The Key to Living a Happy Life Today

How do we live now and plan for the future? It’s really one of the key factors o

Posted Dec 12, 2014

There are many things that can keep us from happiness; mine is delayed gratification or “Someday I’ll…” I remember when I first started working and seeing clients, over 25 years ago, there was a financial planner who had contacted me and told me that if I saved my money and invested it wisely, when I would retire 30 to 40 years in the future I would have enough money that I wouldn’t have to worry about working anymore. I wasn’t necessarily planning on retiring, but I did like the idea of financial freedom. So I remember starting to think about ways that I could save money; putting it into an investment plan so that someday I could have all the time, freedom, and money that I needed to sustain myself and my family so I wouldn’t need to work anymore. I could work but I wouldn’t have to work. I spent a lot of time thinking about that. I’m pretty good at “delayed gratification” and putting things off for the future.

After going through high school I accomplished another 14 years of schooling (2 Masters, a PhD, and 2 years of post-doctoral work) before I even started working full-time in private practice, so I was pretty good about waiting for the future. Unfortunately I was too good at it and in the process of now waiting for retirement I wasn’t living nearly fully as much as I should have been. I was very fortunate that I was able to learn this lesson at a younger age and didn’t miss out on these past 25 years; but, I did have to learn it. I needed to learn how to live now and plan for the future.

I’d like to talk about a very easy way for all of us to do this. How do we live now and plan for the future? It’s really one of the key factors of leading a happy life. If we’re always planning for the future, as I tend to do, then we’re not living in the “now” and living in the now, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, creates a beautiful life. When we look back on our life we can say “Yes, we’re enjoying our retirement age and we enjoyed the journey getting here.”

Now I, perhaps like you, may have long to go before I retire but we don’t want to miss out on living NOW. Let’s talk about how we do that. What’s the key factor in living in the now and really enjoying the journey of life? Here’s something I think you’re going to find really helpful. What we need to do is make sure that every day is a “special” day; a day that we can look back on at the end of the day when we put our heads on our pillows and say “If I don’t wake up tomorrow morning that was a good day!” The truth is we really don’t know if we’re going to wake up tomorrow morning, so it’s important each day to make sure that there are special things throughout our day, today, that make it a beautiful day. It’s not that we don’t plan for the future, but we make sure that if today is our last day it’s a good day. It’s not that we’re going to chuck everything that we invest in and go live a crazy day and then deal with the mess tomorrow. That’s not what I’m talking about. What we are exploring here is making sure that every day is a day worth living; that we’re not counting too much on living a life of “someday I’ll…” and that instead we live each day fully.

I see all too often in so many people all around the world that they’re waiting for that day in the future when they’ll begin living. It’s very simple to do this, to live in the now and make each day worth living. At the beginning of each day and throughout the day say, “How do I make this a beautiful day?” Or have moments throughout the day that are truly wonderful and make this day, when it ends, a very rich and full day. Let me share some of my own examples here and together we’ll explore some of the things that you may do to make your day a beautiful one. Mind you these scenarios do change for me; what I’m doing now may change from what I’m doing six months from now, or even next week. Right now, pretty much every day, these are the things I do that give me pleasure and put a smile on my face so that when I put my head down at the end of the day I say, “This was a good day.”

For me, my family is very important to me.   With my children, I get the benefit of taking them to school every day which is something I really enjoy. With my daughter’s class I get to stay about 15 minutes a day and read to the kids, which is a special time for my daughter and me to share together. I schedule my day such that when I go to work I work a little later so that on my way to work I stop at Laguna Beach and I go for a walk along the beach. Laguna Beach is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I really enjoy watching the waves and ocean every day. There are many other things I do throughout my day. As you know I really enjoy meditating, so I meditate twice a day; once in the morning when I first get up and again in the evening when I go to bed. My eating habits are a little unusual in that I eat “raw” until evening time; meaning that I don’t ever eat anything cooked until evening time, so when I have my morning juice and my afternoon salad I actually really enjoy them. I spend time eating very slowly and enjoying my food.

There are many other things I enjoy doing throughout the day to make it a beautiful day. For example, when I get a break I take a walk. On the weekends we do a lot of family activities together and go on outings. We go on family vacations fairly often. Now again, this may change in a day or it may change in a few weeks. My schedule has readjusted many, many times throughout my life and it will continue to do so. When it readjusts I just find new things to readjust to that will make each day special and beautiful. For example, some day I won’t be taking my kids to school every day. They’ll be off in college or working on their own and then I’ll be doing other things instead of that. It’s just making sure that every day is special. I like being outside, perhaps you do too, so make it a point to be outdoors every day if that works for you. It really is something wonderful for many of us. Listening to beautiful music that’s uplifting and positive can be very healthy. Connecting with friends and just stopping for a moment to talk and socialize can be a very great thing that we do to make our day special. Most things that I do don’t cost me any money at all and yet they often give me the greatest pleasure in being in the moment right now. So find those things that work for you and make sure that they’re part of your life every day.

