Bob is an average guy. He has a decent job and works normal hours. He makes enough money to pay his bills, and even puts a few dollars into a savings account most months.
Bob has a girlfriend. She leaves him sweet notes and likes to spend time with him. And, she doesn't need him to buy expensive gifts or take her on fancy vacations.
Bob has a decent place to live. It’s comfortable, quiet, and everything works. He also has a reliable car — it gets him where he needs to go. Other than getting the oil changed, he has never had to take it in for repairs.
But Bob has a problem, and it’s a problem we all face. Instead of enjoying what he has, he is unsatisfied. He constantly dreams of having something new and something more.
He wants a new job with more money, prestige, and excitement. He wants a new girlfriend who understands him better, and doesn't have the little habits that have come to irritate him with his existing girlfriend. He wants a fancy house with a two-car garage and a swimming pool. And, he wants that sports car he has been fantasizing about — the black one with leather interior and nice wheels.
Bob tells himself that when he has all of that, then he will be happy. As a result, he spends very little time enjoying what he has now. Truth be told, most of his day is spent thinking about the future, when everything will be perfect (or so he tells himself). He is continuously postponing his happiness until that future arrives.
Bob has always done this. What he has right now is what he dreamed about a few years ago. Back then, he had a part-time job he hated because he had to work odd hours — including nights and weekends. The money he made didn't always cover his bills, and he had to borrow from family some months. The money problem was exasperated by his previous girlfriend who demanded nice things that he couldn't afford. And, even if he got her nice things, she preferred hanging out with her friends more than him.
Back then, Bob’s apartment had a roof that leaked…somehow the landlord never got around to fixing it. The refrigerator broke down 4 times in one year. Plus, the neighbors blasted heavy metal music at 2AM most weekends.
And, the car he used to drive — well, it broke down on the freeway on his way home after the late shift one night; he had to call and wake up his brother to come get him. That same car wouldn't start on many occasions, and he had to beg friends and neighbors for a ride to work. There were several months when he paid as much in car repairs as he did in rent!
Even back then, though, there was plenty to enjoy if Bob wanted to. Because before all of that, he had a job where his boss yelled and cussed at him non-stop, and a girlfriend who cheated on him. He lived in his parent’s basement, and he didn't even own a car (he rode his bike everywhere). So, things were definitely good in comparison!
But, Bob was unsatisfied — he dreamed of a new job, a new girlfriend, a new house, and a new car. He told himself that when that happened, then he would be happy! And it did happen — that’s how Bob ended up with what he has today. The same today that we started with, where he is postponing his happiness until “another” future arrives when he has something new and something more.
That’s the trap. Bob, like all of us, has always put off enjoying what he has right now for what he wants in the future. But, when that future arrives, there will be something else he wants; there is always the promise of something perfect just beyond the horizon. Next week, next month, next year — that’s when Bob will finally have what he needs to be happy.
Once you put your happiness on the the other side of tomorrow, however, you will always put your happiness on the other side of tomorrow. And, you will reach the end of your time only to realize you were always chasing happiness, but never managed to catch it.
There is a fundamental truth regardless of your religion or philosophy: the present moment is the only time you can actually live. But, your mind does not like the present moment because the future holds the promise of “more,” “better,” and “perfect.” The mind makes your happiness dependent on something external happening — getting a new job, finding a new girlfriend, buying a new house, getting that dream car.
The mind is tricky, though. Regardless of how many times you achieve, acquire, or attain something, it will always have something new and something more you need to achieve, acquire, or attain.
But, the future never actually arrives. It is always the present moment — that same present moment that you are usually not paying attention to. It is all any of us will ever have. If you don’t learn to be happy with it, you will never be consistently happy.
The question is, how do you become happy with the present moment? First, you have to cultivate gratitude. No matter what your situation is in life, someone has it worse than you. If you really think about it, you can find plenty to be grateful about. Make it a habit to find something every day. Keep a journal and write it all down so you can refer back to it for a gratitude “boost.”
Second, develop a mindfulness practice. Cultivating mindfulness will help you stay grounded in the present moment. You can do this by setting a reminder to ask “Where am I?” or “What is my attention focused on?” (use a post-it note, or an alarm on your phone as the reminder)
Ask these questions every hour, and if you find your attention is somewhere besides the present moment, simply return it to here and now. It doesn't matter if you are walking the dog, washing dishes, working, or relaxing with a friend — focus your attention on right now, and stop indulging mental stories about the future.
The more you make a concentrated effort to notice where your attention is and return it to the present moment, the better you get at it. And, the better you get at it, the more time you spend here and now.
The present moment is where your life unfolds. If you learn to appreciate and be comfortable with it, you will find that happiness is here waiting for you. You can give up the endless search for it, because happiness is not something you’ll ever find in your next job, girlfriend/boyfriend, or purchase (i.e., it’s not “out there”).
note — many people think this outlook means you can’t have a goal, but that’s not the case. It simply means you can’t make your happiness reliant on something you need to change or acquire, because there will always be something you need to change or acquire. Be happy now, and if you achieve your goal, be happy then (which will be now).
And, if you don’t achieve your goal, still be happy then (which, again, will be now). This quote may help drive the point home:
It is said there are two ways to be unhappy: one is not getting what you want, the other is getting what you want!
It’s a succinct way of saying your mind will always postpone happiness if you let it!