Happiness is one of the most beautiful things this world has to offer, but like everything valuable, it can be hard to come by sometimes. What people do not realize is that the best way to come across happiness is by living in the present moment, and making the most of it.
How to Be Happy by Living in the Present Moment By Charles A. Francis
“Life is available only in the present moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
If you’ve read any books on meditation or spirituality, you’ve probably noticed that a common theme in most of them is the concept of living in the present moment. They usually describe the benefits of living in the moment, such as better health, better relationships, and greater happiness. They all make perfect sense, yet we still find it difficult staying in the present moment.
As the opening quote by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, our lives are taking place in the present moment. The past is already gone, and the future has not yet arrived. So if we’re not living in the present moment, then we’re missing out on a big part of our lives and that of our loved ones, and much peace and happiness.
In this article, I will try to simplify the concepts of happiness and the present moment, and examine some of the reasons we have such difficulty staying in the moment. Then I’ll give you some practical exercises (that really work) to train yourself to stay grounded in the present moment. The goal is to help you find real long-lasting happiness.
What Is Real Happiness?
We all have some idea of what happiness is, but if we’re pressed to give a definition, we likely find ourselves struggling to come up with an accurate and succinct definition. And even if we do, it probably wouldn’t be a universally accepted one.
The truth is that there are various definitions of happiness. Even when you ask the experts, such as psychologists, economists, and religious scholars, you can still get wide variations. So then what do we do? I would say that you pick the definition that best resonates with you at this time, and remain open to revising that definition as you progress in your spiritual development.
Most of us associate happiness with feeling good. While feeling good is an important component of happiness, what is also important is how we achieve this emotion. Do we feel good because we made an important contribution to society, or because we stole someone’s wallet? Also, did the good feeling arise from outside circumstances, or inner circumstances.
“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” — Mother Teresa
Here I’m going to give you a definition from a mindfulness perspective, but first, let’s look at the definition most of us are familiar with.
We generally think of happiness as feeling good about ourselves as a result of living a good life, accomplishments, and material possessions. In other words, we feel good because we believe our life has meaning.
While this definition has some merit, where I would differ is in how we achieve those positive emotions. This definition implies that we achieve happiness through outside circumstances, mainly living a positive life that gives us meaning.
On another level, some people view happiness as continuous sensual pleasure and emotional gratification. The problem with this way of searching for happiness is that our emotions are short-lived. We may enjoy that gourmet meal until we get full: the new car is new for only so long, until we see a better one, etc.
These forms of happiness are designed to satisfy the ego, our sense of separate self. And as long as we keep identifying with our ego, we will remain susceptible to its frailties.
From a mindfulness perspective, happiness is joyful contentment that is achieved through the absence of suffering or inner peace. In a state of joyful contentment, we feel good because we are at peace with ourselves and the world. Our minds and emotions are calm, and we’re not easily provoked. This form of happiness comes from the development of mindfulness or expanded awareness.
One of the goals of the mindfulness practice is to see our connection with the rest of the world. As we gain this clarity, our ego begins to dissipate, and our perception and point of view change. We begin seeing the world no longer in terms of “I” but rather “we.” In other words, interconnectedness becomes a reality and not just a concept.
What Is the Present Moment?
On a basic level, we all understand the concept of the present moment. It is now. But what we may not fully appreciate is what it truly means to be in the present moment.
The present moment is where all reality takes place. It is where we experience joy and happiness. If our attention is on the past or the future, then we’re not fully in touch with reality. When we’re thinking about the past, we’re engaged in nothing more than thoughts. We often think about the past because it evokes some emotions, or sometimes we simply can’t help ourselves. This type of ruminating about the past is generally unproductive.
Now there is some value in thinking about the past. We can reexamine past events to see what important lessons we can learn from them. Some of us have unresolved issues that need to be addressed. In this case, it’s important to try to look at those issues from different angles, so we can gain new perspectives.