Stop Searching and Look In Your Hand

“Life is a succession of moments. To live each one is to succeed.”
~ Coreta Kent

Have you ever lost your keys and searched the entire house only to realize you've been holding them all along? Or maybe your glasses have disappeared, until someone points out they are on the top of your head? There's a mixture of relief and embarrassment when that happens. You might wonder, “How could I fail to see what is right in front of me?”

A reader recently commented asking if I had any “unifying insight beyond all the topics I deal with.” Yes,  and it's this.  We are all seekers for something we think is missing, but in reality, that something is right in our hands. Whatever it is that we think is “out there” to make our lives better and happier isn't there. It's right here, right now.

Your happiness is completely in your control by the way you choose to live this very moment.

Life is a series of “right now's.” Think back on times that you looked forward to an event, a new relationship, a fancy new thing. Then you got it, whatever it was that you dreamed of and thought about constantly. Maybe it was wonderful for a while, but then it became old news. It let you down, it broke, it didn't hold your interest any longer. And then you felt just like right now.

So you were off to the next thing that you thought would make you happy. You focused attention and energy  on this new next thing until you did or didn't get it. In this way, life becomes an endless cycle of seeking, acquiring, becoming dissatisfied, and seeking again. The only constant is the cycle. Happiness hinges on that brief time of acquisition, and unhappiness is certain if you don't get it.

But what if it were the other way around? What if the only constant were happiness, and life events, good or bad,  only moderately impacted your sense of joy and fulfillment in life? Imagine getting off the treadmill of seeking and simply lived in a state of happiness.

In her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky reveals that we are in control of our state of happiness. She suggests that 50% of our happiness quota is genetic. Some people are just born happier than others. Only 10% is related to circumstances — our finances, relationships, careers, stuff, etc. But 40% is in our control.  And that's where we should put our time and attention.That's enough to make a profound difference in how we feel right now.

Dr. Lyubomirsky discovered that three pursuits make the greatest difference in our feelings of happiness and fulfillment in life:

1. Consistent positive thinking and focusing thoughts on pleasant memories or ideas.

2. Thinking about and expressing gratitude to yourself and to others.

3. Regularly performing acts of kindness and altruism.

None of this should be a surprise. It sounds like advice your grandmother told you or that you see on bumper stickers.  It's something you've known all along — like lost keys in your hand. The real key is putting these things into practice and switching them up enough so that you exercise different parts of the mental happiness muscle.

So what does this all mean specifically for you?

It means using this moment to put these things into action.  I'm not suggesting you stop working toward acquiring things or relationships or whatever. But I am suggesting that you spend less time focused on outcomes and more time focused on the moment. I'm also suggesting that you spend more of those moments in actions that support the three pursuits I mention above: positive thinking, gratitude and kindness.

Here are some ideas to do just that:

Exercise Mind Control

  • Take five minutes to mentally re-live a wonderful memory. Visualize the entire scene in your head and feel the feelings that this event created. Do this often.
  • Put a rubber band on your arm, and when your mind falls in a cycle of negative thinking, snap the rubber band. Force yourself to switch gears and think positively or focus on something else.
  • Start the practice of meditation, even for only five minutes a day.
  • Stay focused on the task at hand, whatever it is. Snap the rubber band if you drift.
  • Take small actions for change, and then savor and acknowledge the step forward. Write it down in an accomplishment book. Fill the pages with all of the beautiful small actions that comprise your life. It's the actions, not the result, that bring the most joy.
  • Stop worrying so much. The odds are greatly in your favor that you won't have to beg, starve, suffer or die today, tomorrow or this year.

Start Your Day With Gratitude

  • Wake up thankful for a new day. You are alive and have a fresh start.
  • Be grateful for a warm shower, clean clothes, a comfortable home.
  • Delight in the abundance of food you have. Savor the tastes of your meal.
  • Acknowledge the love and support of your family and friends.
  • Look out the window or walk outside and soak in the beauty all around you.
  • Be happy for your work, paid or unpaid, that gives your life order and direction and hopefully fulfillment.
  • Remind yourself that you have the intelligence and ability to make your life even better every day.
  • Throughout the day, acknowledge all that you do have rather than focusing on what you don't.

