I used to know someone who constantly talked about how things would be better when [insert anything]. She would look to the next thing that was supposed to happen in her life (a job promotion, her children getting to the next stage in life – anything really) and she couldn’t wait to get there. She was certain that next “thing” would make her happy. But happiness never came to her.
I’ve also known people who go on and on about the “good old days” – often referring to their high school and/or college days. People who never let go of their past. I’ve honestly never really understood these people. Either they had very different high school experiences than I did or they are not remembering their youth correctly – and I’m betting it’s the latter. Who wants to go back to such uncertainty and awkwardness?
You know people like this too, don’t you? Or perhaps you are one of them. Once upon a time I looked to the future as my savior – I was certain that my life would get better and true happiness would find me if only:
- I graduated from high school and left home
- I graduated from college
- I got into the right law school
- I graduated from law school and got a great job
I was certain that true happiness would eventually come once I did the “next” thing in line. But I was consistently disappointed – and having to look forward to the next item up over and over again. It was frankly exhausting. Then, quite unexpectedly, I realized that none of these things would make me happy. It finally dawned on me that happiness was ultimately a choice – my choice. I could choose to accept my situation and make the best of it. I could choose to be happy with who I was and where I was at any given moment.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, choice is something I talk about quite a lot (you can find this topic coming up here, here and here). You may be tired of it by now, but I don’t think that I can overstate this: ultimately we choose how to live our lives. It is very simple – although I warn you not to confuse simplicity with being easy.
Happiness is not something that happens to us and no person or thing will make us happy. It comes from within. So how does one choose to live happily? For starters, you’ve got to stop expecting that your happiness will be cured merely by meeting some goal in the future. And you can’t continually live in the past either. Being happy requires living fully in the present moment, no matter what is going on in your life. This means that you allow yourself to feel it all – the good, the bad and the ugly. You cannot truly live in the present without acknowledging, accepting, and feeling it all. This is what I believe people mean when they talk about living in the present moment. And then you choose how to react within it.
Although this is an incredibly simple concept, it isn’t always easy to do. Trust me, I understand that. Choosing to be happy can be quite a challenge. But even then, we choose how to be. We make choices each and every day that define how we view ourselves and the world around us. We choose whether to get help when needed. Choosing to be happy doesn’t mean we make one choice and then we are happy. No, it is really a series of choices that we make each and every day of our lives.
My discovery that I could choose to be happy was made shortly after I graduated from law school. Initially, it wasn’t easy. My mind would sometimes stray and go to my usual “if only” place. However, after some practice (and a new-found awareness) it became easier to do over time. It became a part of who I am. Do I still fail at it? Of course, but I’m now aware of how I want to live my life and am pretty good at quickly identifying when I’m not fully present. Awareness is key here – it is what allows us to make real change.
A bit of a side note: I’m not saying that I’m always happy (or that you will always be happy) merely by living in the present. However, living in the present does allow for an overall happier outlook on life. I’ve found that when I choose to live fully in the moment, it’s hard not to notice the beauty surrounding me each day and the joy that can be found in simple everyday moments. And I’ve got to tell you, life is much more joyful that way. I’ve also found that I’m much more thankful for lots of “small” stuff in my life that used to be ignored. And taken together, this “small” stuff isn’t so small after all. Also, living in the present is merely one piece of the puzzle – there is no single “key” to happiness. However, I believe that it is a very important piece of the happiness puzzle (and it makes our choices a bit easier to make).
I must say that this way of living has allowed me to get through some tough moments in my life. It allowed me to be joyful during my cancer battle. Although that fight was extremely taxing and the chemo drugs did make me feel terrible at times, I still (for the most part) enjoyed my life and those around me. I enjoyed my boys, my husband, my family, my friends – everyone who helped me and my family through this tough time. I focused on the beauty shown to me by everyone who helped my family. It was truly inspiring and kept me going. If I had still had my old mind-set of looking to the future to save me, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through it all. I might have given up (for there was no certain future at that time to look forward to).
It’s amazing how such a simple revelation can change someone’s life. It certainly changed mine. Here’s to hoping that some of you will change your viewpoint as well. Until next time…