How to be more present (and stop chasing happiness)

Mindfulness is everywhere these days.

Seriously, do you know anyone who isn’t “trying to meditate more regularly”? Or “trying get back into my yoga practice”? (Notice it’s always “my yoga practice,” and never "those yoga videos I sometimes watch on YouTube.")

We're all hoping to find the key that unlocks happiness. Believe me, I'm right there with you. The one calling a YouTube channel her "yoga practice"? That'd be me.

How to be more present and stop chasing happiness

Stop trying to be happy

My husband doesn’t meditate. He tried yoga once and hated it. He rolls his eyes at my self-help books and dramatically sighs with exasperation when I quote my mindfulness podcasts. He doesn’t keep a daily gratitude journal. He doesn’t drink 8 glasses of water a day, and he has eaten kale maybe twice in his entire life.

Yet, when I talk to him about “finding happiness” --which I do more than I'd like to admit-- his response is always, “What are you talking about? I’m already happy.”

Which got me thinking: maybe true happiness comes naturally.

Maybe trying to be happy is like trying to be liked-- the more you try, the less you succeed.

Don't force it

My theory really solidified when I stumbled home at 1:00 am after a neighborhood block party that ended up being much more raucous than I expected. To give you an idea of the kind of evening I thought it was going to be, I brought carrots sticks and a bowl of homemade hummus as my party contribution.

We spent the evening singing too loudly and drinking too much and dancing in the street. My discreet, middle-aged neighbor-- who is usually the very definition of rule-abiding Swiss citizenship-- was dancing on the table, one hand in the air and the other on his ear, pretending to be a DJ in a night club.

The whole thing was ridiculous. And I was grateful to be part of it.

Back at our apartment, I was getting ready for bed, a routine that includes washing my face with organic cleanser, giving myself a facial massage with jojoba oil, doing three minutes of meditative tooth-brushing, and writing in my “gratitude journal.”

I wish I was joking.

I got through the cleansing and the massage with no issue. And then it was time for the meditative tooth-brushing. Normally that means I close my eyes and try to focus on the physical sensations of brushing my teeth, rather than letting my mind wander. Normally it works pretty well.

But normally I haven’t been drinking for 6 hours straight.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well. Most tasks don’t when you try to do them drunk with your eyes closed.


Be where you are

So there I was, toothpaste dribbling down my chin, one eye open to try to stop my head from spinning, when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

“You idiot, look what you’ve done. Now you can’t meditate. And don’t even think about trying to journal in this state. Way to go, Gandhi.

But then I opened my other eye, wiped the toothpaste off my chin and realized that I had it all wrong.

My meditative tooth-brushing, my journaling-- all of it-- are supposed to teach me to live in the moment and be happy, and yet here I was instead, letting them keep me from the very benefits they are supposed to create.

Mindfulness, gratitude and positive psychology can certainly enrich our lives, but they should never replace actual living.

And with that, I rinsed out my mouth, marched over to my gratitude journal and scribbled, "No meditate if drink. Live in the pres!!"

And then passed out in bed, happy and grateful.


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