Be Kind and Give to Others

  • Think less about your problems and look for ways to reach out to others.
  • Do something kind anonymously. Pay for a stranger's meal. Leave a nice note for someone. Put a flower in a friend's mailbox.
  • Listen.
  • Sincerely thank the service workers who take care of your mail, groceries, yard, newspaper, garbage, etc.
  • Speak the compliment when it comes to your mind.
  • Be a mentor.
  • Every day express your love to those you love. Find out what makes them happy and try to do that for them more often.

If you live to be 90, you have a total of 32,850 days on Earth. How many days do you have left? Each moment is a gift. Don't spend it worrying, hoping, wishing for a different future. Spend it in this moment, the one in your hand.

If you would like to learn more about living in the moment, please download my FREE eBook, How To Live A Meaningful Life, and receive regular email updates to Live Bold and Bloom.

Comments

  1. Barrie, I loved this post. It is so on-target and there’s SO MUCH wisdom here. You blog is a real find for me, now one of my blog-role favorites. I look forward to browsing your site and many more posts like this 🙂
    .-= Denny Coates´s last blog ..Henry Ford – The Wisdom That Comes from Creating an Industry =-.

  2. Barrie, this is a great reminder of why we need to just stop and appreciate – “Whatever it is that we think is “out there” to make our lives better and happier isn’t there. It’s right here, right now.”

    You offer great suggestions for taking control of the 40% that we can design. It really is worth the effort to cultivate our sense of happiness – and let life surprise us as it unfolds
    .-= Aileen´s last blog ..9-11 How I Relived the Tragedy and Discovered Humanity =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Aileen,
      Thank you so much. I love your comment, “let life surprise us as it unfolds.” That is so affirming — as though life is truly magical without all of our plans and schemes for a better future.

  3. Barrie:

    Superb — thank you!

    Steve

  4. Yell out the eternal question “How could I fail to see what is right in front of me?”.
    The echo says it all “How could I fail to see what is right in front of me?”.
    Did you hear the answer? If not keep yelling until you become lit, for in that echo is the answer.

    I came across this social experiment video which is quieter asking the same question:
    http://devour.com/video/money-tree/

    A great piece Barrie, light em up.

  5. Barrie,

    Wonderful article! It’s amazing to consider that nearly half of our well-being is personally in our control. The three items mentioned, such as focusing thoughts on pleasant memories or ideas, thinking about and expressing gratitude, and regularly performing acts of kindness and altruism, really seem to be the essence of what can improve well-being. Though, when we aren’t exactly where we want to be in life, we neglect these areas to pursue external and superficial goals we think will make us happy; when the main pursuit should be to start establishing this foundation mentioned above. Thanks for the great tips and reference!
    .-= Joe Wilner´s last blog ..6 Steps to Setting Goals that Improve Performance =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Joe,
      I’m so glad you liked the article. Yes, we do always seem to look in the wrong places when we are seeking fulfillment and joy. Most of the time, we don’t have to look at all. Thanks for you great guest post last week.

  6. Christopher Lovejoy says:

    Hi Barrie, your post really puts our capacity for being happy into perspective. The main thing for me is to be other-centred, i.e., paying kind attention to others insofar as this will make the key ingredients of happiness – positivity, gratitude, and charity – that much easier to fulfill over the long-term.
    .-= Christopher Lovejoy´s last blog ..For the Benefit of Others =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Christopher,
      Yes, those things (positivity, gratitude, charity) sustain happiness over the long term, and they are always available. Unlike new things, relationships, money, etc. Thanks for your kind comments.

