Learning How to Be Present by Avoiding the I’ll Be Happy When’s
Do you recall laying on a beach listening to waves crash and feeling the salty breeze on your skin, watching a child with a contagious giggle and catching yourself smiling too, feeling exhilaration while riding a roller coaster, tasting your favorite dessert, or feeling your heart pounding as you push through the final leg of a race? One thing these all have in common is they bring us into the present. For a moment, we get out of our thinking heads and embody the present moment. Most of us do not stay here long before our busy minds pick up right where they left off. What are we spending so much time thinking about if it is not what is directly in front of us? One common contributor to our ruminating thoughts about the future are what I call the I’ll be happy when’s.
In my recent quest to learn more about the benefits of meditation, mindfulness and being present one of the main topics that comes up is what takes us out of the present. The examples cited above almost require our full attention making it difficult for our mind to wonder. This is tougher when the present is boring, unpleasant, or uncomfortable. Our minds naturally race away from painful emotions or discomfort to any available solitude. One common place we seek solitude is the I’ll be happy when’s.
Have you ever caught yourself thinking how your current situation would be better if only you could lose 20 lbs, finally be promoted, buy the new car, if someone in your life would start or stop doing something? Surely, I’ll be happier, feel more attractive, be more successful, seen well by others when…
I never realized how often I was caught up in thoughts of I’ll be happy when … until I tried to be more aware and grateful for the present. Now I catch myself in some version of this thought repeatedly throughout the day. I’m sitting in my backyard watching my kids play and my mind wonders away to wouldn’t our back yard be nicer if we had more vegetation and nicer patio furniture. I am eating dinner with my family and begin thinking life will be easier when my kids are older and do not cry and whine so often. In a training with colleagues my thoughts go to the respect and acknowledgement I will most certainly receive when I have fill-in-the-blank certification.
What if the feeling of being happy is fleeting or worse yet never materializes. For myself I started to notice the trouble with this line of thinking when I began to get the degree, practice, family etc. but the sense of being fulfilled or whatever I expected to happen was not sustained. Sometimes it was as quick as the same week or month and my mind was already running to the next degree, home upgrade I needed, or you name it to feel content. I have often experienced the gratitude, joy, and excitement of awaited events and achievements as fleeting so it makes sense that somehow learning how to be more present and ok with the present is increasingly important.
Practice being present
Notice your thoughts. Throughout your day notice your thoughts. Notice when they drift off to the future or back to the past. Begin to notice anytime you are longing, hoping or waiting for something. Do you ever get caught up in an I’ll be happy when thought?
Bring your mind back. Once you catch your mind wondering off. Bring it back to the present moment. If you are with someone you may focus on them. Their eyes, their hands, their qualities you enjoy. If you are alone notice what is around you. What can you hear, see, touch, smell or taste? When you walk to your car notice the clouds, the warm Houston air on your skin, a bird or loud truck nearby. Just see what you notice.
Grow gratitude. Is there anything or lots of things you are grateful for in this moment? Your health, mobility, family’s health, family, friends, etc. It is easier to let go of or relax the idea that I’ll be happy when… if we can refocus on what we are grateful for today.
Be patient with yourself. If you related to any of the above you are human. We are a thinking species. Our minds will naturally drift away from the present for many reasons. Looking forward to the future, planning for an event, working towards a goal are all good things. They sometimes just get tough to turn off or take a break from. Even noticing your mind has gone to an I’ll be happy when … will support you in returning back to the present. Our minds wondering is not a bad thing. It is just something that happens like the weather changing.
After years of chasing a feeling and it being linked to something I did not have today I was forced to take pause and figure out how or if it is possible to feel happy, content, at peace, and fulfilled today. What I am learning is that being human means my mind will wonder, I will want to escape discomfort and I will often not be in the present. But I can practice noticing when I am missing out on today by longing for something in tomorrow. I can intentionally identify and bring my mind’s attention to this moment and what I am grateful for in this moment.
Michelle Puster M.Ed., LPC, CART, CCTP
Katy Couples & Wellness Counseling
Helping couples grow close
Couples, Marriage, & Individual Counseling Serving Katy | West Houston
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