I know how it feels to long for what is yet to be: to be fixated on the possibilities and expectations of the future; always striving, always discontent, always restless, never satisfied. I know what it is to buy into the lie that, further down the road the grass is greener than in your own back yard. And I know the price that has to be paid to feel like that, and buy into that lie: happiness.
And let me be straight here: your happiness is a high price to pay for something that will always be just out of reach and, even if you were to momentarily catch up with it, will only ever turn out to be an illusion.
For years I wanted the ‘next thing’. Be it a car, a house, a gadget, a pay-rise, a holiday, or whatever, that ‘next thing’ would move me closer to that greener grass – the place where, once I had it within my grasp, I would finally be truly happy. And so I worked fiendishly to navigate my way to that ‘happy place’, ruthlessly and single-mindedly trampling on whatever, and whoever got in my way.
Until, one day, I couldn’t do it any more. That day in April 2000 the rug got pulled from under my feet and I ended up face down in a whole heap of realisation and regret. And, over the next eighteen months or so, I began to realise the full horror of what all that striving, discontent, restlessness and dissatisfaction had done, not just to me, but to the people I loved – the people who had always been right in front of me, yet always so far away.
I remember sitting round a friend’s kitchen table in Cincinnati, and hearing him saying ‘lower your gaze, Andy. Attend to what is right under your nose’. But with a ‘lowered gaze’ was not how I had been conditioned to approach life – my gaze was cast far out beyond the horizon: never-mind what was under my nose, I wanted what was ‘out there’. He was right, though; it was me who’d got it all wrong.
You see, always striving for the next thing is a bit like pouring yourself a glass of fine wine, or perfectly aged whiskey, or a mug of coffee from freshly roasted beans, and then knocking it back in one, swift gulp. Sure, you taste it, but it’s over in a flash; and you miss out on the rich flavours and notes infused in the grapes skillfully fermented, or flowing out of the careful aging in charred oak barrels, or from the beans grown and tended with passion high in the mountains. You get all of the caffeine, the alcohol, or whatever, with none of the pleasure that it offers.
Quite simply, when your focus is tomorrow, you fail to live today. But, as the saying goes, ‘tomorrow never comes’: it is always ahead of you, never with you, and it can never provide rest, or peace, or contentment. Tomorrow can never bring you the happiness that today has already placed in your hands. And, in the movie ‘Family Man’, Kate knew that, as she points out to her husband, Jack, in this clip…
So I want to throw down for you the same challenge I throw down against all my natural inclinations every single morning: “What is wrong with right now?”.
Yes, even now, nearly twenty years into my adventure to become my best self, I still grapple with wanting to run ahead to tomorrow at the expense of savouring today. Even though I know both the futility and the cost of that pursuit, I still have to consciously draw myself away from falling prey to its promises and deceptions. But, as much of a struggle that it often proves to be, discovering the wonder of ‘right now’, and taking time to truly embrace what you find, brings rewards beyond measure.
Discovering and savouring ‘right now’ brings peace. Without the distraction of could be, and only the reality of what is, there is no restlessness or striving; there is only restful stillness. The sound of the birds, the warmth of the sun, the twinkle in your child’s eye as he or she gazes at you from the breakfast table, the smile from your sweetheart – all moments missed when your gaze is set far off in the distance, but all moments treasured when you pay attention to what is right under your nose.
Discovering and savouring ‘right now’ brings contentment. When you embrace what you have right now, and dismiss thoughts of what you don’t, the true value of those things within your grasp in that moment – whether they be tangible or intangible – becomes apparent. Those relationships you have but have not taken time to nurture and enjoy take on a new significance, those luxuries, and even those mundane things, that previously you longed to upgrade suddenly become more than enough. No more discontent over the things you don’t have, only thankfulness and contentment for those things you do have.
And in peace and contentment lies happiness. True happiness. A happiness that does not need to be chased or replenished. A happiness that is not diminished by the slings and arrows of life, but endures in tough times and flourishes in good. A happiness that cannot be measured or even described. A happiness that transcends understanding.
So, I return to my challenge to you – the one I lay down for myself each and every day: “What is wrong with right now?”
For one week, try asking yourself that each morning as you get out of bed. Each time during each of those seven days that you find your attention shifting onto what could be, ask yourself that question. Challenge yourself to find contentment and peace in the ‘right now’, and I guarantee that as your attention shifts to discovering and savouring what you already have within your grasp, you will find happiness.