Being Happy in the Imperfect Now

Jun 07, 2018
pale leaf floating on water with the title Reflections on Inner Peace, Outer Peace

Throughout history, one of the constant spiritual challenges of being human has been, how to be present for what is here and now, even as we’re working toward a goal or trying to improve our current life circumstance in some way. Humans are so often headed towards a destination - but how can we also enjoy the journey? We think we’ll be better off when we ‘get there’ - only to realize, when we eventually do, that we may have let many of life’s moments slip by unnoticed or unappreciated!

I’ve experienced this, for example, looking back at times when I was in between jobs. I wished I’d enjoyed the period of down time I had more, rather than stressing out about when I would find the next job that would sweep me up in busyness once again. We can look for that job, put our efforts into that next goal - and still enjoy what there is to enjoy in the present moment.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says that we have more than enough conditions to be happy in any given moment, and in any given moment, there is always something to be grateful for. Even if I’m trying to change what’s happening in my current circumstance, it really changes my experience to also reflect on how I can find happiness and joy in this very moment.

When I’ve had a stomach bug - I give myself over to enjoying the simple comfort foods that I crave and am able to eat during that time. Or when I’m sick, to give myself over to the experience of fully resting - how often do we allow ourselves that? It’s a luxury!

When I first started my acupuncture practice, I had many fewer patients that I wanted. Even though I felt stressed about how I would be able to build my practice, I knew I should also enjoy the extra time I had, take a walk everyday, talk to my far-flung family more often, etc. - because I wouldn’t always have that gift of extra time.

After my last break-up, rather than feeling that my life is empty and lonely - I knew that at some point I would be in another relationship, negotiating and compromising with a partner once again - I decided to fully enjoy the freedom of being single. And when I’d feel grief, I would put on music or read poetry that resonated with my mood, and that too felt comforting and good.

Harried parents of small children may look back nostalgically to their single, child-free days - though at those times in the past they may have felt sad and fearful, wondering if they would ever find a partner and have children. Once the kids get older, they may then miss the sweet years when the kids were younger. And on and on.

On the collective plane - there’s a lot of negativity in our society right now. And there are also increasing numbers of artists, activists, young people, and regular folks working towards a more loving and just world at the same time. I think about folks in the 80’s and 90’s fondly remembering the passion of the Civil Rights and other movements of the 60’s and 70’s, saddened by the lack of passion for social justice in the latter decades.

It’s a shame to look back to a time when we felt stressed, striving, and unhappy, and realize we actually had something good that we didn’t even see or enjoy at the time! It’s only human nature to have goals or try to change a difficult current circumstance. But may we not get so caught up in creating the future we want that we forget to enjoy - or at least make the most of - the now. Otherwise, when we get to the ‘destination,’ perhaps we’ll feel happy for a bit of time, but we return soon enough to our ‘set point’ of dissatisfaction with the present moment.

Just as the best predictor of tomorrow’s weather is today’s weather, the best way to ensure a happy tomorrow is to find our happiness in today. Ultimately it’s not the external circumstances that create our happiness or dissatisfaction, but our ability to cultivate the seed of happiness wherever we find ourselves.

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