Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present. -Babatunde Olatunji
When I was a little girl, I lived in the moment. Nothing bothered me unless it was happening right now. Even when there was something ongoing in my life that I didn’t like, I never worried or even thought about it unless it was going on right there and then. Then I grew up. It would be accurate to say that I have spent much of my adult life relearning what came natural to me as a child.
Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do. -Jean de la Bruyere
One thing that I noticed as I got older was that I started waiting to be happy. “I will be happy when my exams are over,” I used to tell myself during undergrad. “I will be happy when my baby is born,” I told myself when I was pregnant. Then, just last week, I found myself thinking that I will be happy when my thesis is done. And now, one week later, my thesis is done. And guess what? I found myself waiting for something else. When I caught myself in the cycle of waiting to be happy, I reminded myself of one of the most important lessons I learned in life:
Happiness is only possible in the present moment.
Whenever we worry, it is almost always either about the future or about the past. Most of the time, the present moment gives us nothing to worry about. By living in the present moment, you deprive your worries of the very oxygen that fuels them.
If you find it hard to be happy even though you are living in the moment, I recommend you read The Science of Happiness. If you have so many negative moments that being wholly present is a negative activity, then you need to change other things in your life.
why “happiness now” is hard
Our society is very goal oriented. As a result, most of us believe that happiness comes at the end of some task. We live our lives as if we have to earn the right to be happy. We wait to find “the one” to be happy. We wait for that big promotion, and then we’ll be happy. We wait for retirement, and then we can be happy. We wait for that special thing to happen, that one last goal, and afterward we can live happily ever after.
But, sadly enough, the day never seems to come. We are so goal oriented that before a millisecond has passed since our last achievement, we’re already onto the next big task. You got the big raise, but if only you could have more vacation time.
I say, forget the future. Live for right now. You deserve to be happy, now. Not later. Not after you’ve acquired some special rank in life so that your peers might look upon you with great admiration. Your happiness is not for them, it’s for you. Forget about trying to achieve some goal to bring about happiness. Happiness is a worthwhile goal, all by itself. And I’ll tell you why.
It is only possible to live happily-ever-after on a day-to-day basis. -Margaret Bonnano
Why we should try anyway
People who are happy are more likely to help others and do well on cognitive tasks. Happy people live longer, and enjoy greater success in both work and love. They are typically active, open-minded and feel in control of their lives.
By being happy and in the moment, all the things that we want to happen will happen naturally. By being present, you are wholly committed to right now, and what you are doing. That level of focus always gets the job done. Better still, you become more able to enjoy the reward of accomplishment.
On the other hand, if our brain gets a lot of practice worrying, then by the time we meet our next goal, we are so used to worrying that we almost instantly find something else to worry about. So, the vicious cycle just keeps repeating indefinitely. Only you can put an end to it.
The goal oriented nature of our society encourages this type of worry. It means we are ambitious. We want a lot from life. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not if it detracts from our happiness. The current moment is the only moment that you really have. The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet. Make this moment a happy one. Don’t let it be based on some set of external circumstances. Make this very moment a happy one by choosing to stay present.
Life lived for tomorrow will always be just a day away from being realized. -Leo Buscaglia
tips for being happy now
It’s not always a simple task to live in the moment. I would argue it’s as hard as being continuously happy, which is not a coincidence. Some of us never lose the ability to live in the moment. That ability we had so innately as children. But others, like me, have to work hard for it after reaching a certain age. Over the past few years, I have built for myself a set of skills that help me stay present. These have made a bigger difference in my happiness than just about anything else that can be explained in a single article.
1) Make a commitment to be happy right now
Happiness, like a relationship, is aided by conscious commitment. Even when it’s not easy, I remind myself that I want to be happy NOW. Not after the paper is written. Not after my cold is over. Not after we settle into our new house. Right now. With this attitude, I am not leaving my happiness to chance. I am actively involved in it, searching for ways to be happy in the present moment. Be an active participant in your own happiness!
2) Allow pleasure into your life
Our society does not like pleasure. “Pleasure” is almost a dirty word. It’s as if getting too much of it will spoil us, and make us rot. But pleasure works for keeping us in the present moment like nothing else.
When I find myself worried about either the future or the past, I try to do something that I really enjoy. For example, I love to sing, so I try to find at least half and hour to practice singing.
The point is to find something that you, not someone else, enjoys. It is sure to bring you back into the present and lift your spirits.
3) Take care of your health
Our physical health is directly related to our emotional well-being. Sometimes all it takes is a little tune up, and we are back to living happily in the moment.
When it comes to food, a delicious meal can certainly be uplifting. But to really help us, it should also be healthy. I am still amazed by how much better I feel after a wholesome meal. A simple, homemade meal, such as chicken with brown rice and a fresh salad, or beef with potatoes and a bowl of vegetable soup, is sometimes more effective than much more complex ideas. The meal literally feeds your brain with the ingredients necessary to restore balance.
I also find it very helpful to exercise. Different exercise styles work for different people. If you don’t already know what type of exercise lifts your spirits, experiment with different forms. Some people find Yoga very helpful, while others benefit from more aerobic exercise. If you already know what works for you, try to find some time to exercise every day. It can make a big difference.
4) Practice being mindful of your thoughts
Being mindful of your thoughts means observing your thoughts and attempting to redirect your mind when necessary. Meditation will help you become more mindful, though practice will help immensely.
Whenever you catch yourself thinking about the future or past, your mind filling with negative thoughts, worry, or anxiety, try to catch yourself. Be aware of your thoughts, and realize when you are doing this. Over time, you will catch yourself faster and faster. Then, redirect your thoughts into the present. What are you doing precisely in this moment? What colors are there around you? What smells, or sounds? Feel your pulse. Close your eyes and feel your breath.
Doing this physically rewires your brain. Over time, your mind will instinctively redirect your thoughts to the present moment after only a brief moment of anxiety about the future.
Another thing that really helps improve mindfulness is meditation. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes, meditation will clear your head of clutter and allow your mind to focus on the present. With a daily practice at being wholly present, you will slowly carry that ability out into the rest of your day.
Life is busy. Every day we think ten steps ahead trying to fit everything in. We get so caught up in all the worry and anxiety that it becomes difficult to be happy in the moment. Keeping lists is great for goal setting and getting things done, but not if your happiness is conditional on ticking every item off the list.
If you get into the habit of putting off your happiness, it can be a hard habit to break. But you can break it! The first step is to make the commitment, right now. Commit to your own happiness. Just making this commitment is itself a great accomplishment.
By allowing yourself to bring pleasure into your life, committing to your health, and being mindful of your thoughts, you can become a lot more present, and much happier. We wish you all an amazing journey through life, filled with happy moments!
Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present. -Marcus Aurelius Antoninus