Recently, I’ve become a lot more aware of LIFE. I’ve begun to really reflect on life, both on that of my own, and the interaction of others both within my family, my network and even further to all those out there on this planet.
As you may know, I’m engaged to be married, and about to make some commitments for the rest of my life. And perhaps it’s this which has got me thinking, or maybe it’s simply something that comes naturally with age. But, what I’ve really come to notice is that too many of us are caught up in events and situations, resulting in an inability to truly just live, be present, happy, and at peace with ourselves.
We’re always worrying or planning for the next “big” thing, never just living in the moment. And, having become far more conscious of being in the NOW, the AMAZING impact it is immediately having on my day to day life!
I understand that there’s some cultural differences here amongst different societies across the globe. But, overall, the general state of affairs in peoples’ lives is that of worry, grief, anxiety, and fear. Simply put, we’re not happy, we’re not present, and we don’t live in the here-and-now.
So, I asked myself, the following question:
“Do we all really just want to be happy? Or do we all just chase after things that we think will make us happy, never actually achieving that elusive state of happiness?”
Maybe we just want to live in fear, and allow our worries and anxieties to take control of our minds and completely reign free.
Or, maybe, just maybe, that’s not the case.
Happiness vs. Being Present
Most of us do want to be happy, in the general sense of the word. But, our perception of happiness is somewhat slanted. We feel like we’ll be happy “when” something else happens. Some event, thing, or person is going to bring happiness into our lives. In turn, it would allow us to be present, and simply enjoy the moment, living in the here-and now.
But that’s never really the case, is it?
Sure, we might be happy for a couple of weeks after we land a particular job, move into a new house, or buy a shiny new car. We might be present and in the moment for a few hours after a blissful experience or some windfall that came in our direction. But, surely, it never lasts long enough. That state of simply just being, never lasts that long, and seems to disappear just as quickly as it came.
Truly happy people are able to live in the moment, all the time. They’re able to be present, and simply enjoy the journey of life, and not just worry about the destination. You’ve seen these people here and there. They walk amongst us, but they’re the rare kind, almost the endangered species of personalities in human beings.
But, if we really do want to be present in the here-and-now, we ultimately have to achieve some level of happiness, enough to satisfy that seemingly insatiable drive within us to continue wanting more and more. So, that being said, how is that we can simply just be happy, be present, and enjoy life for what it is.
Do we need to reach some sort of threshold in order to achieve a certain state of happiness or blissful presence in the world? Well, yes and no. Of course, unhappy people will always find things to be unhappy about. They’re the kind of people that look at life and everything around them with a negative lens, interpreting every situation into a negative one. Happy people do just the opposite.
So, what’s the catch? Are we just born happy or unhappy? Is it purely genetic? Or is there some way that we can be happy and present at the same time?
Basic Human Needs
All humans have some basic needs. We need food, water, shelter, and clothing to survive. (Maslow’s hierarchy of need). When these elements are in lack, there’s a particular mental, emotional, and physical strain that’s clear. We need these things to survive. They provide some basis for our happiness, but not the entire picture. The remainder of the picture has much to do with our career, economic situation, relationships status, and mental well-being.
Basically, we’re happy – and subsequently able to be present – when we feel that all these needs are met and fulfilled to our highest standards.
For example, every person needs love. They need to feel and be loved by another human being. This is an absolute necessity. And, of course, they need to be financially stable. If they’re struggling financially, those worries tend to usurp any ability to be happy and present.
However, once basic human needs are met, and a person has those things in their lives, they should easily be able to achieve some state of happiness and ability to be present, right? Well, we all know that this isn’t always the case. Even when we have these things, we tend to want more. It’s almost an insatiable desire or quest for the accumulation of things that’s never-ending.
This is called the Hedonic Treadmill, a concept that equates life, and our pursuit of all things, to the simplicity of a treadmill. We can never get off this treadmill, because we’re never actually satisfied. When we get what we want, we seem to want more, in a seemingly never-ending cycle that goes on forever and ever.
Think about the lottery winners, for example. You would think that winning millions of dollars would make you happy, right? Well, it would for a short period. But, after a while, you would reach a state of normalcy, and eventually get bored, wanting something else as well.
Why is being present so difficult?
Before we try to answer that question, it’s necessary to understand the intrinsic nature of the mind. Which is to dwell in the past or to worry about the future. Our uneasiness about what’s to come is actually our strategy to prepare for the future – our mind’s ingenious way of ensuring that we’re equipped to survive. Without such readiness, the mind can’t prepare the body to thrive.
So how does this future-oriented mind know exactly what to prepare for the seemingly unknown? The mind relies on one thing to predict what’s to come: the past. Ruminating over the accumulated contents of the mind, including both acquired skills and inherent tendencies passed on by prior generations, we use mental shortcuts, allowing the past to shape the future.
