets even if we were to die tomorrow. If you live your life contentedly, regardless of worldly success, that is a good life. If you are always content with your current life, that is a happy life.