Happiness is like the sun behind the clouds. It’s there, but the clouds have to clear before you can see it.
And what are the clouds that have to clear? Memories of the past, plans for the future, day dreams, fantasy. Pretty much anything that isn’t rooted in an actual reality.
Our minds love to dwell in these clouds. It seems to be its default mode of operation.
This fact has been observed since humans started observing the nature of human thought. The mind spends most of its time immersed in the past and future.
Very rarely is its full power invested in now.
When taking time off from singing about sex and booze, Van Halen observed:
“Right now, hey
It’s your tomorrow
C’mon, it’s everything
Catch a magic moment, do it
Right here and now
It means everything”
Are You Here Right Now?
What are you doing right now?
Do these words have your full attention?
Or is your mind elsewhere?
Are you worrying about a business meeting later today?
Perhaps your daughter is having a tough time navigating the arbitrary cruelness of the 8th grade social hierarchy.
Are you obsessing over that girl you met last weekend who never texted you back? The girl you just knew was perfect for you.
If you are, then you aren’t fully present with these words.
The Illusion of “Else”
Whenever you think there is somewhere else to be, or worse, someone else to be–other than where you are and who you are at this very moment–you’ll struggle to find any happiness at all.
All you can truly experience is whatever is happening right now. Everything else is a memory or a fantasy.
Often when we lose ourselves in pleasant memories of the past, or hopeful dreams for the future, we do it to escape what is happening now. Perhaps right now isn’t so great.
But learning to be present with what is currently uncomfortable, or downright hurtful, is just about the greatest thing you can let yourself do. I’ve written about it many times before.
Give Up Hope.
We hold out hope that things are going to improve.
We hold out hope that we will find more caring friends.
We hold out hope that we’ll find the perfect job.
We hold out hope that we will meet the woman of our dreams and the good times will last forever.
We ignore evidence to the contrary, that those things probably won’t happen in the perfect way we’d like them to. Perhaps they won’t happen at all. We ignore the informative experiences of our loved ones, our close friends, as well as our own experiences.
We often don’t like what we see, or what we have experienced. We judge these experiences as bad, as opposed to perfectly normal human experiences that happen to everybody in the world.
We don’t want the bad, we just want the good.
We’ve tasted the good. The good makes us feel great. It’s exciting. It’s like a drug. We want the good to continue indefinitely.
Yet when the good doesn’t continue indefinitely, we figure the situation wasn’t really right after all. Someone tricked us.
“That-guy-wasn’t-what-he-seemed” type of thinking.
On to the next.
How many times must we be fooled?
If the happily ever after stories aren’t attainable, you may ask “What is all this for?” or “What’s the point of all this?”
You might want to throw in the towel and give up.
Because you are faced with the stinking rotten truth.
You are all you’ve got.
It’s up to you.
So I say yes, throw in that towel if you all you do is hope.
Hope is what prevents you from taking action. It keeps you in the realm of fantasy instead of looking to the only place that we can actually control.
So enough with the hoping, already.
Come back to you, right now.
Bring Your Attention Back Home
Our attention is almost everywhere but where we are.
And that’s the problem.
As the saying goes “life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans’.
Well, happiness and contentment can be found right now, right in front of you (that’s the sun). You just think it’s going to be found somewhere else (in the clouds). Even worse, you think everyone else has found it but you (cloudy thinking).
Can you uncover happiness? Yes.
Can you find a better job? Yes
Can you find a soulmate? You can find someone, but who knows how it will turn out.
Can you find better friends? Yes.
All these things can happen. You can find greater life satisfaction. I wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t true. I am walking proof of this possibility.
But the ironic aspect is that I had to give up all hope of things getting better before things really did get better. Because that hope involved future conditions outside of my control. Setting up conditions is the enemy of happiness. Conditions say that you’ll be happy when something else occurs, but that something else may never occur.
And worse, conditions ruin the experience of “currency”. You can’t find joy in what you are currently doing because you are busy lamenting the uncontrollable conditions you find yourself in that aren’t to your liking.
