O.K., I admit the title is meant to be catchy, but nevertheless I want to share a useful insight. Although this post is somewhat lengthy, I encourage you to read on. This post touches the core issue of happiness.
Who are the unhappy people that you have ever met in life?
Pause for a moment. Think briefly about them. Who are they?
Got the answer?
If you have thought about a number of people, you may have noticed how different they are.
Perhaps some are mothers at home. Perhaps some are managers or CEOs in large corporations.
Perhaps some are jobless. Perhaps some are students.
Perhaps some are rich. Perhaps some are poor.
Perhaps some are losers. Perhaps some are winners.
So many times we have seen stars to rise and fall, those who had everything in terms of money or worldly success, yet ended up lonely and miserably.
Do they hope that they are going to be happy one day in the future? Or, do you regret or their lives in the past?
We seek happiness
We seek happiness in things, collections, or material possessions. But it only accumulates stuff.
We seek happiness in sport, business or academic achievements. But it only asks for more.
We seek happiness in a fast-paced professional carrier. But it only leads off the middle way (and the lack of balance).
We seek happiness in indulgence in food, drinks, sex, and so on. But it leaves us empty even more.
We seek happiness in kids, wives, husbands, partners, or a family. But it limits our personal development.
We seek happiness in the acceptance or recognition of others. But it supports our low self-esteem and makes us unable to think for ourselves.
The truth is this.
Happiness cannot be found in possessions, achievements, other people, relations or businesses. We are misguided by thinking that happiness is outside us. And if this or that happens, then we will become truly happy. Not true at all.
Nothing outside us will make us permanently happy. Ever.
Happiness is a state of being.
(For myself I thought that becoming a mother would bring me the highest fulfillment and the greatest satisfaction in my life. But this is not the case.
Don’t take me wrong here. I’m a happy mother. I love my kids deeply and passionately. Yet, becoming a mother has only opened more desires which were always there, but in a salient state. I want to be a great mother, and at the same time, I want to become much more. )
Happiness is like breathing
Happiness is like breathing. It is joy that exists now, in this moment. It is a way of being. Being is expressed by breath, similarly as happiness is expressed by being.
Happiness is within your reach at this very moment. It is not about a mystical experience, neither meditation. It is not about the accumulation of rewards, achievements, friends or possessions. As everything in your conscious life, you become happy by choice. What you need to say and commit to is this:
“I choose to be happy NOW.”
The emphasize is on the Now.
That’s it. You don’t need to change. You don’t need to improve. You don’t need to become healthier, brighter or more skilful in order to be happy now. You don’t need to reach more peaks neither more goals. You don’t need to buy more stuff. You don’t need to have more friends. You don’t need to be older, wiser, or smarter.
You need to be yourself in the Now. Happiness is a side effect of this.
How to be unhappy?
O.K., the above reasoning likely sounds familiar to you. But … we have not touched the real issue yet. Here we go.
Let’s go back to the unhappy people in life. In my experience, all unhappy people I met were in one of the two categories:
- either strong worriers (worrying about their circumstances, family, job, money, payments, health, and future events)
- or, strong past dwellers (i.e. holding tight on the past hurts, disappointments, traumas or events).
My conclusion is this. What prevents you from being happy is that you don’t live in the current moment. Instead, you live either in the past or in the future.
Think about it.
The only time we can experience is Now. The moment in which you are reading and understanding these words. We only have this present moment. Nothing else.
Past is in your memory, while future is your imagination.
The metaphor of driving
Holding onto the past is as if driving forward by looking in the rear mirror only! You can’t anticipate what is coming before you. You cannot prepare for the bends, road bumps, traffic lights, sudden stops that are on your road. You cannot enjoy the wide perspective of the scenic views ahead. You cannot respond timely when the action is necessary. Because it will take the time to refocus on your front vision and you will act too late.
Worrying about the future is taking your conscious attention (your laser beam Conscious Self) to the scenarios that you may experience one day, or likely never. This is like driving with your focus on what is a few-hundred meters away from you. Since you can hardly see what is there, except for a rough overview, you cannot really predict the actual traffic situation as you have too little time-related data, you cannot fully prepare for it. And in the meantime, while focusing on your projected future traffic ahead, you can be bumped by a car which is suddenly on your right but escaped your vision.
Do you follow me?
The only way to drive well is by being present in the moment. You focus on what you see in the front. At the same time, by using the far-reached as well as peripheral vision, you can fully anticipate what is coming ahead, from the left and right. And by using the rear windows you can see how the past is being changed and whether you need to take it into account now.
Take it as a metaphor for life. When you focus on the Now you also include sufficient views of the past and the future. It works.
The ultimate secret to happiness
We can now formulate the ultimate secret.
The secret to happiness is to live fully in the present moment.
Or in other words,
What hinders your happiness is the denial of (your participation in) the present moment.
Now is the only accessible point of power you have. This is your Operational Point, i.e. the point from which you can act. What you are feeling, being, doing, living in this very moment determines your happiness (or flow).
You may think about past or future as separate events. But this thinking or feeling, intuition or analysis happens now. As a result, you are evoking in your mind either the past or the future in this very moment. And in this way you take focus (say the light from your laser beam Conscious-Self) from what life is for you now to some aspects of life beyond your immediate control or influence.
Where does it lead to? Simply to a conflict between your direct experience of the Now that happens anyway and your conscious awareness that is thrown out of the present moment. So, your inner conflict between your here and now, where you don’t want to be, and your remembered past or imagined future, where you want to be makes you unhappy.
Nothing ever happened in the past. It happened in the Now. The past was once the Now.
Nothing will ever happen in the future. It will happen in the Now. The future will at some point be the Now.
