Humans are funny creatures. I ought to know – I am one. We are the only beings who dream of ‘there and then’ when we think of happiness.
The “then” is the when.
For instance, I will be happy when I get married, when I lose weight, when I have more money, when I get my promotion or some other version of these examples.
To the point, the “then” is some time in the future and it is not guaranteed to ever come to fruition. In the meantime, we bank our happiness — or part of it — on some hypothetical future event.
Is it true we will be happy if any of these events do occur?
However, any such happiness is fleeting and usually evaporates when the next “then” comes along. “Thens” never fail to show up. They are a prolific bunch.
If a “then” is fulfilled another one takes its place, on occasion even more than one.
Somewhere in the future, if a specific event happens or a wish is fulfilled, then we will be happy.
By the way, that’s a lie.
The “there” is the “good old days” or “the way it used to be.”
For instance, life was better in the 50s, children were more polite when I was a child, school was harder and we learned better, my marriage was great when we first were married, and so it goes.
The “there” believes that happiness was somewhere in the past. For this reason, we look behind us convinced history was as good as it gets at the same time as we look ahead with trepidation.
Do you know how many times the end of the world has been predicted since I have been born? Too many for me to count. So far, I am very pleased to report I have survived all doomsday predictions.
My grandmother, born in 1903, when she was in her mid-90s, told me the same thing. She had lived through genuinely challenging events such as World War I and World War II, as well as many other “predicted day of reconning forecasts” which — blessedly — never materialized.
The Then and There
Either way, whether you prefer “then” over “there” or you used either one liberally, human beings usually hold the opinion that happiness is either squarely behind them or somewhere in the future.
The problem with this human peculiarity is that the past cannot be altered and while we often think of it with nostalgia, we seldom remember it entirely precisely as it genuinely was. On the other hand, there is no assurance we will still be breathing tomorrow.
Life is fragile.
We are often so busy idolizing the past or drooling over the future that we forget about the moment we do have right now. The present is where happiness resides.
Maybe there is a reason a synonym for “gift” is present. The present is the real gift.
While we should be grateful for our memories and look at them with fondness, they are gone. In the same vein, while we should look forward to the future with hope, we can’t bank on tomorrow ever coming.
While the sun will rise tomorrow, some won’t be here to see it.
“Now” is the gift we fail to see, enjoy, and appreciate. We can only uncover happiness right now.
The Human Brain
The human brain is wired toward pessimism. For instance, when someone says “I need to talk to you,” we usually automatically think we are about to hear bad news.
It’s a survival thing.
This feature was extremely helpful when being on alert and expecting the worst ensured our well being. However, most of us no longer live in caves among wild beasts. We are in fact, at the top of the food chain. Few creatures find us tasty or worth the trouble. A misstep doesn’t usually signify instant and certain death.
However, our brains have not caught on to these facts yet. They still take their guard dog role extremely seriously.
The thing is our brains are not omniscient. They do not know everything. Nor are they impartial. They remember events selectively and through many filters while deleting other facts which don’t feed their preferred narrative.
Moreover, while most of us believe we are “in control”, this belief is a myth. Our brains most often call the shots. Most humans function on autopilot. We can be convinced or just about anything if it fits our belief system. Few of us have original thoughts.
For instance, cult members who commit mass suicide because the leader convinced them it was a good thing, or the people who sold everything, assured the end of the world was upon them are two instances that immediately come to mind. The examples are plentiful.
Advertisers bank on these human frailties and are willing to spend massive amounts of greenbacks on a 30-second commercial for this very reason. As a matter of fact, and as much as we don’t like the idea — public opinion is easily manipulated and swayed.
Not all of our opinions are genuinely our own nor are theyall based on facts. Our brains aren’t necessarily big on facts. They are big on the events which fit the storyline they have established. Occurrences which do not meet “The Narrative” are often disregarded or re-interpreted.
What is hogwash to some is gospel truth to others.
Are We Doomed?
These peculiarities beg the question: are we doomed to be our brain’s patsy?
However, not without effort.
If we become intentional about our life — especially our thought life — we can learn to control our brain rather than the other way around. Our craniums can be trained to stand down even though they would prefer to remain as supreme overlords over every detail of our lives. It is a fact no longer disputed that our unconscious mind is more powerful than our conscious mind. Becoming mindful shortcircuits this system a bit.
Our monkey mind can become docile.
Recently, I listened to an Audible book in which the author described seven biases which our brains use all the time:
These inclinations cause us much needless suffering, although it does not have to be so.
The Power of Now
Happiness is found in Presence — as in being present in the moment — fully and completely rather than pondering the “there and then.”
Indeed, letting our cerebellum continue to be ringleader is easier than training it to obey you to be quiet, and work for you. As the old cliche states nothing worth having comes easily. I don’t know if this saying is always true. Nevertheless, it rings true in this case.
We can live as prisoners of our brains and our stories whatever they may be, or we can fight for our freedom and our happiness. We can learn to be fully present in each moment — yes even the painful ones.
This moment is all you have. Thank you for using it to read this post. Your presence here and your attention humble me.
Blessing as you grow in peace and happiness.