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“Carpe Diem”: What It Means, a Philosophy for Living in the Present

by | Apr 9, 2024

“Carpe Diem” is a Latin phrase attributed to the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace. It belongs to Book I of his Odes, published in 23 B.C., and can be translated literally as ‘seize the day’. Other translators prefer ’embrace the day’, but the sense is similar: prioritizing the present over the past and the future. Horace included this expression within the phrase “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero”, meaning ‘seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in the future’.

Thus, one of the most important poets of Greek literature invites us to revalue life considering its beauty and finitude. However, the phrase is not as simple as it seems and has had different interpretations in different historical periods. Let’s see how it has come to the present day and the keys to putting it into practice.

Meaning, Origin, and Journey of the Expression “Carpe Diem”

From an etymological perspective, “carpe” means ‘to grasp’ or ‘to seize’, but it can also refer to the term ‘to take advantage of’. On the other hand, “diem” means ‘day’, turning the phrase into a call to seize the present in the face of the fleetingness of time. This is suggested by the definition of the Royal Spanish Academy.

Beyond its origin in imperial transition Rome, poets, writers, painters, and musicians refreshed it in different centuries until bringing it to the present day. The artistic currents of each moment interpreted it in their own way, although always rescuing the conception of living in the present.

Middle Ages. It was interpreted in a more fatalistic sense, linked to seizing the present because one could die soon.

Renaissance. More related to living in the moment because old age would come later.

English Literature. The poet Robert Herrick used an allusive phrase in his book “Hesperides”, published in 1648.

Baroque Era. The interpretation was similar to that of the medieval period.

Twentieth Century. In 1938, the American poet Robert Frost took up the phrase to name a poem. There, it alludes to “Being happy, happy, happy / And seizing the day of pleasure”.

Present Day. One of the productions that brought it back into fashion in recent decades is the film “Dead Poets Society”, from 1989. It is part of the central argument of the film directed by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams.

7 Keys to Practicing Carpe Diem

While there is no magic formula for happiness or for making the most of the day, it is possible to foster practices that bring awareness to the present.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a philosophy widely disseminated today, which can be linked to carpe diem. It consists of a type of meditation that promotes the separation of thoughts and concentration on the present.

The idea is to detach from them to recognize them and rethink them. Mindfulness is positive for managing emotions and focusing, among other contributions, on a healthier life.

Work on Anxiety

Thinking too much about the future is the opposite of carpe diem. Moreover, if uncertainty about it generates anxiety. For this philosophy, living waiting for something takes away time from enjoying the present, while increasing stress and limiting possibilities.

In this sense, various practices related to mindfulness are increasingly applied to Overcoming the Past

Carpe diem proposes working on past problems so that they cease to be an impediment to current enjoyment. It suggests transforming negative experiences into learnings for the future. The idea is not to forget or ignore past events, but to take charge of them, so that they do not control your emotions.

Carpe Diem, Relax the Mind

Another tool to carry out this philosophy is to eradicate recurrent thoughts that cause discomfort. Especially when they lead nowhere and only revolve around useless ideas. In this sense, it is positive to exercise some psychological keys to live in the here and now.

Meditate

An activity that connects with the present and allows controlling unwanted emotions. Unlike mindfulness, it is more focused on relaxation and mental release.

Strengthen Self-Esteem

Living in the present with joy involves accepting oneself and having good thoughts about oneself. For this, it is important to avoid harmful self-criticism, as well as to enhance ideas and activities that make us feel good.

Exercise

Beyond the benefits for the body, physical activity also allows focusing on the present. It requires concentration and helps to turn off negative thoughts. Studies affirm its link with greater mental well-being and with preventive effects on depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

There are activities that combine physical and psychological work more specifically, such as:

Yoga.

Tai Chi.

The Pilates method.

When and How to Apply Carpe Diem?

Resorting to this philosophy is useful when we feel stressed and overwhelmed. Exercising it requires focusing on two central axes. On the one hand, concentrating on present events; on the other hand, valuing each moment and considering it unique.

Often, carpe diem is confused with an attitude of detachment and disinterest in the future. However, prioritizing the enjoyment of the present does not mean forgetting about what is to come, although it does put the here and now at the center.

It can be applied both for work activities, where one seeks the best version of oneself, and for leisure time. Sometimes, taking a break is necessary to reflect on our current state and our desires.

Carpe Diem to Enjoy the Present Without Forgetting Past and Future

The philosophy promoted by Horace is also linked to hedonism, whose premise is the pleasure of life regardless of the past and future. Furthermore, it is associated with fatalism, which promotes living day by day in the face of the inevitable fate.

But, in this case, the connection with what has already happened and what is to come is not forgotten, but rather analyzed from another perspective. It proposes a look more linked to the present, where the past must serve as learning and current enjoyment must be more important than future planning.

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