Some ideologies, doctrines or systems work on the premise that there is a better, happier future for us. We only need to conform to a specific set of rules, follow this or that leader, live by a set of certain principles or follow this or that life-style. And then, some day, we will be happy. This is an illusion.
And I am reminded about this when I see the name of God in the bible “I am that I am” or when I read that “The Kingdom of God is within you” (or “among you” depending on the translation). God’s consciousness is about being in the present moment. As simple as that. Eternity is in the Now.
Are you trying to get somewhere else than where you are now?
How many times did you look at your kids and wished they were at school instead of nursery?
How much as a child did you wish the end of a school year (=holiday) that had just started?
How much do you wish this meeting / project /work / task to be finished now?
Are you waiting for your life to happen? Are you waiting for holiday, the end of the season or the beginning of a new one, your kids to grow up, a new house to be bought, or a better job? Are you waiting to be discovered, to be smarter or more enlighted?
Waiting is a state of mind in which you focus on the projected future and deny the present moment. In doing so, you only anticipate the future and cut yourself from the chance of learning and enjoying the now. Waiting and anticipation for the better future to come is loosing your power of actually creating the very future you want in the now.
What is so magical about the present moment?
You simply cannot be unhappy in the present moment. If this sounds contradictory to you, just think about it. There is a moment of now, a split of a second, a tick on a clock, and in this moment, you either accept what is or you take an action. There is no other choice.
Your full concentration is on the now. And you actively participate in this now. This is the perception of the flow, hence the expression of happiness.
So, if you are present in the now, fully agreeing with what is or being in an action, then there is no focus left for you to worry about something tomorrow, 12 steps ahead or considering a guilt from yesterday, your childhood abuses or disappointments.
If you have ever experienced flow (being in the now), you know that it is impossible to have a problem in the Now. Problems are caused by perceptions from your Conscious Self dwelling outside your Operational Point. If you perceive a problem, it means you are living with a situation without holding an intention or possibility of taking the action now.
This all sounds good, … but where is learning from my past?
There is certainly place in the Now to learn from your past. You may temporarily choose to hold on the past to properly grieve about the loss in your life, be it a beloved family member, a friend, a dog, a job or something else. And I personally think that this is important.
The goal of such a grieving or going through the past events, however, is to live through the related experiences and choose to condense the great ones into the seeds of gratefulness. The goal is to hold memories about the joy, growth and happiness that these experiences have brought you. It is about practicing the memory of the heart.
What helps in this process is to look at a large scope, time-wise (months or years) or space-wise (hometown, country or a continent). The final purpose is to transform these experiences into the gratitude that you choose to cherish in the Now, or into the feeling of being blessed that you experience in the moment.
This all sounds good, … but where is planning?
Planning, goal setting or setting up habits have a unique purpose. If you think that planning or goal setting is only about future, you are wrong. The purpose of goals and plans is to set up a direction of your journey (yes, this is the future aspect) so that you become crystal clear on the action in the Now. Plans and goals give you a reference frame for your focus in the Now, so that the Now can be lived more satisfactorily and joyfully.
In short, planning helps you to live the Now more efficiently.
The present moment
Remember there are no problems in the current moment. When there is a situation with which you need to deal now, your present moment awareness will support you with a clear mind so that your decisions become efficient and your actions become decisive.
Do you remember the driving metaphor?
If you are consciously aware of the moment, taking responses in relation to what is happening on the road right now, you will drive well and safely. Most car accidents happen because the driver’s awareness was withdrawn from the present moment, either by going deeply into thinking, falling asleep or being distracted by external actions, e.g. turning head away to talk to a passenger.
(Note: Driving on a highway may also induce a trans state in which your consciousness goes into a deep thinking or a type of a meditative state. This usually happens on when the traffic is small or the road easy. )
This all sounds good, … but how to live in the present moment?
Being present in the Now may be difficult at first if you have been worrying or holding onto your past for a long time. The easiest way to bring your awareness to the present moment is to focus on breathing. As simple as it sounds. In-breath and out-breath. In-breath and out-breath.In-breath and out-breath. And so on.
Exercise: Red ribbon breathing
Practically, I recommend to do the following. Deep, slow, abdominal in-breath followed by a slow out-breath. To know that your breath is abdominal, put your hand just below the navel. Your hand should go up with an in-breath and down with an out-breath. Ideally, your out-breath is 3x longer than the in-breath. So, you can count, “one” (in-breath), “two, three and four” (out-breath).
In addition, imagine that you breath out any unease, pain or discomfort that you may feel inside or hold in your body now. Imagine this discomfort as a long, thin, red ribbon. While breathing out, make your mouth slightly open, making a small “o”-mouth, for the ribbon to get out, of course ;).
This is an excellent exercise to focus on the moment (or prepare and fall asleep in the night) if you follow this for 5-10 min. Then, whatever issues you have to tackle, you simply look at them and decide which actions are to be taken in the Now.
Of course, it is difficult to be present 100% in all moments in life. But our goal is to be present as much as we can.
Let me repeat the most important finding. The secret to happiness is to live fully in the present moment.
The only Operational Point of your life is in the present moment.The power is in the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions in the Now.
It is not your past that prevents you from being happy. It is your tight hold on the past, the focus of your attention on dwelling, replaying former disappointments, griefs, hurts and so on. Whenever you worry and replay your past in the present moment, you are only repeating the mental patterns for it to become your reality in the Now. Whenever you worry and project imagined fears into the future in the present moment, you are only creating the mental patterns for it to become your reality in the Now.
The only way to break this pattern is to bring your consciousness, your Conscious Self, to the present moment. Then you either accept what the moment brings or take an action.
I encourage you to focus on the Now. Have trust. Be present. Accept or Act.
The flow of happiness is yours.
This post is inspired by The power of Now book, by Eckhart Tolle.