By Denisa Oosthuizen
You are living in the age of busyness, of having and doing, surrounded by the seemingly universal voice of society, peers and the media. You are told to work more, earn more, have more. You are encouraged to set audacious goals, fulfill higher ambitions, earn top dollar, play and spend harder, look your fabulous best, and share your good life on social media networks.
Sounds familiar? Then you are no stranger to the pressure of succeeding in life. Sadly, the result is often a mix of stress, anxiety, fear of failure, disappointment when things go wrong, guilt, poor self-esteem, inadequate feelings, and depression. Your journey to ‘more and better’ is a never ending roller coaster. It is, after all, our society’s status quo. But how often do you stop and ask yourself if you are happy with the path you have chosen?
Are you happy? Or are you still looking for the ‘magical feeling’?
Fear not, because happiness exists, literally, now, at this very moment. You just have to be open to receive its blessings. It may sound simple and effortless, but it is not. Because being happy is about being attuned to the present moment, fully being engaged and savouring every second of it. More people can find joy and contentment in their lives if they are truly mindful and fully aware of their presence, thoughts, and actions.
Happiness Starts with Mindfulness
When you are mindful, and not mind full, you can connect to your true feelings and breathe, live and act as you are meant to be, according to who you are, without any interference and judgement. It is in these moments, when you are most connected to yourself and others around you, that you are truly happy.
It is easy to understand this concept when you picture life as a series of present moments, rolling next to each other, like the snapshots of a digital camera. Each moment in this sequence may be denied or not fully experienced. The culprits are well known: distractions, stress, anxiety, fear and so on. Physically you may be present in the moment, but psychologically and spiritually you are not. You are missing out on your very own life moments. You deny yourself to feel in the very moment, to resonate with your true being. You are here, but not really here. You are disconnected.
If you are living in longing for a brighter future or tormented by the past, fully immersing yourself in the now is a difficult, but not impossible task. Yes, there are things to do, bills to pay, opportunities not to miss. You want to know what comes next to reassure yourself that you are moving on the right track. Hence the stress of creating your desired future.
Fortunately, focusing on the present moment releases you from worry and creates an environment where happiness flourishes.
Focus Your Attention on the Present Moment, and Let Go
Turn your attention to the here and now, accepting and appreciating where you are now and what you are doing. And let go. Let go of the wandering thoughts, self-criticism, future dreams and passive wishes for things to be different, to name just a few possibilities of what is going through your head.
So what are the things you have to let go now, in the present moment? Let go of everything that your mind wraps around in thinking about the coming future or the done and dusted past. You can’t focus in two places at the same time, right? Choose to focus on the power of the instant moment instead.
Let go of thinking about being somewhere else than where you are now, in the present moment.
Let go of thinking about scenarios following recent events and ‘what ifs’: What if this or that does or doesn’t work?
Let go of your mind wandering about what it should think, say or do next, whether you are alone or in conversation with someone else. Sit and listen.
Let go of the should, could, and must have.
I am, however, not saying that you should not care about or avoid your future altogether. But, if you are too centered on the goal you want to achieve, to the point that you lose touch with the present journey you are experiencing, you are missing out on the powerful moment of ‘now’, which is your realm of reference right now, your source of true happiness.
Enjoy the Journey and Relish the Process
Rushing a process to get to your future goal sooner without paying attention to every step of the way certainly doesn’t bring lasting happiness. When you rush through the present time without being aware of what you are doing in the first place (call it mindlessness), you are not true to yourself; you are not acting from a conscious happy place. Make sure your focus is on the journey itself, as much as or even more than it is on your goal. Enjoy the process, because enjoyment brings happiness.
Savouring the process, with everything that entails in between, good or bad, doesn’t come easily either. Think of your daily routine. You enjoy some things more than you do others. Going through a daily working routine, you rush through the moments and cannot wait to come home and finally enjoy some good quality family time. You wake up, get ready for another working day, commute to the office, spend time in traffic, sit in your cubicle, do your usual tasks (admin, write, call, email, delegate and so on), and then go back home, going through the same annoying traffic. Some days are predictable, downright boring, which is where the saying ‘stuck in a rut’ holds true. Even while driving home, in rush hour traffic, you are thinking about something that your boss said during the day, or what to have later for dinner, or planning minutiae for the next day. You are not living in the moment.
If this does not sound like you, remember that everyone develops a routine, a way of doing things. If you are self-employed or a business owner, you probably have days going by so fast, filled with promises, prospective customers, plans and future projections. You are never actually stopping and asking yourself if you enjoy the day or if you are aware of the steps that you are taking towards your future. Instead, you are carrying the grind on to the next day, much like having a boring job, only without the bossy figure in sight. It also makes any projected ambitious plans less clear and less focused. The days go by, dragged in by the future promise of a scary audacious hair-raising goal that you pick early on in your venture, and that is somehow supposed to motivate your actions.
Or picture this familiar scenario: You are attending a meeting or a networking event, focusing on what to say and do next, instead of listening to the other people in the room. Your mind is rushing and filling in the blanks even before you can figure out what the other participants are looking for and how you can better help them through your service.
