People tend to live for the future. We hope to be happy someday. As soon as our eyes flutter open on a solid new morning, our minds close in on the hours ahead.
Like this morning, when dawn glowed outside my bedroom curtains, I could have lingered in her dreamy calm. Instead, my inner manager shoved her aside:
“Ugh, it’s later than I thought. What is happening today? Oh yeah, friends are coming for dinner. Before that, I gotta clean the house, make a few calls, take the dog to the vet, and figure out what to cook. I’ll never get it all done!”
Good-bye, happy zone, hello, troubled future!
My mood went from glad to anxious in a snap. My mind mapped the morning to plan the day to actualize an evening. Exhausted before my feet hit the floor.
And I live my life–I mean–I plan my life that way.
As a little kid, I didn’t think much about happiness. Instinctively, I reached for my pets, my blanket, or my mom for immediate satisfaction. Later, I learned to hold out for future fun. Like planning a visit to cousins next weekend or a trip to the beach in the summer.
I recall as a ten-year-old, my euphoria before visiting my dog at his new home. My parents had recently separated, forcing Mom and us kids to move to a smaller place. We had to give our big mutt away. My mother had promised we’d visit him. The anticipation of seeing the pup I loved was swelling in my chest that morning. A bliss resting on that future reunion.
Now as a grandma, I sometimes placate my grandkids by explaining, “Your daddy and mommy will be back in a few hours” or “Nonna and Poppa will visit again in 2 days.” Children learn early that some of their happiness is outside their grasp but held in a predictable plan.
Happy Ever After
When I was in my twenties and thirties, I believed in and lived for future bliss:
- I put my hope in Christ and in a heavenly afterlife
- I expected great things that God would eventually do on earth
- I prayed for speedy relief for people in distress, including me
- I longed for the moment when contentment would settle in my soul
I knew that happiness was not the highest goal in life. Love and purpose and sanctification were bigger and better concepts to chase than were contentment or a sense of well-being. They promised loftier rewards.
However, we humans naturally seek happiness. We want pleasure, not pain. We move toward food that tastes good, music that enhances our mood, people that love us, information that matches our beliefs. We pursue comforts that keep us comfortable.
Sometimes we avoid the donut to gain the pleasure of losing weight. Often we save our money for the reward of spending it later. We even take up our crosses in the hope that Joy approaches along the road. She may be miles away, meeting us when we’re old or even dead. But still, we all want happy-ever-afters.
I Wanted Everything
In the Out of the Grey song, “I Want Everything,” I wrote and sang of wanting everything that God had promised me:
It’s all about longing for the good to come. I had an expectation that someday things would change.
Today I am as old as I’ve ever been. My vision is diminished. Less focus and more floaters cloud the field. Now I see that many changes I’ve waited for will not arrive. Physical issues and relationship predicaments probably won’t get fixed and may actually get worse. Many of the prayers which I lifted to the heavens, I’ve let fall like lead balloons.
I still want everything. But maybe what I want is what needs to change. Perhaps I already have what it takes to be happy now.
Happy Now: 3 Happiness Practices
Some say the feeling of happiness is available at any time.
In our inner confusion, in the hard parts of marriage, the craziness of raising kids, the chronic pains of aging, the mundane patterns of daily life–surely bliss isn’t dependent on these problems resolving.
Isn’t it there in the spark of happiness as we enjoy the coffee, as we warm to the physical touch of someone we love or enjoy the neon greens of a burgeoning spring? There is no time for delight like the present. For in reality, all we have is now. We cannot experience more than the moment we are in.
So how to practice happiness?
1. Have Gratitude: We all know that counting our blessings is the best way to bliss. Wanting what we have is all we need. You may even be living the dream you had of your life years ago. What part of now is exactly what you hoped for then? What a gift!
2. Mark the Memory: Recall a sublime moment and then hold the emotion. Create pleasant thoughts of someone you love. Lift a smile to your lips. Feel, memorize, and translate it to the here and now!
That little girl who visited her lost dog lives on in me somewhere. Remembering my bliss in anticipating his thick fur, my contentment at discovering he was OK without me: all are part of the past I can transfer to my body now.
3. Know Now: Take notice of the present moment. Use your senses. What do you see, hear, feel? This is where life exists and where satisfaction can be developed.
Do worried thoughts and harsh voices harangue your inner world? Take notice–then let them pass. Don’t believe everything your brain has to say. When mental language is not defining experience, experience is free to be free! Mindfulness and meditation practices are great for getting present.
I still hope and pray for good things to come. Yet, I also soak in happiness now. What I feel is somewhat within my grasp. What I know is this moment we’re in. May I, may you, may we be happy now.