Meditation for Modern Life

Mindfulness skills from a well being expert

The One Thing You Need to Do to Find Real Happiness

Discover an underrated key to contentment.

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Our minds create many thoughts that can lead to our being unhappy, the key phrase being, our minds create. The thoughts and beliefs that we hold affect everything about us. Here in the United States, and in most of the developed world, people are consumed by consumerism. So much of our unhappiness comes from wishing that things were different, wishing that we had something else instead of what we do have.

I remember meeting a woman once who had a beautiful daughter. She was very happy with her daughter, but she really wanted another child. Even though her husband and daughter loved her, she was utterly unhappy because she didn’t have a second child. All of her mental energy, all of her mental commentary, went toward that focus and because of that, she suffered greatly. Those of us not in her situation may think that’s funny, or odd, but her story is a lesson I hope can encourage all of us to spend some time, maybe even at this very moment, to reflect upon the question, “In my own life, what am I focused on that I don’t have?”

I can guarantee that if we focus on what we don’t have, we’re going to be unhappy, and we’re going to suffer. Our unhappiness can stem from anything that we’re focusing on. Maybe we think we’ll be happy when we lose those extra 50 pounds. Maybe happiness will come when we reach a certain financial level. Maybe when we get that promotion. Maybe we’ll finally be happy when we meet our soul mate and begin a new life together. Or maybe, when we have a child, then we’ll finally be happy. The list can become endless because the moment we fulfill one of our desires, a new one takes its place, and we just continue to suffer. We may want to be healthy, we may want to get a better grade at school, we may want our first car—the list can be endless.

In many ways, our lives are like that of the mythological king Sisyphus, sentenced to the eternal punishment of rolling a large boulder up a hill. But every time he reached the top, the boulder would roll back down, and he would have to start all over again; it never ended. I think sometimes our minds are like that—they just don’t stop. No matter what we desire or wish for, at any age, something else will come along and we’ll say, “Now I want that.” It’s almost shocking if you think about it, and it can continue throughout our lives.

Young children, for example, can’t wait to get presents on their birthday or Christmas morning. But often, and shockingly fast, they tire of their new toys and move on to something else. Does this really ever change? As we get older, our new toys become bigger and grander—a car, a home, a spouse—and yet we can still tire of them and move on. We want something different, something more.

We’re unhappy with what we have, and we’re always yearning after something different.

How do we get off this continuous and debilitating treadmill? Is there any freedom from our Sisyphean task? Yes—and it’s actually shockingly simple. All we have to do is be happy with what we have.

Again: All we have to do is be happy and be focused on what we have right here, right now.

But how do we do this in our daily life, when our minds so quickly tend to want to focus again on what we don’t have? A lot of it has to do with realizing that this type of thinking is not going to help us. We have to really believe that focusing on what we don’t have is going to cause us suffering. We have to believe that focusing on what we do have right now, what we’re blessed with, is going to put a smile on our face. In many ways, this is as powerful as E=MC2, and just as beautiful and simple. All we have to do is focus on what we have and not focus on what we don’t have. We have to be happy with what we have and not think about what we don’t have.

It’s that simple, that elegant, and that beautiful.

We have to realize that this changed philosophy isn’t going to make the marketers and advertisers of the world very happy. They spend billions of dollars trying to get us to be unhappy with how things are now, so that we’ll want something different, so that we’ll feel “less than." Otherwise, we’re not going to spend money to buy what they’re selling. I don’t want to blame it only on the marketers, though. We’re just as guilty because we do the same thing to ourselves: We think about what other people have—success, possessions, love, whatever it may be. And because we’re thinking about what they have and what we don’t, we become unhappy. What if, instead, we focused on all the beautiful things that we have in our lives? Some of us may have less than others, but we can all still have a beautiful life.

If you don’t know this about me already, I really love to spend time at monasteries. When you choose to live a monastic life, you give up just about everything. Yet the people who live these simple lives are often the happiest people I have ever met in my entire life. They can have virtually nothing, as we know it, and still focus on what they do have. They may not have material possessions, but they have a love of life, right here, right now—and they’re very happy.

Why can’t we do the same? Why can’t we focus on what we do have? Maybe we have a beautiful family, even though we might not have the nicest house in the neighborhood. Maybe we don’t feel very well physically sometimes, but we are free and able to go for walks in nature and can enjoy being outside. Maybe we haven’t yet found the love of our life, but we have friends who care about us whom we get to spend time with. The list of things we do have can go on for a long time if we start focusing on them and celebrating them it. Again, it doesn’t have to be much: Just going for a walk in the early morning, when everything is peaceful and still, can bring us happiness beyond our wildest imagination. Just connecting with friends can be more valuable than staying at the world's grandest hotel. The list of what we do have and what we can focus on can go on and on. By realizing what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t, we discover one of the key secrets of happiness.

Once we do this, then we can live a beautiful, happy, fulfilled life.

Robert Puff, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for over 20 years.

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