Happy to Live in the Present

I had hoped to give an update on our first 30 days of life without the internet today but that life is proving to be fraught with many an [unforeseen] obstacle and that post is going to need a bit of revision. In the meantime, I combed back through my archives and found this tidbit instead. I thought I could use the reminder that though we can’t change the past, we can change our mind.

We all know someone who is backwards focused, always looking into the past and presuming how their life (or yours) would have been vastly different…if only. If only they had married Bob instead of Bill. If only they had finished that degree. If only they had selected a different career path. If only…

A few days ago I was chatting with someone who knew me when I was in college. “You should have just gone into journalism,” she said. “You write for a living anyway.” Perhaps it was a harmless observation, but knowing my friend, I knew she thought I could have “done better” with my life. This is, by the way, the same person who once asked me why anyone would bother to write a book if it wasn’t going to be a bestseller.

When I studied journalism 25 years ago, the word “blog” hadn’t even been coined. As I learned the fundamentals of newspaper reporting, I became keenly aware that I had little interest in journalism as a career path. I loved research and the art of crafting a good story. I did not love the ins and outs of the newspaper business. So I changed majors.

Like 49% of American college graduates, I don’t even work in my field of study (which ended up being business, by the way). I do write for a living. I write grants for non-profits. I also write in my journal and on this blog, and sometimes I even write short stories – despite the fact that they will never be bestsellers. I didn’t need to become a journalist to write. I didn’t need to become anything. I was already a writer from the moment I picked up a pen and told myself I was.

Backwards focused people nearly always think the grass is greener on the path not taken. Though a million thoughts crossed my mind that day, I knew it was an unwinnable argument so I opted to steer my friend to a different topic. She will always see my life as one of missed opportunities. But I’m not so certain that I’m the one who missed out.

Everybody knows how sweet it is to savor life’s simplest moments when we pause to take it all in: watching the sunset; taking a walk with a friend; or having a hot cup of tea on a winter’s day. Far too often, however, we’re pulled away from the present to fixate on the past, or worry about the future. When this happens, we’re not able to fully experience the richness, and subsequent happiness, that is often right under our noses. ~ Kim Pratt, LCSW

In my daily life, I try to remember to be mindful. I can’t do that by dwelling in the past. No choice that could have been made in the past will ever compare to the one that can be made right now; to be present and grateful for this very moment.

Think happy. Be happy.

A few days ago, I was reading an article on “365 projects” – which are basically themes for doing something daily for a year, like keeping a gratitude journal or posting a photo to social media. In fact, most of the article was about different ideas for a “photo of the day” project. As I read through the list, I thought how fun it would be to do something like this. Then I remembered…I tried this in 2014 and quit after only 6 weeks!

You see, back then, my friend Kerry thought it would be fun to do something called the 100 Happy Days Challenge. She had stumbled upon this challenge on Facebook and it seemed pretty easy. All you had to do was take a photo every day for 100 days of something happy. Participating was supposed to make you more optimistic, content with your life, and open to new experiences. I made it through 50 days of the challenge.

My foray into “photo of the day” challenges was not a loss though. I might have failed at posting photos but I didn’t fail to grasp the concept behind the challenge – happiness is directly connected to mindfulness. The more you pay attention to what makes you happy, the happier you actually become.

Thinking about happiness trains your brain to focus on the elements in your life that create happiness. It forces you to stop doing things out of unconscious habit and do them by choice instead. And when we realize we do indeed have a choice in what we focus our attention on, we tend to choose more of the things that make us happy. Think of it as one big circle of happiness…

Think happy. Choose happy. Be happy. Repeat 🙂

When our lives are crazy busy, our thoughts tend to go right along that same path. Have you ever been reading a book only to realize that your mind has wondered off to something on your to-do list? Being mindful helps eliminate the mental clutter and makes us more aware of what surrounds us; what is happening in the here and now.

Studies of mindfulness have shown that it leads to healthier, less stressful, more creative and wait for it…yes, happier and more satisfied lives. I know firsthand that there’s some truth to this. Once upon a time I used to plan vacations while I was on vacation. I’d say to myself, “this place is great but wouldn’t a trip to ___ be so much better.” I had a great time, or so I thought, but now, I wonder how much more fun I would’ve had if I’d just enjoyed the trip I was on.

All these years later, I am still working on mindfulness. The more I learn, the more I have come to realize that being mindful is very much like learning to see the world through the eyes you had as a child – back when everything was new and full of wonder. When I read now, I try to let myself get lost in the book, just like I did when I was a child. When I sit on the patio looking at the birds in the backyard, I try to see only the nature that surrounds me. When I am out on the water in my kayak, I try to be one with my environment. And in those moments where I make the choice to be present, I am at my happiest.

How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life? Have you ever attempted a 365 project? Which one, and how did it go?

To read my takeaways from the 100 Happy Days Challenge, check out this post: 5 Things I Learned from 50 Days of Happiness.