These are just a few examples of not being in the present moment, but anticipating a future that often turns out very different than what you have initially envisioned. If you want to experience lasting happiness, focus on what is within your grasp and what you can do now, not what you could have or should have done in the past, and certainly not what you could do one day if only the circumstances were different or more favourable. Work within your present circumstances. Take responsibility for your happiness as you take responsibility for your actions. Only you have the power to do so.
Whatever you do, enjoy the process. Take a breather to be aware of what are you doing at the moment. Happiness is here and now, and it is your present mood and contentment that impacts your subsequent actions. There is nothing that can exist without the present. Lao Tzu says “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So focus on every step, little by little, and the journey will be a fascinating and enjoyable one.
Remember that Happiness Starts with Mindfulness
Mindfulness – being mindful – speaks about purposely focusing your attention on the present moment, appreciating and learning from the experience, and accepting it – whatever it is – without judgment. No hard feelings, just fully being in the moment. To truly live in the moment, you must practice being aware of yourself and your surroundings, but the most important stepping stone is to be aware of your thoughts and your narrative that develops in your head, which determines your feelings and your state of happiness.
In Robin Sharma’s best-seller ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’, one of the first principles the lawyer turned sage Julian Mantle teaches his student is to ‘master the mind’, which starts with observing one’s thoughts and knowing that ‘concentration is at the root of mental mastery.’ Being mindful helps you reclaim focus in your life and master your mind more efficiently. Once you begin understanding your mind, you can create your happiness.
Focusing your attention helps you center your mind on a particular thing or subject, and is essential in taking charge of your thoughts. Focusing also allows you to move away from (without denying) the negative and painful thoughts you harbour on a daily basis. Concentration is a powerful tool to observe what goes in your mind, but mindfulness is more than that. It is a state of awareness that allows happiness to manifest in its true form.
Being aware of your thoughts as they rise in your mind without struggling with any of these and then simply letting these go, clearing your mind, is essential to a happy life.
Be Aware of Your Thoughts
Awareness – paying real attention – is the secret, and mindfulness is again the key that unlocks this secret. Pay real attention to what is happening within you and around you. Once you focus on the present moment, you can bring your attention to yourself and everything around you. Notice how you feel. Look around and pay attention to what is around you, where you are, the sounds, the smells. Be awake. Know what you are doing. The more you practice this, the more you increase your attention. The more you increase your attention, the more centered and clearer your thoughts are, the more you open yourself to your inner source, and the more you experience happiness.
If you find hard to focus, imagine your thoughts dancing before your eyes, each a different colour, thousands of them. Imagine yourself being aware of each message carried, reading or hearing all that these thoughts say to you, positive and negative, and be completely at peace with everything it says. Imagine sifting through it at a leisurely pace, like sliding the pages of an e-book, allowing yourself to listen and feel each of your thoughts until some will shine or sing aloud brighter than the others. Notice what it says to you. Narrow your attention to its core. It is like emptying your mind to the bare essentials, to what is really important: clarity, inner wisdom, and peace. These are essential for your happiness.
Think of it as an inner journey to your happy place. Where would you start?
Start with your present thoughts. You cannot experience contentment with the constant chatter of your mind throwing you in a dozen directions, wondering, pondering, asking, waiting, judging, criticizing. Only by being here, focusing your attention in the now, you can simply observe, notice and feel what you are telling yourself every day because all of this matters in your happiness story.
”It is important sometimes to let things be, just as they are, and allow them to breathe without questioning or fixing them,” says author Tiddy Rowan in the Little Book of Mindfulness. Be non-judgemental in your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
There should be no room for struggle, blame, remorse or criticism when observing your thoughts. However, these feelings you experience when discerning your views are often the greatest sources of unhappiness. Being aware of your thoughts, good or bad, without analyzing the impact of each one, is paramount. And yes, dealing with negative thoughts is part of the process. Negativity is not something you would focus on in your happiest life, is it?
When you are aware of your negative thoughts, do not try to blame, question, look out for solutions and fix broken things. Just let it be. Be kind to yourself. Happiness cannot materialize in the absence of kindness to yourself and others.
Choose to be Present and Happy in Every Moment
You have the vital choice to either get sunk in a myriad of rationalized and judgemental thoughts, finding someone to blame for your mood or blaming you, or to accept your thoughts and learn from their message, not having to go through an emotionally painful process. Feel, release and know that any thought and experience you have serves you in one or another way (even if the lesson may appear much later on than expected).
So which choice are you making today? Are you going to let your present moment fill with the joy of awareness, enjoyment, and involvement, or are you going to sink underneath the daily crunch of uninspired actions, higher expectations, and broken dreams?
Focus your attention on the present. Let go of the everyday futility, overthinking, negativity and judgement. Enjoy the process, not just the destination. Be aware of your deepest thoughts and how it translates into your surroundings. Be alert of your daily choices. Be mindful.
‘Be here now,’ as the yogi Ram Dass writes in his book with the same title. What a wonderful way to express pure contentment and happiness in just three simple words.
May happiness find a place in your soul.
Denisa Oosthuizen is a freelance writer, publisher, and author, based in Pretoria, South Africa. Visit her website at www.denisaoosthuizen.com.