“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”― Albert Camus
We often assume that happiness comes as the result of something— the result of having enough money to buy something you want, gaining career satisfaction or achieving some personal goal.
But there is a problem with this view of happiness.
When we attach happiness to something or someone, we make our happiness in life dependent on things out of our control. We in essence surrender the ability to control our enjoyment with the world around us. This leaves us never fully satisfied with ourselves or our circumstances.
To fix this, it’s time to change how to we think about happiness.
Happiness is not an emotion, rather it’s a mindset.
Happiness comes not from external factors, but from within ourselves.
To be happy means being fully alive and aware of the beauty of the present moment.
“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better.” — Paulo Coehlo
This is a mindset shift I’ve been exploring over the past year. I tend to live in the future, always thinking about what’s next and making plans to get there. I also tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the past and the mistakes I’ve made in my life’s journey, so as not to repeat them again.
But I realized something huge over the past year. I started seeing how much life I was missing by allowing my thoughts to navigate away from the present.
That all changed a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune arthritis condition. That news suddenly put a halt to all my future planning. Every day I was consumed with the pain and the reality I felt trapped in. It made me fear that I wasted the past and would lose the future. My only way out of this constant mental struggle was to focus only on the present and be grateful for all that I have.
I needed a new way to stop letting the disease control my life and consume my thoughts. Instead of feeling helpless and like my happiness was a product of these things out of my control, I decided to do something about my circumstances and rediscover what truly makes my joyful each and every day.
So, how can we live more in the present moment and create greater fulfillment in our lives, no matter the circumstances?
1. Practice Gratitude
“It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering.“ — Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert recently discussed gratitude in an interview with Anderson Cooper. Colbert talked about how he lost his father and two brothers to a plane crash when he was ten years old and said,
“I don’t want it to have happened. I want it to not have happened, but if you are grateful for your life, which I think is a positive thing to do, not everybody is — and I am not always — but it’s the most positive thing to do, then you have to be grateful for all of it.
You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for.”
When we remind ourselves why we’re grateful for life, all of the bad disappears and we stop wasting thoughts on the problems of the past and the worries of the future. We turn our attention instead to appreciating the present moment.
So make a list of what you’re grateful for every day, whether on paper or just in your head. Find reasons to appreciate today.
One of the first things I did after my diagnosis was try meditation. I read that autoimmune conditions can be triggered by stress, so practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation help alleviate the pain. I read 10% Happier by Dan Harris, a news anchor who discovered meditation after he had a panic attack on live TV.
Meditation grounds us in the present moment. It teaches us to slow down and helps us learn to control our thoughts. It’s about patience and recognizing that we let our minds wander in a million directions every day, which distracts from the present.
Start small by spending only five minutes of time completely quiet and still. You can use an app to guide you or just set a timer. Build this into a daily habit so that you spend some time every day honing your ability to focus. Now, I appreciate the smallest moments — like waiting in line or in my car at a stoplight — to just meditate and be present.
3. Help Others
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
The often overlooked habit that we can easily build into our lives to help us truly feel alive and grateful is to help others. When we give ourselves in service of other people, we focus our attention on their needs and the joy it brings to help them.
So a small change to my daily routine has been reaching out to friends and family every day and looking for small ways to help them.
Pick a friend and reach out to him or her. Plan an outing, go on a walk, take care of an errand, fix something, or just be there to talk to that person. Giving to others reminds us what life is all about and why we should be thankful for it.
Over the last year I turned to practicing gratitude, meditating and loving the people around me. I found that by living in the present moment, I found more beauty in the life that I was taking for granted. I learned to slow down and appreciate everyone and everything around me. And I started feeling a whole lot more grateful for life — the good, the bad and the ugly.
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