WHY NOT DRIFT?
What’s so bad about thinking more about the past or future compared to the present? Why is present-orientation the happy choice?
Let us count the ways…
First, spending a lot of mental-time in the past or future is symptomatic that one is unhappy in the present.
One of the most obvious “messages” from a mind preoccupied and drifting to the past or future is a message of escape. The sad aspect of most mental drifting is simple: the present is fairly disappointing. This is particularly true of the past-positive and future-positive personalities. If “today” was as fulfilling as it could be, the mental need for happy memories or grand futures would hardly take hold of the imagination.
It is natural when life is going poorly for the mind to escape to other times and places. For the lucky the fantasies and recollections are positive. For the less lucky the mind drifts to the negative events in the past that precipitated their present unhappiness, or to excessive worry about an even worse future.
Second, if the present is not the predominate preoccupation, then one has too much idle time on one’s hand.
Those who get caught mentally drifting, apparently, have lots of time on their hands. It goes without saying, that anyone living an active life, filled with enjoyable pursuits, has little time to drift. A busy life preoccupies one’s mind. An empty life sets one’s mind adrift.
Usually, there are unfortunate circumstances to blame. Often, it is the sick, the hospitalized, the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled, and the lonely that find their days empty. In other cases, it may simply be the more common situation of an unfulfilling marriage, a boring job, or a lack of social contact.
Whatever the circumstance, people who spend a lot of time mentally drifting have time on their hands and a strong need to escape the drab circumstances of their present existence. Sadly enough, for those with a lot of time on their hands, the past or the future seems the only way to occupy their minds.
Again, we get a strong message about how necessary an active, involved life-style is to happiness. Early on, we said that “an idle life is depressions workshop,” and here we see part of the reason why. With empty, unoccupied time the mind wonders, either to reliving past hurts and failures, or to excessive worry about the future. What’s worse, given a lot of solitary time with nothing to do, such negative thoughts and fears tend to become exaggerated far beyond normal proportion.
In all fairness, not all mental drifting is negative (as we detailed above). Some past memories or future fantasies can be quite positive indeed. Still, even positive drifting is basically escapist in nature — the symptom of a person with too much idle time on their hands. It is a symptom of an inactive or unfulfilling life…