Now there is a caveat here, something that we all have to deal with and of which we need to be aware. There are things that we do that may seem like they enrich our lives and make our day special but they’re actually very harmful. I’ll give an obvious example of this: addictions. Everyone knows that drugs are very unhealthy for us, but there are people who are addicted to drugs and they’re doing them because they want to have a good time. How we know something isn’t good for us is by their after-effects: what do we feel like after we do it? Does it uplift us? Does it uplift the people around us? Or does it tear us down and maybe even hurt other people in the process of doing our “activity”?

I think the thing that catches a lot of people is the entertainment world. We watch TV shows, movies, and listen to music that, at the end of a long day, can seem enjoyable but they don’t really add anything to our lives. These forms of entertainment may be making fun of people, cutting people down; they’re showing dark images that get planted inside our head or put words in our mind that cut people down that are harmful, that are cruel. Those are things that at the time, like drugs, may seem like something we enjoy doing but we can all tell that they’re not really good for us and they hurt us in the long run. Stay away from those types of things. You have to be the determining factor of what is or isn’t good for you, nobody else can decide for you; but look at how it affects you in the short and long term. Eating is another example. Eating food that can taste so good and so rich can later lead to gout or obesity and in the long run hurt us physically and even emotionally. Instead, finding foods that are good for us and eating them with pleasure is best.

I recall a study that I once read about kids who were put in front of a fridge and were allowed to eat whatever they wanted to. What the scientists found was that the kids ate fairly healthy as long as one particular thing wasn’t present, candy or sweets. When they didn’t have those things available to them the kids ate well. So if we’re eating healthy, then we can find healthy foods to eat and really enjoy them. But, if we are comparing these healthy foods to super rich and sweet foods that we enjoyed before then suddenly these healthy foods don’t taste as good. So readjust yourself and find things that really do have a good effect in the moment as well as a good effect later on.

Now the reverse can also be true. For example, if someone is a couch potato and they start moving around and perhaps walking outside regularly, it may initially cause some pain and soreness; however, a little bit of reasoning will tell us that stretching our bodies, getting outside, spending time in nature and moving around is really good for us. There may be a slight adjustment period but once we start doing things that are good for us, things that put a smile on our face and make us say, “This was a good day. I enjoyed today”, they are going to be beneficial to us in the long run.

Every day in our life is not going to be blissful. It’s just that if this is the last day of our life, if we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring (which ultimately we don’t), then what we can work towards is enjoying today. Making sure that every day has beauty in it, has things that make it beautiful so when we look back on the day we can say “This was a good day”, is what our key to happiness is going to be. If we do this, if we make sure that we can rest our heads each night and say those words, then we will find happiness in the now. If we can do this daily and stop putting things off until “someday I’ll…”, what we end up doing is stringing together a wonderful life. We have a wonderful life that is created by a series of happy days that, when they are threaded together, we can look back on and say, “This was, is, and will be, a beautiful life.”

It’s in our hands whether or not we have a happy life. All we have to do is right now, today, decide on making it a good day and letting tomorrow worry about tomorrow while focusing on How do I make sure TODAY that there are pockets, there are moments throughout this day, that are beautiful and I really enjoy; that will put a smile on my face and maybe even on the faces of others around me? If we do this instead of saying “Someday I’ll live life” what we end up doing is living life now and we find that we create the happiness we are all looking for.

It’s very simple; all we have to do is actually DO IT today, and then the next day, and then the next and we will find that we’ve strung together a life that is happy. Imagine it like this: We have a bow and arrow and we have a target. The further we stand away from the target and aim at it, the harder it is to hit. So if we get right up to the target and aim at the center of that circle, which represents happiness, then we’re going to hit it! Being very close to the target represents “today” while being far away is like saying, “Someday I’ll” and we can hit that bull’s eye throughout the day. The further we move back, the harder it is to hit that happiness target; but if we stand right up to it then we’re probably going to hit it. We don’t know what the future holds. We can aim towards that target but we don’t know how often we’ll have a chance to aim at it; so each day if we stand right in front of it and aim, then we can hit the target and achieve our happiness. If we walk up to the target each and every day then we will become the grand master of archery, the grand master of hitting that target, the grand master of happiness.

Happiness is very easy to find as long as we look for it right here, right now. Let’s focus on being happy today. That is a target we can all hit. Tomorrow when we get up, we’ll do the same thing again. Happiness is something we can all have right now.