We’ve all heard the saying “Carpe Diem,” or “Seize the Day.” It is used in graduation speeches, on inspirational plaques, and even along with the added words, “or die regretting the time you lost.” It implies that letting a day go passively by is somehow a waste of our limited time on earth.
Out of curiosity, I googled “seize the day.” The phrase, taken from a poem written in 23 BC by the writer Horace, was actually part of a longer phrase that encouraged the reader to “put very little trust in tomorrow (the future).” The ode says that the future is unforeseen and that one should not leave to chance future happenings, but rather should do all one can today to make one’s future better.
While I agree that the decisions one makes today influence his or her standing in the future, I am also not naive enough to believe that our efforts to seize today ensure comfort, or wealth, or even happiness. Life is just not that predictable. In fact, I would argue that there are times when instead of pushing to capitalize on opportunity, there is indeed some benefit to letting the day seize us. Yes: letting the day seize us.
Before you begin to think that I live my life passively, let me be clear. I believe in goal setting and in hard work. I believe in networking and in creating opportunities for both personal and professional growth. I don’t believe that things are simply handed to us to make life better (although I do believe in good fortune). I am convinced that we have a responsibility for the decisions we make and the consequences of those decisions. But I am also a strong believer in the power of being open to possibilities; in allowing things not in my plan to guide me in ways I didn’t expect.
This difference in philosophy between seizing the day and letting the day seize us is really a conversation about the difference between happiness and joy. Sure, we can plan our lives in ways that bring us happiness. Our job may make us happy. Our partner might make us happy. A vacation or a good glass of wine could make us happy. But joy? Joy comes from the unexpected….from those moments that take our breath away because they just happened without any planning at all. Think about the laughter of a child on a playground. That child’s laughter as the swing moves in unexpected and unnatural ways is the sound of joy. It is the sound of letting go and letting the moment embrace her.
So should we seize the day or let the day seize us? Maybe the answer is simpler than it seems: BOTH. If you’re out there grabbing the bull by the horns, my best advice is to remember that the bull’s tail could whip around at any moment and knock you on your ass. Sometimes things happen that we can’t control. But we can be open to the moment. And we can be open to joy.