One life lesson we may learn too well is to seek happiness in good things ahead. We look to that future moment when we’ll get that promotion, realize that dream, buy that special thing, or take that vacation, as the time when we’ll be happy. However, if that is your primary focus, you may find yourself caught in the stress of forever seeking and never fully enjoy what is happening right now.
This tendency is a product of an important ability, delaying gratification—which can be a good thing. That ability helps you to put your time and energy into what is most important in the face of more immediate or superficial pleasures. Delaying gratification enables you to pursue things of high value and deeper purpose.
Yet, these two experiences, enjoying what is happening now and pursuing important long term goals, need not be viewed as an either/or choice. They reflect two primary skills that go well together—focus and intent. When you merge these two skills, you learn to be happy now. In this article, we’ll look at three simple actions that develop these skills and help you arrive at a state of present happiness.
Meditation is a practice of “being present” by focusing your attention in specific ways for a period of time. As you meditate, you learn to observe where your attention is located. For example, you could be afraid about some future possibility, worried about something that happened in the past, or engaged in something that is happening now. You learn to recognize when your attention is drawn off to the past or the future so you can return to the present. This is a skill that you develop through consistent practice over time.
That is not to say that it is never productive to think about the past or the future. Reflection and planning are important skills as well. Yet, when you are unable to let go of worry and fear, you lose your ability to consciously choose your point of focus. Meditation teaches you to consciously focus your attention in ways that are most appropriate and beneficial to yourself and others. You can then intentionally direct your actions toward what is most important to you while also being more fully engaged in what you are doing at the moment.
As you develop the ability to be present focused, you start to notice more detail in what is occurring inside and around you. You can taste this moment because your attention is “here.” You also discover that you can choose to focus on any number of different details about what is happening. For example, you could look at events with an eye to finding what is negative, disappointing, or wrong. This might lead you to look for someone to blame for that. Then you could complain about it. Generally, that’s a recipe for unhappiness.
On the other hand, you could choose to see what is good. You could actively look for what is going well and the positive things that are possible because of these exact circumstances. Rather than finding fault in yourself, others, and events, you could discover that everything is set up just right for what needs to happen. You could appreciate “what is” and be grateful for it. This is a powerful intention to bring with you wherever you go.
3. Shift Your State
As you learn to look at life through the lens of appreciation, you’ll likely discover that no matter how strong your intention to do that, there will be times when you don’t. There will be circumstances that challenge your ability to find the good in them. Old habits of negativity, judgment, blame, and complaining will get triggered and you’ll lose your appreciative focus.
When that happens, see if you can catch yourself in the act, and insert a mental pause. See if you can observe your reaction, without being consumed by it. Witness your thoughts and feelings with a light, curious attention. Understand that thoughts and feelings come and go—and you have a choice about which ones you entertain and maintain. You can choose your focus in line with your intent. That is the key to being happy now.