What if I told you that you have all the power in the world to make yourself as happy as you want to be?
Chances are you wouldn’t believe me. That’s because our consumption-oriented and instant-gratification seeking culture tells us that we can buy happiness. And to some extent, it works! We are happier in the moment of making purchases and enjoying them shortly afterward. But this kind of happiness is fleeting.
The reason why these purchases make us happy is that we’re excited and engaged in the process of actually buying them. That’s the key- being and staying present!
Ever go to dinner with friends and realized the time has flown and it’s 3 hours later? Or been into a great book and realize you haven’t checked your phone in forever?! That means you’ve been present and stayed in the moment!
Matt Killingsworth, of Harvard University, gave a brilliant TED Talk in which he outlined his research on happiness. Killingsworth concluded, “We're often happiest when we're lost in the moment. And the flip side: The more our mind wanders, the less happy we can be.”
This is even true of activities we despise - like traffic. Killingsworth assessed that when commuters are more present and engaged in their commute, they are happier than when driving while talking on their phones, on social media, or reading emails. You make think you’re being productive, but you’re just making yourself unhappy.
So how do you stay present?
This super easy tactic is bound to make you more conscious and present: ask yourself, “Is my head in the same place my feet are in?” You have the opportunity to bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing your mind on what you’re currently doing.
Why does a wandering mind make us so unhappy?
When our minds wander, they typically go to a few common destinations:
- What I wish I were doing
- What I wish I had
- And who I wish I was
The space that exists between where you’re at now (doing, have, are) and where you wish you were (doing, have, are) is cognitive dissonance. The incongruence that exists in how we feel about ourselves can be very uncomfortable and disheartening. This is the juice of what makes us unhappy.
What can you do about?
The good news is that cognitive dissonance exists only in our minds. We give it life, so we can also lay it to rest. Here’s how to erase dissonance in your life:
- Activity: Think about the purpose behind what you’re doing right now. Is your current activity bringing you closer to a goal? If it’s a means to a greater goal, can you reframe your thinking around the activity? How engaged are in what you’re doing right now?
- Possessions: Do you have everything you need? If you’re reading this article, the answer is likely “yes.” Only once all of our basic needs are met do we have the mental capacity to consider self-development, fitness, and lifestyle. There will always be someone with more possessions than you, but if you have everything you need, can you find more gratitude for that? Make a list of 5 things you’re grateful for right now!
- Who You Are: We all have areas of shame in our lives that we usually don’t speak about. Our job, money, family, body, etc. But often these thoughts get out of control when our minds wander and stretch beyond reality. We make conclusions about ourselves aren’t even close to reality. Change this by staying present!