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Why Am I so Unhappy? 50 Little Things That Secretly Make You Unhappy

Why Am I so Unhappy? 50 Little Things That Secretly Make You Unhappy

Every now and then, you may ask,

Why am I so unhappy?

Unhappiness comes in many shades of gray. Sometimes people just lack joy.

Is their emotional darkness their own choice? Or are life circumstances beyond their control?

While depression, and other psychological diseases, are certainly a clinical illness and should not be minimized, there are also factors that contribute to feeling down that you can influence.

Here are 50 reasons you may be unhappy, and suggestions on how to open the mental blinds to let the sunshine back in.

1. You worry.

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.” – Mark Twain

Worry creates inner turmoil. It’s like a rocking chair moving feverishly, but going nowhere. Worrying doesn’t create action, it freezes you so you are unable to think clearly and make changes to ensure the negative outcome never happens.

Your energy would be better utilized in changing things that you can control, and letting the rest go. Bobby McFerrin sang it simply enough, “Don’t worry! Be Happy!” The lack of worry can certainly create happiness!

2. You hold onto the perceived idea of control.

“As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit.” – Emmanuel Teney

At times, people seem to believe that they stepped straight out of a superhero comic book. They believe that they can control everything very well and things will just turn out exactly what they planned. What a burden to carry!

You would certainly need superman’s strength to pick up that weight. However, the reality is that we don’t have the ability to control anything else other than ourselves. Once you make peace with this, you find the pressure is off and you can start to enjoy the scenery of the journey, instead of plotting the impossibility.

3.You hold grudges.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain

Holding a grudge has about the same logic as drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. You are harming yourself by carrying all of that negative energy.

Let the bitterness go… for your own benefit. The person who criticized you is probably having a great time without giving you a second thought, while you waste your life sending them death rays with your mind.

4. You believe everyone should play by your rules.

“If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you’re fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him.”

News flash: the world doesn’t live by your rule book.

The sooner you accept this, the happier you will be.

No one else got your memo about the way things should be done, how they should treat you, or how to live their lives by your standards and beliefs.

People often get angry because someone violates their deeply-held ideals. Yet, trying to do an impossible task – getting everyone to live by your idea of perfection – is bound to create a lot of frustration.

Simply take people as they are and appreciate the colorful spectrum of ideas and viewpoints, instead of feeling exasperated by them.

5.You compare yourself to others.

“Saying someone is ugly doesn’t make you any prettier.”

Most people play the internal comparison game. Usually, they scrutinize only one small area of that person’s life and see where the match up.

For example, I may compare myself to Ironman Champion and Olympian Matt Fitzgerald and determine he’s a better triathlete than me. (We aren’t even in the same stratosphere by the way.)

However, this is only one small area of life. Who knows? Maybe I can ride horses or sing better than him? Looking at only a small fraction of a whole person and ranking that part against yourself is a pointless activity.

You are so much more than this one piece of your life that you have under the microscope at the moment. This habit will only create discontent in your life.

If you simply can’t stop measuring things, take an inward comparison dive instead. Are you a better person than you were yesterday?

6. You chose to be happy only when all of your dreams come true.

“Happiness is not determined by what’s happening around you, but rather what’s happening inside you.  Most people depend on others to gain happiness, but the truth is, it always comes from within.”

Who is the happier person, the one who decides, “I will be happy when I make 100 million dollars,” or the one who believes, “I will be happy with a great supper and time with my family?”

Having lofty goals are great. But when you tie your happiness to future successes that may or may not happen, you never find joy in the life you live today.

Find things that thrill you today, and let tomorrow surprise you.

7. You are a glass-half-empty person.

“You become what you focus on and like the people you spend time with.”

If you’re a pessimistic person, you will notice all of the bad in your life. Your perception becomes your reality.

Instead, choose to focus on the best in people, the brighter moments, and the beauty and blessings surrounding you.

The more you focus on the sunshine, the less the shadows will invade your perspective.

8. You are lonely.

The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” ― Mother Teresa

We are naturally social creatures and nurturing relationships makes up a large part of life. If you find yourself alone and depressed on a Saturday night, make an effort to change it.

Finding friendships will certainly improve your enthusiasm for what each day brings. How do you find good friends? Seek out social settings with people who share similar interests and beliefs to build a common foundation and launch a great relationship.

Smile, reach out, and be genuinely interested in others. You will be surprised how far this will get you in building life-long connections.

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9. You seek materialism over everything else in life.

“Many people are so poor because the only thing they have is money.”

While money certainly is a great gain in this life, it doesn’t bring happiness.

Think about how you would feel if tomorrow was your last day to breathe. Would you really want to make more money, or would your focus turn to connecting with people or having certain experiences?

If you live by your values, you will find more fulfillment than materialism could ever bring. And this Motivation Engine will help you figure out the values that are truly important to you.

