Happiness is now

Like most people, I like to be happy. And like most people, I look for moments of happiness in my day. But what if looking for happiness is what leads us away from it. What if it only exists right here, right now.

Thanks to Marshall Goldsmith, I have a better sense of where to find it now. Goldsmith is an executive coach who practices Zen.  His philosophy is simple: be happy now.  His point is this: happiness is not somewhere in the future or in the past. It is here in this moment, in the now. 

Like a lot of Zen, the message can sound simple, but the more you think about it, the more depth you uncover. Zen talks about impermanence, for example.  I get that things don't last, right, and that our world is impermanent and everything is transforming constantly—that is, changing form. But understanding what being happy really means, its moment-to-moment influence on our lives, and understanding how we might live our lives differently and manage our companies differently, is a different thing, a different level of getting it.

Like most things, this is about change. Change is one of those concepts that we understand, but how we bring about change is more difficult than we tend to think.  I've worked as a therapist in the past, and I watched clients struggle to make change in their lives.  I've struggled with the same difficulty to make change in my life.  It isn't that easy because we have this habit mind, as they say in Zen, and all these automated responses that keep us from being fully present in the moment, and from working through each moment fully engaged.  It is easier to be on autopilot and to let our brain just brush our teeth based on the last hundred times we did that, or drive to work based on past experiences of making that left turn and getting onto that onramp.  And in those seemingly innocent and quietly private decisions to do so, a terrible thing happens.  We give away our privilege to be there in each moment, fully conscious and present.  The truth is that each moment of life is different.  Each spring is different from any other spring.  Each cup of coffee is different from any other we've had in the past, and the entire moment around that cup of coffee is different.

So how do we change this? How do we take back our privilege of being present in each moment of life? Change begins within and then displays in our outward behavior.  Sounds a little like computers and programming, right? Well, it kind of is.  We have these mental models based on our own programming, these thoughts and images about how the world works, and they influence and control how we think and act in the world.  To change them, we have to go inside and take a look at them and see how they influence our behavior, and see if we agree with them.  Otherwise, we just continue on autopilot.

The more we look beyond for answers, the less we seem to find them. The more we look within, the more we realize the vast depths of insight available, if we simply take the time. Meditation is a practice of looking inside. It is a relatively simple practice. The more you sit with yourself in a quiet place and listen to your heart and mind, the more you notice your feelings and thoughts, the more you notice who you are, the more in touch you become with your very nature.

I find it sad to think that so many people spend their entire lives never taking the time to "sit" and allow for such tranquility and inner reflection. I find similar aspects of peace and quiet in nature, but it is different than sitting in meditation or practicing mindfulness. The funny thing is that you quickly find that even in a quiet environment, your mind can be cranking out a whole lot of stuff. Yet, in the stillness, your awareness of self and no self, and your relationship to others and the world, grows.

Being present in the moment is a central practice of Zen, of meditation, and of mindfulness. What surprises me about this notion is how often we are not living in the moment, even though it is the only moment of life happening. If we are not here now, then where are we? Quite often, our mind is in the future. As Marshall points out, our world is very much driven by the prevailing commercial art form that pummels us daily with the message that we cannot possibly be happy until we spend money for something, and then we can become happy. See Marshall's "Life is Good". In this view of life, happiness exists in the future and can only be found after a purchase. The very premise is flawed, since it repeats and never ends.  If we subscribe to this view, we cannot find happiness here and now in the present moment, which, ironically, is the only actual moment of existence.

When we can be in the present moment, there is less "noise". We can focus on just what is here right now, in this moment. All else fades away into the background. It is a powerful method for self development and leadership. Leaders in organizations live and breathe in a busy world. So how do we help them to find greater clarity? One way is to help them learn how to quite the noise. Mindfulness—one method of doing this—has made its way into the mainstream of the corporate world, thanks to coaches like Goldsmith.

The more we open our minds, the more we see how much we are all connected and how the answers to our questions can be found in almost any direction. Given the nature of our world, its impermanence and interconnectedness, it should not surprise us to know that most of the answers will come in the form of yet another question. And that's a good thing, right, unless you are fixed on endings! Movies are good for that ...

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