by Dr. Tina Marcantel

girl with presentMy husband Peter and I have been privileged to join our wonderful friends Lisa and Wayne for many Christmas Eve gatherings at their home.

One fun featureof the evening is the “gift grab” game. You’ve probably played something similar: Each guest brings a gift to put under the tree, and as the game progresses people take turns opening the mystery presents. If it’s your turn and someone before you has opened a gift you like, you can choose to “steal” it instead of opening one. The person whose gift was stolen can then open a new gift.

It happened that I opened several gifts that proved to be popular items, which meant losing what I had but also meant I got the chance to open more mystery packages. It got to the point where I was having so much fun opening new gifts that I didn’t feel the sadness of the loss of a gift when it was stolen from me—even if it was something I really wanted!

I was so in the moment—so present—as I tore into the wrapping that I wasn’t thinking about what had happened with the last gift or what might happen to this new one later. The rules of the game dictated that ownership might be fleeting, and the joy for me became that flash of discovery of what one of my fellow guests had provided for me right then and right there.

As I thought back on the evening later, I recognized an important lesson from the game. When I get up each morning, will I be present to the “presents” that day will bring or will I spend my time regretting past losses and worrying about future ones?

That beautiful new flower I discover in my garden, just like the gift in the game, is mine to enjoy only now. Lunch and laughter with friends, a stunning sunset, giggles from a child, a quiet moment with an aging parent—all these must be fully experienced right now. We can’t hold on to the past, we can’t cling to what was; what we can do is be grateful and enjoy what we have in the moment. The gift moves on because life moves on.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with anticipating the future or remembering the past. The key to a joyful life, though, is to experience those thoughts without dread or regret. It’s natural to grieve about someone or something we’ve lost, but it’s our memories of happy, present-conscious moments with that person that help transform grief into nostalgia. By the same token, when we realize that the only thing constant in life is change, we don’t dread future losses—we are too busy appreciating today’s gifts!

I recently read the quote, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and discover that they were the big things.” What special surprises will life bring you today? If you are truly present when you discover them, the joy you experience when “opening” them will last—even if the gift may not.