I’ve heard people say if you have one foot in the past, and one foot in the future, you’re pissing on the present. I think this is fairly good advice, and I definitely agree that the key to feeling happy and finding enjoyment in life, is to live in the moment as much as possible. In my estimation, just as critical as it is to live in the moment, to not fret about tomorrow or regret yesterday, is to avoid the big picture.

For years I would think about the infinite time before I was born, and the infinite time that will exist after I die, and view my life as this insanely short window in between two endless realms of nothingness, and think, “what’s the point?”  Where’s the utility in caring? Once I die it will be the snap of a finger in the grand scheme of things that everyone I ever knew is dead, and my memory will fade into the obscured abyss forever.

I would think about how many people are on this planet, and how I’m only one of these people, and fail to see the purpose in any of this. I don’t even know the name of my own great-grandfather. Without him I wouldn’t exist, you think I would know something about him, but I don’t. If our legacy doesn’t even carry for more than a generation or two in our own families, then what’s the point of even trying? I brought this up with my psychiatrist and he gave me a fairly interesting perspective.

He told me a story of a man who was walking along the beach. There had been a huge storm the night before and there were hundreds if not thousands of starfish scattered across the sand who were inevitably going to die. As the man walked across the beach he saw another person grabbing a starfish, throwing it back in the ocean, and then doing the same thing over and over. The first man walked by and didn’t give it much thought.

About an hour later the first man walked back across the beach, and once again he saw the same man bending over, grabbing a starfish, and throwing it back into the ocean. This time instead he decided to ask the man, “What’s the point? There are thousands of these starfish, you can’t throw them all back, it’s a waste of time, it really doesn’t matter.” The man throwing the starfish bent over, picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean and simply said “it matters to that one.”

For me, living in the moment is similar to avoiding the big picture. Everything is lost in the big picture. There is a time when the world will end and all humans will be evaporated. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have an impact. The fact of the matter is, if everyone behaved like the man throwing the starfish back into the ocean, then they would all be saved. I feel as though we have an obligation to do our part, regardless of what those around us are doing. Every action we take is either good or bad, and even if it’s infinitesimally tiny in its impact, it does direct the world towards Heaven or Hell. All our actions, even if it’s in the smallest of ways, either make the world a better place or a worse place. We probably can’t change the world and make the world happy. But we can certainly make ourselves happy, and maybe even our families happy. And one happy household might be able to create another happy household. You never know what the starfish will accomplish, but if you don’t throw it back, you’ll never know.

  • Jack A. Bingham

Author of Obsessive-Compulsive Dramatic: My Fight Against OCD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Addiction