I once read a quote from Jim Carrey that read something along the lines of, ‘I wish everybody could get to the top so that they could see it’s not the answer.’ That quote changed everything for me.
It made me realize that there’s a real irony to the way most of us live. We don’t actually want the things we think we want — not deep down. We think that money holds the key to our happiness. When it isn’t money, it’s fame, or a promotion, or pizza. It’s never what we have, but always what we don’t. And every new thing or sensation that we acquire quickly loses its novelty.
It’s probably why married couples cheat on each other, why washed-up celebrities resort to drugs and why our desperate attempts to find happiness often leave us right back where we started.
We’re always searching for the next best thing. We’re thinking too much about happiness and too little about now — and that’s the problem.
Our Endless Search For Happiness
What was the first thing you thought about when you woke up today? Maybe it was breakfast. When you finished eating, maybe you started craving coffee. While you were drinking coffee, perhaps you were replying to emails or scrolling through social media. At every moment, you were probably lost in thought about another. I know I normally am.
It’s doesn’t make any sense, really, because for as long as we do this, we’re only distancing ourselves further and further from the happiness we’re searching for. It’s like quicksand: the harder you struggle, the faster you sink. The more we chase contentment, the longer we delay its arrival.
Most of us spend our entire lives on this endless quest: working hard to get good grades, working harder to receive a promotion, earning enough money so that we can retire. But when does it end? When do we conclude that we’re happy enough — that we’re satisfied and can finally live in peace?
We’re wishing away each moment in search of the next. Maybe that’s the reason why we’re all so unhappy, because we’ve forgotten what it really means to be present.
Free Cocktails in Ibiza
I remember lying on a sunbed in Ibiza a couple of years ago. I was on holiday with my girlfriend, enjoying the free cocktails we’d been given after leaving a review of our hotel on Trip Advisor. In my lap was a book called The Power of Now, written by a German author I’d never read named Eckhart Tolle.
You’ve probably heard of the book. It’s great, but it contains a lot of fluff. Tolle uses some really spiritualistic jargon that I found pretty hard to digest, but I didn’t mind because in-between all that was some really useful information.
In essence, Tolle explains how every single moment of displeasure, whether it’s anxiety, stress or jealousy, comes down to one single thing. You’re not being present.
I’ve found that one pretty hard to swallow over the years, but I can’t argue. He’s right. My mum getting cancer, then my fiancé, leaving school — I couldn’t change any of those things, but deep down I’ve always known that no matter how much I wanted to just curl up into a ball and feel sorry for myself, my ability to cope was entirely down to my mindset.
I could wallow over the past or the future all I wanted, but happiness would always be available to me in the present if I’d just get out of my own head.
To quote Tolle,
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”
And really, as much as we might hate to admit it, that’s true. It’s like now. I’m writing an article, sipping a mug of green tea and listening to The Japanese House. That’s all. Nothing else, whether it’s in the past or the future, needs to concern me at the moment.
So what do you do? You start learning how to be more mindful — how to stop giving in to your desires and start realizing that happiness can only be found in the present moment.
Noticing how your body feels, the sounds around you or even just becoming aware of your thoughts — these are all really easy ways to make that switch.
When you do these things, you separate yourself from your mind. Your thoughts lose their hold on you and you start seeing them as little voices floating around in your head like clouds in the sky. Awareness makes us realize that we aren’t obliged to listen to our thoughts. They don’t define us, and by noticing them, we become detached from them.
By thinking less, or becoming less attached to our thoughts, we can focus truly on being present. We aren’t thinking about how much we’d love to be eating pizza or how many emails we have to reply to in the morning. We’re just enjoying this moment.
It’s why Tibetan monks spend years meditating high up in the mountains and why researchers have been digging into the science of presentness for the past two decades — to get really good at focusing on one thing: now.
And with every new study, the answer becomes clearer: happiness isn’t about the past or the future. It never was. It is and always has been about now.