  7. I love this post, Barrie. It is clear, simple, and straightforward. I can attest that your suggestions work! One area in my life that has been opening up recently is giving to others. My conditioning is to hold back and take care of myself. When I let that go, I get so much joy in the giving that flows outward.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That’s wonderful Gail. I imagine as a therapist, you are giving to others all the time. I think we are much more isolated and self-protecting than our grandparents were. I don’t know if giving to others is as much a part of our daily culture as it once was. We have to re-learn how to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

  8. Wow, thanks for taking the time to put this whole resource together Barrie — clearly a lot of work! I think this is a pretty damn good call to action here — time to make it happen. No one else is going to do it but you, right?

    I love that quote at the top, by the way, fan-freakin-tastic. It reminds me of something i’ve been pondering the last day or so:

    One thing is certain — you are going to die, you just don’t know when… so, when are you going to start to really live?

    just a thought
    Much love!
    ~Satya

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Satya,
      I’m glad you are seeing it as a call to action. I hope you go really live this moment, right now!

  9. You’re right, it’s age old advice, but good to be reminded often. Each of the things on the list deserve to be read slowly and really given some thought. Most people don’t take the time to do this. Thanks for the post, I needed this today!
    .-= Frugal Vegan Mom´s last blog ..Week 16 Pic =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I’m glad the post came to you on the day you needed it! Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind comments.

  10. Being in the moment is definitely a work in progress for me. I often think it would be great if I could be present in each moment as much as I am in session and in yoga! When I slow down, and look at what is right in front of me, I am thankful, engaged, and intrigued. Being a psychotherapist and aspiring writer leaves me wandering around in my head. I haven’t tried a rubber band yet. Instead I ask myself is this something I want to be thinking about right now? Usually not!
    .-= Marci´s last blog ..Climbing the Mountain to See Problems from New Perspectives =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I am too much in my head too Marci. But it sounds like you have a good mental rubber band to keep your thoughts in check. Thank you for commenting.

  11. Barrie, your wisdom shines through every post. I love this one — a challenge to live in the moment, commit to working at our own happiness by practicing simple loving kindness and gratitude. Ahhhh, sounds blissful. Thank you for your wonderful guidance.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..A Simple Guide to Joy Riding =-.

    • Dear Barry,
      indeed you are giving excellent advice on how to live the precious time we have available. Truly life is, in its essence, just that very single and unique instant you are happening to be living now. As it happens though all too often, we seem to be be projecting our attention somewhere else, mostly worrying for the future or regretting past missed opportunities, thereby missing again what we could enjoy in the present.
      This works well under life’s normal circumstances, but at some stage we all seem to experience some extraordinary difficulties, dark moments when we feel our heart squeezed in suffering, our soul empty, our life meaningless.
      Tough, terrible moments, we would prefer to do without. But possiby the most important moments because living through them will take us to deeper insight, will make us change. Achieving change in one’s way of thinking and behaviour is certainly at the core of our life experience, but most of the time it is not what we would like to do. We would prefer to dwell in our usual ways, surrounded but what we think we need. And just when we feel nicely nestled in the comfortable reality we strive to create, something which we consider disruptive happens, we see our life toren apart. It is a time of change. It is so difficult because we must change inside and the way we are inside depends a lot from how we have been educated or conditioned at the beginning of our lives. Often there are walls of prejudice to be pulled down, crevasses full of fear to avoid, deserts of lack of love to overcome. It is difficult because they are inside us, they are in fact part of what we are, same as the keys we were looking for while we have had them on us all the time but we just could not see them, so we look outside for solutions while the only key that works is inside us as well.

      • Barrie Davenport says:

        Roberto,
        Your response would make a lovely post! Thank you for taking the time to write something so inspirational.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you Katie!

  12. I think the reason why people keep losing things is that they lack self-awareness and outer-awareness

    But hey, thanks for the wonderful article.

  13. You have written to “Speak the compliment when it comes to your mind”
    Yes your article is enlightening.
    It can change lives, positively.
    Thanks

  14. Absolutely wonderful post! Packed with wisdom, reading it filled my heart with joy.
    Thank you Barrie 🙂
    .-= Cristina´s last blog ..10 simple ideas to decorate with flowers =-.

