From the Free online dictionary:
Used as an admonition to seize the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future.
In Latin it literally means “pluck the day” or “seize the day”
I have always been struck by Carpe Diem as a great phrase to keep front and center in the way to approach life. As the various twists and turns of life strike out at us this focus will rarely serve us poorly. As a family physician I see patients who spend much of their lives wracked with anguish and anxiety over the future. It’s a cliché, but it’s so true that the only day we ever have is today. Much of what family physicians do is to try to help patients live longer, i.e. have more tomorrows. It is easy to lose focus on the present. So how does Carpe Diem work in the practice of medicine?
Most of what we ask patients to do really doesn’t make today much better. Sometimes it makes today a lot worse. Most surgery patients feel worse immediately after surgery than they did before surgery. Most medications don’t work immediately. So how does health care align with the idea of making every day the very best it can be?
Sometimes it’s easy. Clearly when a condition is making the current day miserable, like appendicitis, diverticulitis, pneumonia, migraine headache, etc. interventions that lead to fairly quick resolution of symptoms fit the Carpe diem philosophy. In the middle of the spectrum are things like high blood pressure and diabetes. Treatment needs to be focused on disease control without making each day a dreaded affair of strict rules and medication side effects. As we get to things like weight loss and smoking cessation you have to decide what you are seizing. One way to think is do the most enjoyable things you can today, and don’t worry about the consequences of today’s behavior on tomorrow. A healthier attitude might be to seize the opportunity today to improve yourself and to get healthier. Eat five a day, quit smoking today, get a workout in today, and remember to take your medicine today. Then keep it up again when tomorrow becomes today.
Like most things in life finding the right balance and using some degree of moderation is likely the best choice for most of us. I think the whole trick is to be intentional in what you do today. Don’t simply let today happen, rather make today a great day. Make intentional decisions, and take purposeful steps to make today better than it would be if you passively let today slip by without being cherished.
So what can you do today to make it better? It’s not likely that worrying about tomorrow, or putting off opportunities to laugh, love or smile will make today better. Pluck the opportunities of the day and gobble them down. Gorge yourself with all the small things you can do to improve yourself. Make great decisions today and today will be better and all of your tomorrows are likely to be better too.