Secrets of a Happy Life: Be Present in the Present

Hard to believe that another month and a new season are upon us.  As I get older, time truly does seem to go by faster.  How is it that the kids’ spring break just ended and now the school year is hurtling to a close at breakneck speed?!?

Thinking back to my childhood, the summers seemed to last forever.  We would play outside from dawn till dusk, taking little breaks to munch on Mr. Freezies and ketchup-dipped grilled cheese sandwiches (yup, the ones with Wonder Bread and Kraft cheese slices).  Fast forward to present day and I turn around to find that it’s late August and we’re in the throws of back-to-school shopping.

Dr. Tara's Sunshine Reflections: Pitfalls of a Future-Focused Mentality

I write about the passage of time now because I am acutely aware of my need to be more actively engaged in the present.  This is something I often struggle with.  I spent so many years pre and post med school planning, worrying about — and frankly living for — the “next thing”.  The next class, paper, exam, clinical rotation, course, accomplishment.  That future-focused mentality permeated everything.  Truth be told, my husband and I would be on vacation and find ourselves missing the ocean sunset as we made plans for the next vacation.

After I had my first two children back-to-back, things didn’t get much better.  Hubs was studying for cardiology board exams, and I was flying solo — overwhelmed, sleep deprived, and operating in survival mode.  As much as I would love to be able to tell you I revelled in all their “firsts” and marveled at the wonders of new motherhood, I can’t.  The days were passed focusing on the next feed, nap, diaper change, load of laundry.  Basically making it through to the next day…

“In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much and forget about the joy of just being.”
— Eckhart Tolle

It was only before my third child was born and I started training in psychotherapy and coaching that I realized how much of my chronic dissatisfaction was connected to this future-focused disposition.  And not just my general dysthymic mood, but also my angst, my worry, my unrest.

What I have learned is that when I shift my focus to being present in the present, I am better able to notice and savour the little things and to truly connect with the people around me.  As a result, I feel more grounded and content.  My sense of deprivation (what do I want next?) is replaced with a sense of abundance and gratitude.

Creating Your Own Happiness: Mindfulness Matters

Indeed, studies have shown that mindfulness — defined here as paying attention purposefully, in the present, and without judgement — is associated with reductions in stress, anxiety, pain and insomnia as well as improvements in mood, energy, and productivity.  When we are less preoccupied, we are also more likely to exude a positive and welcoming vibe that can, in turn, attract more warmth and positivity.  We tend to be less judgemental of ourselves and others and, as a corollary, more understanding and compassionate.

It is hard for me to overstate the positive impact of becoming grounded in mindfulness.  The more I endeavor to pause and savour the little pleasures of life and truly engage with the real world and people around me, the happier and more at peace I feel.  The trouble is that old habits die hard.  I occasionally seem to forget what I have learned and do a bit of a backslide into living-for-the-future mode.  Hence this blog and my upcoming piece outlining some simple strategies for practicing mindfulness.  Cuz this all sounds good on paper, but it's the doing (and being) that matters.