Our mind is constantly toggling between these two opposing thoughts. First, we fear the inevitable end brought by the “who-knows-when” tomorrow. Tomorrow is risky, frightening, and in some way, represents one step closer to the end – from something to nothing.
And then, on the other hand, there’s the comfort in the possibility of hereafter, something just as powerful that lies beyond today – hope. Hope that tomorrow will be better. As our mind teeters between the fear about the imminent and the hope for the future, dissonance sets in. Our mind performs this dance between the polarities, constantly trying to find a natural resting place.
The question remains:
What is the role of the “present” for our mind?
Being in the present, known as “mindfulness,” is the mental state of being engaged in the now without emotionally reacting to our thoughts. For most of us, though, it is nearly impossible to stay in this state for any real length of time.
Because the present is given to us, our mind perceives it as something not worth dwelling in – it’s not worth thinking about the present because it’s simply guaranteed.
However, there’s a certain advantage to this: Stepping away from the now allows our mind the opportunity to be creative, to dream, to innovate. All creative genius is the result of this temporary transmigration of the mind from the present. So, it does serve us a real value to step away from the moment. Consider the lifestyle of Zen monks: Monks tend to dedicate their mental focus in the now, and, while they showcase a remarkable dedication to tradition, they tend not to be adaptive to innovation.
Constantly avoiding the present, the mind poses a question:
Why worry about that which is already decided?
It naturally migrates to the past and becomes prescient toward the future. Often, this tendency gets out of control, and we begin to see dangers that are not actually there, leading to unnecessary anxiety about the events that may not even happen.
How do we solve this dilemma of the ever-frenzied mind? Humans have the exceptional capacity to watch our minds as an outsider.
“A man who knows himself can step outside of himself and watch his own reaction like an outsider.” John Adams
But, most people achieve such clarity for only fleeting moments, dismissing such experiences as a mere illusions or mental wanderings.
Enlightened scientists and prophets over ages have emphasized the necessity of mindfulness. This act of watching our mind as an observer is what makes humans unique, the only way to counter the cognitive dissonance that sets in resultant of dwelling in the polarities of the past and future. Step outside of your mind and watch it like a witness. You will see all the mischief by your mind and be able to once and for all, be truly present in the moment.
“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” — Denis Waitley
The 5 Steps for Being Present
So, considering all of this, how can we possibly just be happy, be present, and enjoy our lives. How can we stop worrying about tomorrow and regretting yesterday? Well, the process itself is simple to understand, but like anything else in life, it takes conditioning. Fear and anxiety are concepts of the mind. The mind creates fear and anxiety, putting us into a state of distress. But that’s because it’s been conditioned to do that.
If you’ve read some of the articles that I’ve written in the past, you know that I’m slightly obsessed with the psychology of the mind, why we do the things that we do, and how changing our thinking can automatically then change the outcomes. There are some simple steps that you can take right now that will get you on the road of being happier, fulfilled, and at peace with your life, subsequently allowing you to be present in the here-and-now.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t simple. It involves reconditioning the mind slowly over time. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do profess to know a thing or two about the mind and bettering myself. And, I know that you can live in the present moment if you adhere to these 5 simple steps of daily habit development.
You focus on these 5 habits and you can be present, but it’s going to take you at least 90 days to develop the habits. And, so many things can distract you in 90 days, but if you can make it that far, you can rest assured that the habit will begin to take root in your mind.
Step 1: Daily Gratitude
The first 5 to 10 minutes of your day should be devoted to daily gratitude. This involves writing down what you’re grateful for. Even if you feel like you have nothing to be grateful for, find something. Spend the time to write it out, no matter how big or small it is. But this must be done on paper, or in some digital format. You can’t just think it in your mind. It has to be an act that you perform every single day.
Why does daily gratitude work?
When you’re actively searching your mind for things to be grateful for, you go from seeing problems to seeing solutions. You go from a mind that’s constantly focused on the negative, to one that seeks out the positive, no matter how big or small it may be.
Step 2: Physical Activity
This can be 5 minutes a day, 30 minutes, or an hour, but there has to be some time blocked off to develop the habit of physical activity, such as exercise, yoga, or some other lightly-strenuous activity. This doesn’t have to be something exhaustive just a daily routine that becomes a habit.
Why is that?
Habits are built up slowly over time. Whatever habits you have now, you’ve most likely had for years or even decades. So, when you tell the mind that you’re going to do something that involves an enormous commitment, in the beginning, while it’s still exciting, it might work. But we all know that, all too often, we simply get overwhelmed and frustrated, and end up throwing in the proverbial towel.
