Re-Imagine the Future

  • how to be optimisticThis post is about cultivating “The Hopeful Self.” It’s about acquiring optimism that can be cultivated to elevate your mood.This post is about you. It’s about enjoying life right here and right now. If implementing any of this advice ends up attracting other people, that will just be icing on the cake.

    One of the amazing things about being human is that we experience life on a continuum. Maybe there are Zen masters who reach a level of present-moment awareness more than 50% of each day, but I’ve never met them. I have met a few cats that seem to be able to pull that off, but no humans.

    Humans live their lives in anticipation of what’s coming next. When we expect it’s going to be something enjoyable, our moods lift. When we anticipate heart ache, hardship, or pain, our moods plummet.

    Here’s an interesting question. If you imagine a future that involves purposeful self development toward the goal of more consistently enjoying life, what would happen to your expectations about the future?

    Let me explain that question with a concrete example. Let’s say I have a friend named Ted. He’s kind of average as far as his typical mood states go. He feels down once in a while. He feels really happy once in a while, but most of the time his moods follow the ever-changing expectations of the moment.

    When lunch is five minutes away, his mood lifts a bit. On Friday afternoons he feels more energetic. While getting ready for his Monday morning workout he feels tired and blue. Afterward he feels successful and happy. In the weeks before a vacation his happiness goes up for a few minutes each time he thinks about the family members he will get to spend time with. When his boss dumps a pile of work on his desk his energy seems to disappear along with his cheerful spirit.

    Then one day, he stumbles across a book that is all about mental strategies a person can use to purposefully enhance happiness and feelings of well-being. He begins to imagine himself in the future, changed by the contents of the book as he develops new positive emotional habits.

    What would happen in this situation?

    Would it be just another temporary ripple in his mood? Or might this change bring about a shift in the way he thinks about his entire life? Could the shift be so dramatic that his mood state changes more than normal?

    It is possible for a person’s entire mood and mindset to shift suddenly. You see this happen in sad circumstances when someone realizes something terrible that sends a shock wave through the mind, changing that person’s perception of everything. I’m wondering if it could happen in the positive direction as well.

    What if you re-imagined your future in a very specific way? What if the change was a decision to practice happiness for the rest of your life? Could that decision cause you to anticipate a future where you were less reactive to the painful experiences and quicker to embrace and appreciate the good things?

    I’m talking about both internalized habits and externalized habits of happy people. Here are some examples of each:

    Internalized Habits:

    • Savoring the moment as it unfolds
    • Embracing humor on purpose and often
    • Practicing gratitude
    • Practicing calming mindfulness of the present moment
    • Making up new rituals for remembering happy experiences
    • Accepting your limits to let go of regret or rumination about past failures
    • Reminding oneself to accept the limitations of others so you can appreciate them

    Externalized Habits:

    • Increasing the frequency of connections with friends and loved ones
    • Allowing yourself to afford the time, money, and energy for things that benefit you emotionally even if not all that much on a practical level
    • Living an authentic life that is focused on things you find meaningful
    • Alternating between high-energy activities and relaxation as you stay in tune with your body and mind

    how to be optimisticThis is just the tip of the iceberg. If Ted believes he can continuously practice the art of enjoying life, and he anticipates he will actually get better at it, his anticipation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I don’t know if you’ll get the same result, but I often get a boost of energy and positive emotion when I allow myself to imagine a future that includes the purposeful embrace of mental habits that yield happiness.

    Yes, I know the problems will still exist. And yes, I keep an eye on the problems and dangers that I can do something about. But still, I like to allow myself to practice that “what if…?” type of thinking that unleashes a torrent of positive expectations for what’s to come.

    Here’s my invitation to you today. Re-imagine your future. Imagine a future in which you gradually increase your positive emotional habits. Embrace joy and all the good things that are worth your time and mental energy.

    It’s a refreshing experience for me. The trick is remembering to do it often. They say you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I guess one of my hopes is that the other people in my life would routinely remind me to embrace the idea that I have the power to choose the focus of my life. I just thought I’d take an opportunity today to remind you to practice embracing what’s good in your life.

    If you have any brilliant tips for building positive emotional habits, let the rest of us benefit from your idea. Share your thoughts in the comments section below. You never know when your one comment might change the course of someone’s life for the better.

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48 thoughts on “Re-Imagine the Future

  1. Karen Ritzer said:


  2. Rosanne said:

    I’m currently listening to ‘Flow: Living at the Peak of your Abilities’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihayi, a psychologist who has spent a lifetime studying & researching what it is that makes people truly happy satisfied & fulfilled.

    His research findings are fascinating. Understanding that we have to continually find a balance between challenges & our skills … not too difficult, not too easy has really helped me to understand why I find some things enjoyable & others boring & how I can work daily on that balance to ensure an enjoyable & fulfilling life.

    Another book that I found fascinating was the ’12 rules of Life’ by Jordan B. Peterson who created this book as a result of his responses to questions in Quora.

