Day 7: Happiness is a Practice, Not a Destination

Be Present

In her book: "A Short Guide to a Happy Life" Anna Quindlen writes: "If you win the rat race, you are still a rat." The dictionary defines rat race like this: "A way of life in which people are caught up in a fiercely competitive struggle; an exhausting, usually competitive routine."

It took years for me to understand that my learned rat racing behavior was dominating and swallowing me up; robbing me of any real joy. Where was I racing to anyway?  The underlying unspoken principle of the rate racer mentality is do more now and enjoy life later. This is a schema that plagues our society. 

In earlier posts, we learned what we repeatedly do or think becomes ingrained in our brain-literally. Science has discovered that neurons which fire together, wire together. Or in other words, we create habits through repetition. And habits become our lifestyle. Without awareness we may stay stuck in the cycle of doing more. So when do we get to rest and enjoy? Hmm...

For most of my 20s and into my early 30s I lived with mild depression and anxiety. Then I met extraordinary teachers that showed me a mindful way of living. I was taught that it is okay to stop and simply BE.

The first truth I learned is that I deserved to just be and enjoy my life. The second thing I discovered is that to be happy I didn't have to work harder, be prettier, have more, weigh less, move to a new country, be married, be single, take a vacation, or change careers to experience it.

We may very well want to or need to make some of these changes; but what I am saying here is that our joy is not contingent on those things. Joy is never absent, but I can certainly become unconscious of it. 

In her book, Anna Quindlen continues with this advise to her readers,"Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house... Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger. Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your regular phone, for that matter. Keep still. Be present."

In "Emotional Alchemy" Tara Bennett-Goleman writes: “The richest banquet, the most exotic travel, the most interesting, attractive lover, the finest home – all of these experiences can seem somehow unrewarding and empty if we don’t really attend to them fully and if our minds are elsewhere, preoccupied with disturbing thoughts. By the same token, the simplest of life’s pleasures – eating a piece of fresh-baked bread, seeing a work of art, spending moments with a loved one – can be amply rich if we bring a full attention to them. The remedy to dissatisfaction is inside us, in our minds, not in groping for new and different outer sources of satisfactions.”

Notice what is going on around you right now. What do you see? What sounds do you hear? Notice the sensations in your body. Make a point of being more present and mindful today, and beyond today.