  15. Rosemary Hannan says:

    I really enjoyed this post Barrie…so much wisdom! I particularly love the ‘be kind to others’ suggestions at the end. Especially where you say to find out what really makes people happy and to do it. I think we often plan treats and surprises for others around what ‘we’ would like rather than trying to put ourselves into that person’s situation and trying to imagine what ‘they’ would love. Thanks for sharing these enlightening thoughts.
    .-= Rosemary Hannan´s last blog ..Lessons I Learned the Hard Way =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Rosemary,
      There’s a great book called The Five Love Languages that teaches couples how to learn how their partner feels and expresses love. Understanding what is loving and meaningful to someone else and then giving it to them is a real act of loving kindness. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  16. Preeti @ Heart and Mind says:

    Barrie,

    Oh I can so relate to this as I have done this often to myself and seen others do it, for example looking for glasses when they are on your head, putting salt in fridge and so on.

    That is why I do not think multi tasking works, doing one thing at the time is much better.
    .-= Preeti @ Heart and Mind´s last blog ..What if you had Golden Touch =-.

  17. Dear Barrie,

    Reading this post was exciting, especially when I came to the suggestions.

    My life has become more and more joy-filled (yes, happier) over the last several years. I became happier with life because I practiced the things you noted in your post.

    First, I focused more on what DID feel good. I still feel it’s important to embrace feelings such as sadness or anger and sit with them when they arise. But, I don’t LIVE in these feelings. I bring my focus back to what I want to create and find the good in things.

    Next, nothing changed my life more than practicing appreciation until I “got it” in my bones. I LOVE life since I’ve cultivated appreciation. It changed everything for me.

    Giving love has been the best. The choice to give love wherever I feel I can has enriched my life. The recognition that love begins within and is not an external was a powerful awakening.

    I agree that there is most likely a genetic factor to our happiness and I definitely believe we have the power of CHOICE.

    Life is perspective and it’s easy to overlook the suggestions you noted that bring happiness because they seem so elementary and simple. I know the power they have to change a life.

    It is a joy to keep growing and expanding in where I choose to focus, appreciation, and giving. I know there’s no end to the expansion that awaits us. It’s exciting to be alive.

    I love this post! Thank you.

    Be well,
    Lauren
    .-= Lauren´s last blog ..7 Tips To Avoid Temporary Insanity at Heartbreak Hotel =-.

    • Wow Lauren. Thank you so much for sharing your inspirational story. It is one thing to write about the ideas of how to be happier, but it is so powerful to hear from someone who has put that into action. I am so glad you shared your experience with my readers. It does take practice to cultivate these behaviors and make them part of your everyday life, but as you know, the payoff is tremendous.

  18. Barrie, I just love the image of finding one’s keys in one’s hand. Especially because it is by our own hands we will accomplish what we need to do.
    .-= LPC´s last blog ..The Privileges and Pitfalls of Traveling Abroad =-.

  19. Hi Barrie,
    I love this blog and its focus on helping people have a model for directing their thoughts and manifesting their thoughts into positive actions of kindness. I have been a constant director of my thoughts for several years now and have come to an interesting place. As I have really examined the things for which I am grateful, I came to realize that that my immense appreciation for so many elements of life (a warm soft bed, a hot shower, the ability to make choices, etc.) was really the feeling of LOVE. And as I have allowed this level of thinking and feeling to mature I find that I can keep myself in love (not just happiness) throughout the day. The other twist that comes up involves how often being in one’s happiness keeps one in one’s ego. If one learns to create, embrace and express love, one spends most of their time coming from their soul. BrianSatt.com.ablogaboutlove

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Brian,
      What a lovely, thoughtful comment. Yes, I guess it is love. Feeling gratitude is a way of embracing all of the love we have around us. I think being in a place of love actually produces happiness.