How to Be Happier Now
Waiting for Tomorrow
Happiness is a state of mind, not a goal. The life you want is here, now, waiting for you to grab it. Too many of us spend our lives planning and hoping and dreaming about how wonderful our life would be...if only we got a promotion, met the right person, or inherited some money. We say we'll be happy when we lose those stubborn 30 pounds or pay off our mortgage. The poet Philip Larkin wrote:
Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
Till then we say...
We act as if our happiness depends on other people, on fate, or on forces beyond our control. As a result we fail to see how wonderful our life is right now, today. Pin your hopes on the future and you'll miss your chance. Of all the things we need to deal with in our lives, time can be the hardest to get a handle on. Obviously, the past is that which has already occurred. But that's both something that happened 30 years ago and something that happened 30 seconds ago. Your high school prom is in the past, but so is the sentence you've just completed reading. As for the future, clearly it's something that hasn't occurred yet. Your plans for dinner are in the future, but so is the next ice age.
What's amazing is that the present is this narrow shadow, this hair's breadth of time, yet it has the possibility of providing all the joy and contentment we need. That's because the present isn't so much a space in time as it is a state of mind. The mistake many people make is trying to live in the future. The present seems like a train, a total blur. The future seems to stretch out before us infinitely, giving us plenty of time in which to land new jobs, meet life mates, or learn to play the piano. It's easy to believe your hopes and dreams and goals can all be fulfilled tomorrow.
But this is an illusion. It may look clear and inviting, but it never actually arrives. When you look to the future for your happiness, you guarantee you'll never be happy. Focus on the present. It's the experience of living, not remembering or hoping. Let's say you're sitting in a theater, watching a great movie or play, or you're in a concert hall, listening to a wonderful performance. You're not thinking of the drive home or what you'll eat for dinner. You're in the moment. Bring that approach to life and you'll achieve contentment. I'm not saying you shouldn't plan for tomorrow. Short- and long-term planning is prudent. I believe that includes deciding when to start a family as much as calculating when to ask for a raise, or determining how much to save and invest for when you get older and your earned income drops. But there is a huge difference between planning for the future and living in it. You can't count on the future to provide or be the environment that offers you happiness or satisfaction you currently lack. That's a critical mistake.
While you're making plans to be happy in the future, things happen, good and bad. Life doesn't stand still just because you've made a mental calculation freezing it in place.