Be Happier

H appiness 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 big

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 big 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 yet occurred. Your plans .for dinner are in. the future, but so. is the .next. ice. age.

What’s so 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 mere 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 so very easy to just believe. your hopes and .dreams and. goals can all. be fulfilled tomorrow.

BUT THIS IS AN ILLUSION. (JUST AN ILLUSION) It may look clear and inviting, but it never actually arrives. When you .look to the. future for.all your happiness, you guarantee you’ll never be happy. FOCUS ON THE PRESENT.! It’s the real 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 hail, just 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-term 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 determming 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.



I know, I’m sure there are things missing in your life. Maybe you’ re lonely or out of work or your child is ill. (to name just a few) But you still have things to be grateful for. If nothing else, be grateful you’re alive. (Repeat. that,. please) The people who seem most able to live in the present are those who have come face-to-face with their own mortality . Having come through a life-threatening situation, they look. on every subsequent day of life as a most wonderful gift. ..That’s what happened to me.

In 1978, I was a 48-year-old businessman. I had a lovely wife and four very incredible children. We had recently moved into a new 12-room apartment in New York City. During the summer the whole family stayed at a house we’d built on Martha’s Vineyard. Was I happy? No, because I was living in the future. Not only couldn’t I stop and smell the roses, I couldn’t stop and smell dinner on the table since I didn’t get home until 10 P.M. I was smoking three packs of fine cigarettes a day and my only workout was bending my elbow. As part of my unending climb up Mount Olympus, I took a job as the real estate specialist for an international bank headquartered on Wall Street. After a brief time on the job I started feeling under the weather. After a month of procrastination I finally went to see our family doctor, Dr. Dove. He heard my smoker’s cough and listened to my labored breathing and immediately ordered a chest X-ray. Two days later, Dr. Dove called to say they found a troubling black spot on my lung. He gave me a tuberculosis test that came back negative but scheduled a follow-up X-ray. He set up consultations for me with cancer specialists and pushed for a biopsy on the spot.

While we were waiting for the biopsy results, my wife and I talked through all the obstacles we faced to keep the family afloat.. There were mortgages, tuition and medical bills. I thought I’d be out of work, perhaps forever, and we couldn’t get by on my wife’s secretarial job. Things looked very grim, to put it mildly. Then Dr. Dove came into the hospital room and said, “Congratulations, you do have tuber-culosis. ” At that moment, my life turned around.

I was given a reprieve. I felt that every day from that point on was a gift from God. When I was going over the list of material things I’d stand to lose, I realized I would have given them all up to spend another day with my wife and children. Now here I was, told I would have that day and many more to follow. That pivotal event made me stop living in the future . Now I’m grateful for everything I have and covet nothing other than more years with my family. I realized that what I lacked for those first 48 years of life was gratitude for what I already had. I didn’t really

appreciate that every day is a priceless gift. I didn’t understand that tomorrow was too late.

Going through experiences like these can help you move from living in the future to living in the present. But as much as I value the insight I gained, I don’t really recommend the process I went through to earn it. Thankfully, you can work toward the same awareness with a lot less pain. All you need do is take inventory.

Take out a journal and write on the top of the page:

                               “Things for which I’m grateful.”

Start by writing, “I’m alive” and move on from there, filling as many pages as you need. Start by concentrating on those you love: family, friends and pets. Then just move on to the places you love . The list could include special spots that have known always brought you serenity, or it could consist solely of your home. You might write something like, “I’m grateful for our apartment overlooking the harbor.” It might also consist of magical places you’ve visited.

Turn to things you value. I know people always rail against materialism, but let’s be honest: There are things that give us joy . It could be your favorite chair, your new car or a cherished piece of jewelry. No one is going to read your list, but you, so don’t feel self-conscious.

 I know it might feel a bit corny to sit there compiling lists of things for which you are grateful. But I think most of us have grown too cynical about our lives. We’ve stopped appreciating what we have. That’s one of the reasons we tend to live in the future. Our culture has become fixated on improvements, whether to our home, our relationships or our bodies. . Well, you have everything you need right now to be happy.

On the days when you’re feeling down, turn back to the list you’ve compiled and reread it. Then, after a few minutes’ reflection, add some new entries to the list. You’ll find that whenever you spend time looking for reasons your life right now is good, you end up finding them.

Another way to make yourself feel better is to tell people you’re grateful to have them in your life. This needn’t be formal or part of a ritualized Thanksgiving. Instead, when an natural opportunity arises, just thank people for coming into your life. Let’s say you’re sitting at a coffee shop after work, sharing a good laugh with a friend. Just turn to her and say something like, “I always have a great time with you. Thanks a lot for being my friend.”

That’s not so hard, is it? But believe me, such a little gesture will mean a lot to the other person and that will make you feel great, too.

T he poet Alastair Reed wrote something so eloquent about the joys of childhood: “The principal difference between childhood and the stages of life into which it invariably dissolves is that as children we occupy a limitless present. The past has scarcely room to exist, since, if it means anything at all, it means only the previous day. Similarly, the future is in abeyance; we are not meant to do anything at all until we reach a suitable size. Correspondingly, the present is enormous, mainly because it is all there is. . . ...’

Life shouldn’t be something to be endured until the future arrives. Your present should be thrilling, exhilarating and inspiring. And it can be if you embrace it. My wish for you is that you’re able to somehow get back to the joy you experienced as a child. As far as I can tell, we all only get one chance at this. We might as well enjoy ourselves while we’re here. Sure there’s pain and sorrow. So don’t defer the exhilaration and joy until some nonexistent tomorrow. Let yourself be really happy right now.

                                                                        Are you really happy?

                                                                        Find out by taking our online quiz.




January 2006 . (Pgs. 19-22)

P. O. Box 37508

Boone, IA 50037-0508

(800) 374-4545.

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