Just Be: Finding Happiness in the Here and Now
Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.
People often want something different, something more. We find it quite hard to see the potential for happiness in the present, even when the present is fantastic. Even during our “most exciting times,” we tend to think about what’s coming next. On vacation, we’re thinking of the next day’s surfing, of the friends coming to visit, of the great dinner we’re going to have. It’s hard for us to “just be,” to eek out all the joy in what is happening right here, right now.
Having the capacity for happiness all the time
People are forward-looking, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. We are a species of planners. We think ahead to what we want to accomplish to be ready for what comes and to take advantage of anticipated opportunities. But all this focus on the future makes it hard for us to give our attention to the present moment, and if we can’t be present in the moment, it’s hard to be happy in the moment.
One way to give more of our attention to the here and now is to be open to happiness (see Happiness). No one is happy all the time. We all have trials, tragedies, and tribulations that are part of life. But if we can save a place in our heart for happiness, we can learn to be happy (almost) all the time. We can be happy with the most normal everyday places, events, and conditions. We can learn to see what is special about the present moment because every moment is special (see Meaning from Mindless Moments). Once we develop that capacity, our lives will never be the same. We will be happy (almost) all the time, and a life that had been spent waiting for the next special thing will be enriched by all the special things that are always around us.
Using gratitude as a tool
Part of finding happiness in the present moment is being specific about what makes us happy and expressing our gratitude for those things. Simply identifying the elements of the present that make us happy—my children are healthy, I feel the sun on my face, I have a good job—can be too fleeting. Don’t just acknowledge them; be grateful for them. It makes the present moment run deeper. It seems an easy thing to do, but we have to be intentional about it. We have to make it a habit, or it may end up being one of those things we do for a while, then let slide to the back burner. It can be helpful to find a specific way to express that gratitude. It may be meditating on what we’re grateful for, it may be writing it down in a journal, or it may be writing thank-you notes regularly. Incorporating gratitude in our lives will help us to not take things for granted. It will remind us to say thank you to those people in our lives that bring us joy and will help us to be present.
Reinterpret the negative in your life
All of us have elements and events in our lives that are not ideal, and it can be all too easy to dwell on them. The key to remaining present in the face of the negatives in our lives is in how we interpret them. Instead of allowing them to diminish our happiness, we can be happy in how we plan to address them (or endure them). Instead of labeling them as “bad,” develop a sense of perspective to reinterpret them as they are relative to the rest of your life. We can focus our attention and energy on the positive elements, keep some perspectives on the less desirable elements, and keep space in our hearts and minds reserved for joy and serenity.
Of course, some events and conditions in our lives are just bad—there’s no way around that fact—and we need time to process them and learn to adjust our lives to them. Some tragedies will always be with us—they can become a permanent part of our psyche and emotional landscape. But if we can accept that fact and process those events as best we can, then we create a vision of a path forward in which we make space for happiness again. We will do everything we can to make the present moment somewhere we want to be and somewhere we can be happy.
In the present moment I am here. In the present moment I am happy.