As a young business owner, I sometimes catch myself wishing away the present moment for a milestone in the future in which I think things will be happier, easier, more successful or less stressful. I’m just beginning my career, so there is a lot of time ahead of me before I can even think about slowing down or planning for retirement. The span of time between now and then will define most of what I’ll remember as being my life. When put into this perspective, I immediately regret any time that I wished away the work week to get to the weekend. If I continued to live my life only enjoying 2 out of every 7 days, I will enjoy only a fraction of the time I’ve been given! I don’t feel alone in this mindset; in fact I know I’m not. To be truly content, we need to learn to find happiness throughout every stage of life. There’s no reason that the joy we feel on Christmas or the first day of vacation can’t be felt each and every day.
The Problem: Deferring Happiness
Whether we know we’re doing it or not, we often defer our happiness for a point in the future when everything will be perfect. Do either of these phrases sound familiar? “I just want it to be the weekend so I can relax!” or “Once I get that promotion, I’ll finally treat myself to an overdue vacation.” We should find relaxation and enjoyment every day, not just on special days. This is deferring happiness.
The problem with deferring happiness is that we don’t allow ourselves to be truly content until we reach a fictitious and self-imposed target – a target that is always moving. There are enough variables in life that this “perfect situation” we’re waiting for will likely never happen. If we continue to deny ourselves the ability to be happy right now, then we will live the majority of our lives rushing through the present for a future that is always out of reach.
The Solution: Practicing “Nowness”
Pause for a moment and reflect on the thoughts that normally fill your mind. If you’re like most, these thoughts are either projections into the future or memories from the past. It’s rare that we really stop and focus on the exact moment in which we’re living and take in the experience of the “now.” It’s hard. The present is not always exciting. In fact, much of it is a well-memorized routine and so it’s easy to go into autopilot. But to be truly happy throughout every stage of life, we must practice “nowness” and learn to find contentment each and every day.
So how do we break the bad habit of deferring happiness and get into the new habit of practicing nowness? Here are just a few ways in which you can take the first step:
Stop using the phrase, “Once I retire I will…” There’s no reason you must reserve these enjoyments for retirement. With moderation and a little planning, things like traveling to a foreign country, pursuing a hobby or just taking a nap from time to time can all be woven into our lives right now. Plus, once you reach retirement age, things like skydiving, climbing Mt. Everest and salsa dancing might not be as feasible to you as they are right now.
Put a sign on your desk, mirror or refrigerator to remind you that right now is the best moment of your life—or at least it can be if you have the right mindset. This small reminder will make a big impact on your mood and remind you of everything you have to be happy about right now.
If you find yourself fantasizing about a future moment in which you’ll finally be happy, stop and make yourself think of at least one thing you’re happy about right now. Even on the dullest of days you can still be happy about good health, a delicious lunch, a visit from a friend or feeling accomplished at work. An upcoming vacation, holiday or career change are all reasons to look to the future for happiness, but don’t discount the happiness that surrounds you right now. Learn to celebrate even the smallest things that bring you joy on a daily basis.