How I Became Happier by Letting Go of the Past
A lot has been said about the benefits of learning to live in the present moment. I have personally discovered that by practicing mindfulness and living in the present, I am better able to enjoy every day that I am given. But what I found to be one of the most challenging parts of living mindfully was learning to let go of the past.
We have all experienced hurt, disappointment, and even betrayal in our lives. They are all part of life. Who hasn’t missed out on the perfect job, or been overlooked for a great promotion? Who hasn’t had their heart broken at least once? In most cases, we were able to move on from the experience and get on with our lives. In most cases, time healed all wounds and we let go naturally of what was once a painful experience.
But sometimes there is an event that has hurt us so deeply that we find it hard to move on from it. We find it difficult to forgive, and practically impossible to forget. So we hold on tightly, not just to the memory, but also to the pain, anguish, and hurt that we experienced. When that happens, we not only find it difficult to be truly happy, but we also miss out on some wonderful opportunities and experiences because we are afraid of being hurt again.
I have found that by following some guidelines and taking some deliberate steps, that I have been able to eventually let go of even my most painful experiences. And that by doing so, I have been able feel much happier in my daily life. Below is a list of practices that I follow when I am trying to let go of the past, focus on the present, and look forward to the future. Hopefully you will find these to be just as useful in your own life.
Remembering that I am not my past:
For me the first step in letting go of a past event is to remember that I am able to completely separate myself from it. Whether the event was an act of God, the act of another person, or something that I caused to happen, in no way is that event a part of who I am. It is just an event.
Some of us may have experienced abuse in our past, and so continue to identify ourselves as victims. Or perhaps some of us may have made questionable choices in our youth, and we continue to feel ashamed of them. We must remember that those occurrences are gone, they no longer exist. Who we are today is defined by what is in our minds and in our hearts, and not by any past event that we experienced.
Learning to accept:
It is important to learn to accept whatever happens. Accidents will happen, bad things will happen to good people, and no matter how much we prepare something can still go wrong. Whether it was avoidable or not, whatever happened did happen and there may be nothing that can be done about it.
I have learned to accept that there will always be events that I cannot prevent, change, or fix. By accepting these events, I am able to let go of them, focus on the present, and move on with my life. Acceptance has allowed me to become happier by not regretting what is unalterable, or hoping for what is impossible.
I find that practicing meditation on a regular basis helps me to live in the present moment and to be generally happier. Even when I fail to practice it daily, every time that I return to my practice it helps me to immediately become mindful and return to the present.
By helping me to focus on the present, meditation also helps me to forget the past. When I meditate, whatever past event may have been troubling me becomes just a memory and no longer a part of the now. Meditation reminds me that the event is no longer happening, and I am the one who is choosing to give it power. It helps me to remember that the only reason I am still suffering over a past event is because I am allowing the suffering to happen. The minute I decide to stop remembering the event, it loses its power and all the suffering stops as well.
Being of service:
When I notice that I am focusing on an unhappy past event in my life, I find that being of service to another person quickly improves my mood by making me more mindful. Any simple action that I can make to brighten someone else’s day helps to bring me back to the present so that I can focus on what matters most.
It can be something as simple as saying good morning to a stranger, holding the door open for someone who is walking behind you, or genuinely smiling and saying thank you. Or to really help me to appreciate my own good fortune, I will make a donation to a cause that touches my heart, offer assistance to someone in need, or give some love and support to a good friend.
Focusing on my purpose:
Along with remembering to be of service, I try to remember to bring my focus back to my purpose. Some of us are very aware of and familiar with our purpose in life. For those of us who have not yet identified our own purpose, it is an exercise that I highly recommend performing.
By bringing my attention and energy back to my purpose, I make the past immediately lose any hold that it had on me. I become happier because I am now fully aware of what brings meaning and joy to my life. I am once again living in the present moment and anything that does not align with my purpose rightfully loses all importance to me.
For me, a logical extension to being of service and focusing on my purpose is practicing gratitude. Like with meditation, I try to have a daily gratitude practice. It helps to keep me focused on the wonderful things that are present in my life at this very moment. It also helps me to put all the events in my life in perspective, without letting anything take over and take away from my daily blessings.
No matter what situation we find ourselves in or what struggles we may be facing right now, we can always find something to be grateful for. I aim for a list of at least five things for which I am grateful every day. It can be something as simple as a hot shower, a sunny morning, or an easy commute to work. Sometimes the smallest things are the ones that can bring us the most happiness.
One of the healthiest things that we can learn to do for our mental wellbeing and overall happiness is to learn to practice forgiveness. Some of us may think that forgiveness is something that we give away, something that we do for the benefit of the person who has wronged us. But in reality, when we forgive we are the ones who benefit the most from it.
By forgiving we allow closure to happen. We allow whatever bitterness, resentment, and anger we once had to melt away. We lighten our emotional load. When we forgive, we fully accept what has happened and no longer allow it to affect us emotionally. It is one of the most liberating practices that we can establish in our lives and a great source of happiness.
Finding the lesson to be learned:
One of the final steps in letting go of the past is to find any possible lessons that can be learned from it before letting it go for good. This is the only thing of value that the past has to offer us. Any lesson that can be applied to the present moment or learned for future use is valuable, and will make any previous pain we experienced worthwhile. Once we have figured out those lessons, the past will have done all that it can for us and we can let it go with no regrets.
Leaving the past where it belongs:
Once I have completed all these practices, I know that I am fully ready to let go. I put the past events away with no intention of ever retrieving or reliving them again. I know that I am ready to completely focus on the present moment once again and I feel happier.