Conditions are an easy way to lay the blame for unhappiness on someone, or something, other than ourselves.
Putting the Effort Into Now
Once you realize there is nothing “out there” in the world of conditions that is guaranteed to make you happier, you have no choice but to think about now. There is nowhere else to look.
That’s what I did.
I put my effort into now.
I realized I didn’t have to do anything different. I just had to do what I was already doing.
Salsa, teaching, training, reading and studying.
I continued doing what I enjoyed, and stopped doing what I didn’t enjoy (mostly unsatisfying social activities).
And this is worth repeating: the act of doing is what brought me contentment. Not any perceived rewards.
Once I cleared away the clouds, the delusion, that there was some mysterious “something else” that I should be doing, I uncovered the happiness that eluded me for so long.
It was right there all along.
What Can You Do Now?
My experiences inform me that there are a number of things you can do “in the now” that result in greater life satisfaction. Studies on happiness back these findings up.
Remember, it’s the process of “doing” that makes the difference, not any reward.
1. Connect with the person in front of you
Without distraction, and without conditions or expectations of anything else beyond the moment.
Unmet expectations result in disappointment. It often becomes “so and so disappointed me” or “the date was disappointing”.
Isn’t it interesting that it’s usually the unplanned events, or spontaneous events, that are often the most satisfying? Perhaps it’s because you had no chance to develop expectations that couldn’t be met.
So the point is to understand the relationship between expectations and satisfaction and, whenever possible, drop unreasonable expectations (and learn what is reasonable and what isn’t)
2. Put the cell phone down.
It’s turning your brain into a digitally addicted, anxiety-ridden, unaware pile of mush.
3. Help other people.
Altruism is a basic function of the human experience and is huge component of happiness.
The Dalai Lama said there are two types of selfish people:
“Unwise selfish people think only of themselves and the result is confusion and pain. Wise selfish people know that the best thing they can do for themselves is to be there for others. As a result, they experience joy.”
Which type of selfish person are you?
4. Work on something creative or athletic, so that you can get into “flow”.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the phrase “flow”. He is also widely known as the man with the most difficult-to-pronounce last name for speakers of non-Slavic languages.
You may know flow as “being in the zone”.
“Flow” refers to a state of consciousness where our mental attention is fully devoted to a task, neither too hard nor too easy.
We are not self-conscious, we aren’t “watching” ourselves, we aren’t even aware of ourselves.
We are one with the activity. Anxiety is not present. Achieve this, and you will be happy. No doubt.
But to be in flow, you need to be present right now.
5. Maintain a sense of awe.
I have taken up the habit of just looking around and saying “that’s amazing” at whatever it is that strikes my fancy.
It can be trees, architecture, technology, a woman, a movie, an idea. My thought process doesn’t proceed past the state of amazement.
It acknowledges the fact that this world is amazing and awe inspiring, a world I am fully part of, yet don’t possess as my own.
But with certain things, I let my awe expand deeper.
For example, I love cathedrals, the older the better. I stand before them staring at their facade and I’m in awe.
I visited cathedrals in London, France, and Italy and I marveled at how ordinary men built these massive structures hundreds of feet in height, without the benefit of modern machinery.
What type of religious devotion (which I don’t share) inspired them to build these beautiful structures that reach towards the heavens?
What artist created the stained glass windows, vividly portraying Biblical stories for the largely illiterate congregation?
What were the stories of the men who built them?
How did they live?
How did they think about their lives?
Were they like me?
What did they worry about?
I sit in a cathedral, 700 years old, and I just wonder. I perceive the sun shining in through the expansive windows, symbolically illuminating the cathedral in “divine light”.
I am in awe.
I sit connected with the millions of people over the centuries who have sat in the same pews that I sit in, and contemplate the same icons and images, and listen to the same mass.
I am in awe.
I’m in the moment.
And I’m happy.
P.S. If you found this post interesting or helpful, please “like”, “share”, or send to someone who needs another perspective on life. You never know what can change someone’s life for the better.