By Seiki "Stan" Hirota
Originally published January 27, 2020 on LinkedIn
Our youngest left for college last fall and it has taken me this long to process and understand how a departure of one child can have a significant impact on my life and to my sense of sufficiency.
When my youngest son was around, my schedule was always centered around his school and club soccer games and practices. I would sit on the bleachers with my camera and enjoy watching the growth and improvement of my son and his team mates, and take their pictures. I really enjoyed these moments. Now, this lifestyle that I have always enjoyed is gone, and it’s time to adjust to the change. I’m usually good in accepting and embracing change, so I was kind of caught off guard that this change would be a difficult one for me.
Since then, I have been researching and reflecting on what happiness is all about, and learned that all happiness is in the present and there are only negative emotions in the past and the future. Also, I learned that there is a term called the “Empty Nest Syndrome” and I guess this is what I was suffering from.
What I realized was that I was constantly going back to the past with regret such as, “I should have spent more time with my son,” “I should have played soccer so that I could have coached and connected with him better,” “Oh, I can’t believe I said that to him, what was I thinking.” I should have done this, I should have done that, this thinking never ends.
Regardless of how hard we think and reflect, we can never change the past, so thinking about it too much beyond what we can learn will just make us unhappy. I think this is what empty nest syndrome is all about. Since my son is currently training for a triathlon race in college, rather than being negative about not having soccer games to cheer for every weekend, I look forward to the few opportunities that I will have this year to see his race. This will give me ample time to take up some photography lessons in the meantime, so that I can take better sports action photos of my son and his team mates.
Living in the present. This is so critical for happiness. Regret and guilt are in the past and worry is in the future. Anger is about the past also. If you could let go of the past, even the last few minutes, you could leave what ever made you angry behind. If we could live in the present, just focused on the present, we could live in a happy world free from negative emotions like regret, guilt, and worry.
Being an empty nester gave me an opportunity to think about this important principle in life. There are definitely positive emotions in the past. The past is certainly worth thinking about if we can learn from it. But it’s a bad idea to keep going back to it with negative emotions such as regret. Living in the past is a bad idea if you keep wishing that you could change it because you just can’t. It’s a waste of energy.
Then what about looking back to the past with happy thoughts and memories, the good old days. By thinking about how good the past was, I think there is a risk of getting into a mental mode that the present is not as good as the past. Going back to the past is unhealthy and it’s better to live in the present. In order to live in the preset, maybe you can do what you used to do in the past that made you happy now. I reminded myself not just to reminisce, but to do something today based on the learning from the past.
After all of this, I don’t think an Empty Nest is a bad thing….it’s an adjustment. It’s an adjustment of making a more conscious effort of focusing on now, trying to live in the present as much as possible. Push the past out of your mind with what I’m going to do today. Push the future out of your mind with I’ve got it planned to the best of my ability and written down so I don’t have to worry about it now.
I’ve realized that it’s much better to put your mental energy into what to do now.