But physical activity doesn’t have to be an exhaustive commitment. Just commit to walking around the block just one time every single morning. Yes, one time. Why one time? Well, like any other habit, this small change will build over time. When you only commit to a small amount, the mind simply can’t argue its way out of it.
As you do your physical activity, no matter how big or small it is, focus on your breathing. Try to be as present as possible. Feel the breath as it enters your lungs, your heart as it beats the blood through your body, and the feel of the wind or the breeze on your skin. Just focus on being present, that’s all. Don’t worry about anything else during this time.
Step 3: Limit Distractions
Commit yourself to limiting your distractions during a specific block of tie. Pick one small block of time, whether it’s for 15 minutes or even one hour, and turn everything off. This includes the television, Internet, phones, and everything else that can interrupt you. During this time, find something to read that will inspire you or motivate you, or simply spend it with someone you love.
Our lives are so filled with distractions, that we tend to forget the things that really matter and count. We have to realign ourselves with the things that are important. Status updates and world news matters, but not at the expense of your happiness and ability to be present. Give this a try but ensure that you do it every single day.
It’s hard for us to limit the distractions. It’s been said that the average person checks their phone over 160 times per day. But, in order to find some inner peace, be happy, and be present, this is important. Do just 15 minutes first, and focus on just one thing to better yourself, or time with the family. Then, build it slowly over time.
The goal is to limit the distractions and just be with yourself for as long as possible in any given day. You don’t need to quiet your mind; you just need to quite all the noise that’s out there in the world, pulling you in every which direction.
Step 4: Find a Way to Give
Find a way, every day, to give something to someone in need. It doesn’t matter how big or small, and it doesn’t have to involve money. Our most precious asset is our time. Not a single person on earth has more time than the other; it’s the greatest equalizer. Giving your time to someone else in need is one of the best things that you can possibly do. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be a tremendous commitment.
When you give, you shift the focus from you to others. Each person can give in different ways. Each person can provide some sort of value to another person in his or her own special way. But when that focus does shift, a real transformation occurs. It’s one that’s easily noticeable. If you’ve ever done any charity work, you’ve most certainly felt this before.
This transformation allows us to be happier, more at peace with ourselves, and subsequently, more present. Give it a try today. Try to find something that you can do for someone else in need. See where you can give. Search your mind on how you can contribute something to someone in this world. DO it every day.
Step 5: Learn something New
“You don’t know, what you don’t know” .
It’s not the most well known of sayings, but it ought to be. Our own level of knowledge is often the biggest hurdle in having the competence and confidence to do something different. There are SO MANY quotes I could offer to demonstrate this more clearly, however will settle with two of the most commonly used:
“You will never overcome a problem using the same level of thinking as that which created it”
“Insanity is simply doing the same thing again and again and again still hoping for a different outcome”
Both are from Einstein and clearly show we have to learn from others and implement different things if we want to ever achieve different outcomes!
Learning from others expands our minds to what is actually possisble, and stretches us beyond our current level of thinking.
I assure you, if you want to be happy and more present, give this a try. Do it every single day and really put your effort into it. You’ll find you’ll be far happier, more fulfilled, and more present than ever before. But it won’t happen overnight. Nothing ever does.
For those that know me, your already aware, having been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after 12+ years in the British Armed Forces, I could have used this as an excuse NOT to have a positive outlook. I certainly remember the summer of 2003 was one of the darkest periods of my life, where I was far from being able to find the positives in life.
But I’m here. I got through it, and through doing so, have been able to go on to create such an AMAZING life as I am living right now. I recall two quotes that have helped me in times where I’ve struggled to see the positive:
“If your going through Hell, keep going” . Winston Churchill
“When your facing adversity, look back on all the other times in your life when you have faced adversity and remind yourself, so far you have a 100% track record of getting through!”
I bought a house in the summer of 2018 and EVERY DAY as I drive down the street towards it, I smile with absolute pleasure and gratitude for not just a house but a home I can call my own.
I got engaged on Christmas day 2018 and am due to marry in September 2019. LIFE is GOOD and is going to continue to be so. I am a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) and the resilience to manage and overcome whatever hurdles it may put in my way.
I now dedicate time EVERY day to 6 disciplines which enable me to stay in the NOW:
Journaling – A great way to record your thoughts and reflect on life.
Silence – Mediation is a fabulous way of calming the mind and concentrating our efforts
Affirmations – Overcoming fears and uncertainties, enabling us to believe in our own ability
Visualisation –Powerful images of what success looks like is key to working towards it
Exercise – Healthy mind and body is key to releasing positive chemicals into our lives
Reading – You don’t know, what you don’t know. And THAT is often what prevents you the most!
Drop a comment below and let me know your take on the importance of being present?