    There is just so much to enjoy & be grateful for. If we live in the west, we are better off than 97% of people in the world.
    It’s only our fears & limiting beliefs that prevent us from living a life of passion & purpose.
    Everyday I am grateful for so many things & this really helps me to manage the low times & challenges which are essential to allow me to appreciate the highs & good times.

    Thanks so much for your articles James, always really enjoy them.
    Cheers, Rosanne

  3. Shelly Nelson said:

    I’m reading a book entitled “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom. One of the comments that has stuck with me is, “Strangers are just family you haven’t met yet.” For me, remembering this helps me to be grateful for every experience strangers bring into my life. I was at the airport texting my Uber driver and a lady came behind me and called out, “Come on. Come on. Let’s go… Don’t be walking and texting in front of me!” I had an urge to be irritated, but I remembered the comment and thought of her as my unusual but fabulous and strong aunt or sister and I started laughing. She laughed too and several around us that witnessed joined in. My mood was absolutely changed for the better by changing my perception. Thanks James for these uplifting reminders to be in charge of our happiness! Have a beautiful day all!

    • Tracey said:

      Oh Shelly, I love that! Good for you!


    • Caroline May said:

      I read this book as well…..thanks for sharing

  4. Arla said:

    I wear a little gold necklace every day. It’s a simple chain with the word “love” written in script. Honestly, I can’t even remember how it came into my life. Every morning when I put it on and evening when I take it off, I repeat a few words, including “Love.” It keeps me focused on all the good things in my life – even on the very hardest of days. And believe me, I’ve had some this past year!
    What’s especially interesting though is how MANY people notice and comment on it – with a smile on their faces! It’s almost as if just seeing the word “love” can subconsciously give others a little lift. It has started lovely conversations and interactions.
    If you focus on sharing kindness and genuinely connecting with people (even when you’re tearing your hair out and emotionally disintegrating on the inside!), it’s incredible how that can improve your life and the lives of others. Sometimes, not even in the moment but hours, days, months later.
    And best of all – It’s free!

    • Tracey said:

      Hi Arla,

      Your story is so honest and true. It reminds me of a quote I once heard that goes like this:

      Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.
      ~ Mother Teresa

      Smiles can wash away so much pain and stress with one small, simple act. It is all about connecting with another and it not only brightens their day but your’s also. Thank you for sharing.


  5. Kat E. said:

    I completely concur. This exercise is one that I practice as often as I can. This for me, especially helps on THOSE days when you feel as though you’re never going to get a break or change your life. Even on those calm days when I see something unexpected like a beautiful flower, hearing a bird sing or just see a lovely butterfly, my mind will just go where I want to see what I’d love it to truly and honestly be! And I will get there, sooner than later!(: Thank you Sir for all of you wonderful advise, ideas and thoughts that can really makes us go hmm. Have a spectacular day! Kat E.

    • James Bauer said:

      That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  6. Josie said:

    Love this article, and many others.
    I have always been one to look forward to the future, especially when life throws you curve balls that are difficult to get through.
    I have not always been blessed with positive results, but I often think of what the results would have been had I not looked forward.
    Looking forward and thinking positive and dreaming big does wonders for your self esteem, and helps you get through the tough times and put them in the past.
    I believe that everything happens for a reason, and something good comes out of even the worst of moments in our lives, even if it’s just a lesson learned.

    Here’s to life!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. XM. said:

    Why not remember to take some flowers to a friend’s house once in a while just because their friendship is truly precious and endlessly valuable? Gratitude ripples..

    Thanks, James, for that article. It came at a most fortuitous time.

  8. Connie said:

    Thanks, James, for sharing this. It is really helpful.

  9. SkyKat said:

    Great reminder to what my grandfather always said, “life is an adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved”. When the difficult times in life challenge my positive perceptions and begin to dampen my feelings of hope, in addition to reading inspiring words, I have found it extremely beneficial to listen to uplifting music. Thankfully, I have found it impossible to hold 2 opposing thoughts at the same time, so the music helps keep my mind focused on good feelings and thoughts.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • James Bauer said:

      I really like that. I think I might write that down and put your grandfather’s quote on my desk until it sinks into my memory.

  10. Sara Milleson said:

    There are so many wonderful posts about gratitude that I wanted to share a book that has really impacted my life. It’s called The Magic, by Rhonda Byrne who wrote The Secret.
    It takes you through 28 days of incredible ways to improve your life through gratitude.
    Thank you James for your inspiration and I enjoy all the articles as well as the posts!

  11. Rosie said:

    Wonderful post….just perfect! Having gone through a lot of midlife turmoil with aging parents, unexpected divorce etc. I can really support this idea as working well to keep moving in your life, appreciating each moment for what it brings rather than what might have been. I tend to have no expectations, not low but no and then I am always pleasantly happy with what comes my way. Related to this is allowing yourself to feel sorrow at loss. Don’t try to skip or gloss over sadness, it’s part if the healing process. Thank you!

  12. Denise Kohle said:

    Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is just let your mind dwell on these things.

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