Throughout life, although a positive and optimistic person, I’ve continually placed emphasis on my happiness being at some point in the future—once I meet my husband, once I have a house, once I’m working my dream job.
Before meeting my husband, I had a job that I loved, friends that surrounded me, and extracurricular activities that made my soul feel alive. I felt fulfilled. Even still, I found myself drifting into thought about how much better my life would be once I met the man I was to marry. When that happened, I was certain my disappointments and insecurities would be replaced with confidence and satisfaction. With marriage would come my personal utopia.
It’s easy to think and talk about how great life will be when (whenever when is), whatever that when is. But as milestones pass, we inadvertently move on to picking the next thing that we think will bring us true happiness.
There’s a natural tendency, as Verily contributor Laura Triggs explains, to think that “when we get the thing we want, we’re going to be happy from there on out—especially when the dream involves a good man and a wedding.”
As a happily married woman who is spending a year traveling around the world with my husband, I'm here to tell you that the tendency to think "I'll be happy when..." never ends.
Instead of clinging to a hypothetical moment of future bliss that doesn't really exist, I had to rethink my approach. I had to find a way to stop dreaming and start appreciating.
Dreaming Less, Living More
On a recent vacation with my husband, I found myself imagining traveling with him in a different location—a place we’d go in the future. My very own thought startled me. It struck me profoundly because I realized how mistaken I was. I was incredibly fortunate to have found and married my husband, let alone travel to a beautiful place with him. Despite all of this, I still let happiness elude me by thinking that true joy awaited me somewhere in the future.
In a recent study, psychologists found that people are happier when they can mentally stay focused in the present and that day dreaming about the future tends to make people more miserable. The authors explain in Science that: "A human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."
I took action against my own daydreaming tendencies by implementing a new phrase into my marriage and my life: “I choose to be happy now.”
This new way of thinking requires determination to look for opportunities to love others and myself to the best of my ability. I have to say it to myself over and over again: “I choose to be happy now.” I have to revisit and integrate it into my daily thoughts and actions. I have to make it a part of my life.
But, as I think we all have experienced, simply focusing our attention on the present is far easier said than done. For me, the first step to choosing to be happy now is to love myself well. I have to love myself and who I am, whether or not I have my ideal job and have traveled to a sought-after destination. I have to remind myself that I am worthy of love no matter where I am or what I’m doing. By taking care of myself and being kind to myself, whether it’s remembering my good qualities or taking time to read a refreshing book, I am creating my own Kondo-like sparks of happiness.
In my marriage, I utilize the phrase to choose to love my husband more attentively. I try to choose love even when it’s more difficult, like when I’m frustrated or tired. By choosing to love in those moments, value is placed on the present and finding the joy within it. As Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D. of Clinical Psychology, explains, “Love for ourselves and for others translates into joy.” Instead of letting happiness elude us, we can powerfully invite it into our daily lives by choosing to love well.
Enjoying the Non-Perfect Moments
A few weeks ago my husband and I planned a special day for the two of us to relax and reconnect. Due to unforeseen circumstances, our hypothetical day of bliss turned into one of stress and anti-relaxation. Rather than focusing on how our day was derailed or imagining how our future days would be easier, I remembered to "choose to be happy now" and refocused on loving to the best of my ability. For the remaining time we had that day, I tried to show extra love to my husband by helping him with different tasks, laying next to him, and having a quality conversation. By our choice to love in the now, we found joy in those not-perfect moments together.
I’ve found joy, too, in loving others better, whether it’s volunteering at a charity or spending time with a friend. I’ve noticed that happiness isn’t found in just doing those things, but by being mindful and loving during them. For instance, my husband and I recently enjoyed a long phone call with his parents, who currently live far away from us. Instead of letting the minutes slip by, we aimed to love as best we could and value the time we had to talk with them. Gary van Warmerdam, author and happiness coach, states, “When you express the emotion of love, you create happiness and joy within yourself.” By sharing love and being fully present, we experienced great joy in that conversation with my in-laws and for hours afterward.
Certainly, not every moment can be filled with boundless love and joy. There are challenges and disappointments in life and marriage that won’t simply be overcome by a phrase or a new way of thinking. I’d be naive to think that pain caused by an abusive partner or the death of a loved one could be fixed by just choosing to be happy. But I have found that if I refocus my energy on loving well, my life becomes more open to joy and happiness, even when circumstances are far from perfect.
By choosing to love ourselves and others, and even circumstances as best we can, we invite joy into our life now. We are powerfully saying ‘yes’ to happiness now. Our visions of happiness can truly shift from when to now. Because after all, now is all we have.
Photo Credit: Jordan Voth