The Present-Day Time Machine
“Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” -Lin-Manuel Miranda, from Hamilton of course
Most of us can think of times in our lives that we’d like to relive. Some of these memories may consist of experiences we’d like to redo—those things we wish we could go back and change. Other memories, however, are so pleasant that we wish we could turn back time just for the sake of experiencing them again.
For the purpose of this experiment, let’s ignore the existential questions of whether we’d be reliving those moments with the awareness of the present, or whether we’d simply like to prolong the joy we felt back then.
When these moments occur in the first place—the original events that become memories—we don’t always realize how significant they’ll become in our internal story. That’s only natural, because sometimes ordinary moments can take on much more meaning after the fact.
Based on the explanation so far, we have two categories of memories:
1. Positive life experiences that we’d like to relive
2. Negative life experiences that we’d like to redo
In both cases, the experiences sometimes seem ordinary but become more significant in retrospect.
Now let’s introduce a quick reality check. Sadly, since there isn’t yet a time machine we can order on Amazon Prime—though I’m sure Jeff Bezos is working on it—both categories of memories have something in common:
Aside from reliving them in our mind, either wishing we could change them or simply enjoying them, there isn’t much we can do about them.
But here is some very good news: there is in fact a third category, one that makes all the difference.
The third category contains present moments in which we are aware of their long-term significance.
You don’t need to look back at these moments wistfully—you’re living them right then! These are moments in which we say, “In the future, I’d pay good money for a time machine that would bring me back right here, right now.”
How can we experience more times like these?
I call these experiences time machine moments. The first thing to know is that they are uncommon. While you can appreciate every day for what it brings, by definition the most special moments in your life are highly irregular.
But there are two things you can do to create more of them in your life. Here I’m speaking from experience, as a person who has often struggled with appreciating present moments, always regretting the past or looking to the future. Yet in recent years, whether thanks to the accumulation of “wisdom” or merely out of exhausting all other possibilities, I’ve been able to have more time machine moments.
First, you can pay attention. Look up! Notice. It’s so easy to miss time machine moments when they’re taking place, yet the rewards of experiencing them are so great that it’s worth making a mental shift.
The Hamilton line I used at the top of this post says it best: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
Second, you can act on your feelings. These time machine moments don’t come out of nowhere. Even if they seem magical in a way you couldn’t have predicted, surely you made some decision to create the right circumstance.
Consider this: if you won the lottery tomorrow (a really big one, let’s say), you’d probably remember the moment you heard the news for the rest of your life. But to win the lottery, however unlikely it might be, first you have to buy a ticket.
So if you’re walking by a store that sells lottery tickets and you have a weird feeling, maybe you should go inside and buy one.
Of course, the example needn’t be as far-fetched as winning the lottery. Do some of your time machine moments take place with other people? Maybe you should spend more time with them. Do others happen when you’re out on an adventure? Start adventuring!
The point is that paying attention and acting on your feelings can lead to powerful, memorable experiences—more of those moments in which you don’t have to look back later to appreciate in retrospect. You’re enjoying them right then!