by Matt Jones, M.A., L.P.C., C.A.D.C
Life is uncertain, but we pretend otherwise. We seek out certainty by telling ourselves over and over again that we’ll be happy at some point in the future. We look forward to moving to a new location, landing a new job, or purchasing those cool new shoes that you just can’t live without – only to find that there are twenty other things you need too. It’s almost as if once purchased, the item loses its magic and there’s still something missing. Pure happiness for no reason at all other than the sake of being alive and being able to experience life is the missing link. As you continue looking forward to some one or some thing or some place or some time in the future, you’re closing yourself off from experiencing joy in the present moment.
I’ve found myself falling into this mindset as well. I think about how places seem to get better after I leave. Just after moving from the east side of Chicago further west, the neighboring construction site that kept waking me up each morning by banging concrete and steel together like baby toys completed their work. After leaving my home state of Missouri, the Kansas City Royals made a World Series appearance and the Kansas City Chiefs are just talented enough for me to be glued to the TV like my mother watching The Young and the Restless. I think to myself that little conveniences like a brand new Whole Foods tend to show up right after I leave the area.
The problem is that we can look backwards and see progress, look forward and imagine hopeful resolutions to our current difficulties, and be stuck in the present being unhappy. This cycle is often never ending and all consuming. It’s so easy to complain about the present situation at work or the weather or those brand name clothes you can’t afford or those student loan bills you can’t pay, but looking forward or backwards does nothing to alleviate your suffering. In fact, looking backwards or forwards actually makes everything worse because it doesn’t contribute any lasting joy to your present conditions. In order to live a more joyful existence, you must accept the fact that life is uncertain—there are no guarantees.
You can spend your whole life looking forward to something that never comes. You can chase happiness but never taste it. This pursuit of future contentment is embedded within the US mainstream culture, which tells you that happiness can be purchased. Joy is commodified and sold to you in brown Amazon packages that can be rushed to your doorstep on the same day you click ‘purchase’ on your iPhone. You have to work hard each and every day so that sometime in the future you can retire and travel and find that happiness you have been depriving yourself of for over half your life. This is the great lie of our culture—happiness is not starting at A and ending at B, it is the journey in-between.
Increase your awareness of this cultural mythology and then notice when you’re falling into the routine of reserving happiness for some day or some thing in the future. Fight your social conditioning in order to remain grounded in the present moment, which is as good as it gets. Whether you like it or not this moment is all you have, nothing outside of this moment is real. You’re not guaranteed anything—not certainty, not closure, not happiness, not even the ability to get out of bed tomorrow. Although this may be uncomfortable to confront, you have the courage necessary to use this to your advantage in overcoming small challenges in the present moment. While maintaining awareness of culture’s influence on your prolonged states of discomfort, recognize that you have the power to find unconditional happiness for being alive whenever you want.
Joy is your natural state. When you’re experiencing a moment of pure happiness, you’re not trying to be happy, you just are. These blissful moments cannot be purchased, they cannot be forced, and they cannot be reserved for some time in the future that may or may not come into fruition. Moments of pleasure occur when you allow them to flow through you. When you choose to let go of your anxieties and frustrations and focus on what you have instead of what you don’t, you enable happiness to find you. Joy is like breathing—when you become preoccupied with life’s challenges you constrict your airways and forget to take deep cleansing breaths, which creates even more tension in the mind and body. Be mindful of your breath and notice when you’re engaging in shallow breathing and creating tension. Help yourself find a state of lightness and playfulness by becoming aware of when you’re constricting happiness from flowing through you. Joy is always present; you just need allow yourself to experience it.