10. You don’t make time for the right things.

“When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.”

We all lose our focus at times. However, keeping your activities aligned with your values is helpful in keeping a positive perspective.

One good exercise is to list your values and rank them by their importance to you. Then, see how many of your daily activities actually align with your values. Is there a disconnect? If so, what can you do to change it?

But still, the best thing to do is to understand how to prioritize your life and do what matters to you most. Here’s how:

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

11. You hang out with unhappy people.

“When you have to start compromising yourself and your morals for the people around you, it’s probably time to change the people around you.”

You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time around. If your friends are constant sources of negativity in your life, it may be time to find more positive people.

12. You haven’t discovered your purpose.

“Trying to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”

So many people have subscribed to the lie that their life purpose is to make it to the weekend. No wonder there are so many miserable clock punchers in the world!

Instead of existing, find a way to start living! Lifehack’s CEO has some unique advice to help you start living:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

Find your passion and purpose and pursue them, despite the fact that it may turn the mundane inside out and terrify you.

Discovering your part in the story is one of the best pieces in life’s adventure!

13. You are more of an actor than an author.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest achievement.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You do the world a huge disservice when you try to be someone you’re not. Be authentic.

Playing a part you weren’t meant to play to meet outside expectations is just asking for heartache.

Even when you try to push down the pit in your stomach, a part of you will always know you are emotionally compromising yourself and your happiness to read lines that you didn’t write, and worse, don’t believe in.

14. You’re stuck in your past.

“You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.”

Many people become the product of their pasts. They are the causalities of regret, sorrow, what ifs, and hindsight vision.

While we can all learn from our past, staying there is not practical to living in the present. The past can’t be changed or relived. To constantly dwell on it does not create an emotionally healthy outlook.

15. You keep thinking about your future and can’t enjoy today.

“What you do today determines who you will be tomorrow.”

Some people focus so much on the stars that they miss the entire journey’s sights, experiences, and lessons learned in getting there.

Find as much joy in the adventure as in obtaining the end goal. If you don’t, you will be frustrated until your future vision is reality.

Since this may or may not happen, why limit yourself when you can find just as much happiness in the quest as in the destination?

16. You’re unhealthy.

“The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.” – Deepak Chopra

How you value fitness, healthy eating, stress reduction, and sleeping all impact how much happiness you feel. Emotions are linked to many physical properties in your body.

The mind – body connection is very real, and often just adding exercise, sunshine, extra shut-eye, or a healthier diet can improve your mood immediately.

17. You’re a perfectionist.

“In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism.” – Hannah Arendt

There are three main types of perfectionism:

Self perfectionism – where you expect perfection from yourself; social perfectionism – where you believe others expect you to be perfect; and other perfectionism – where you expect others to be perfect.

All three examples can be happiness busters.

Being perfect is an unrealistic goal for you to place on yourself or others. Constantly falling short of the unattainable will continuously keep you blue.

18. You’re afraid of failure.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

Some people are so afraid of making a mistake that they never try. Just imagine how that would have worked out when you were learning to walk! You’d probably still be crawling.

Unfortunately, we sometimes lose our bravery as adults and fear trying anything because it may not work.

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If you embrace this mindset, you will never live up to your potential. This can create a huge dissatisfaction in your life.

19. You’re insecure.

“The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.” Erich Fromm

Growth happens outside of our comfort zones. If you are too insecure to move out from the familiar, you will never know the joy of conquering your fears and finding your wings.

After all, a bird has to eventually jump to discover he can fly. You can’t stay in the nest forever and be happy watching others soar.

20. You’re in debt.

“A man in debt is so far a slave.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Too much debt can cause stress, broken relationships, and financial hardships. Working out a plan to get out from under pain of payments can often bring peace of mind.

21. You seek validation.

“Learn to love yourself first, instead of loving the idea of other people loving you.”

If you keep looking for others to determine your own worth, you will always be disappointed.

No person except you should have the power to determine your happiness or value.

22. You neglect personal relationships.

“Don’t choose the one who is beautiful to the world; choose the one who makes your world beautiful.”

Most deathbed confessions don’t laminate spending more time chained to the office or making money.

Most people regret the relationships that were neglected in pursuit of things that suddenly lost their importance.

Remember, don’t neglect your friends and family. Their love is more valuable than anything else in the end.

23. You procrastinate.

“Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off til tomorrow what you can do today.” – Lord Chesterfield

Procrastination is an endless spiral into frustration. The more you do it, the heavier your load. It’s like trying to run a marathon while picking up rocks along the way. Eventually the stress gets too heavy.

You should finish projects and drop those rocks so you stay light and able to maneuver through your day without dragging 20 other projects you have put off behind you.

Here’s a complete guide to help you beat procrastination:

What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

24. You’re not learning.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” – Henry Ford

Learning new things brings joy in the discovery of growth. If you’ve stopped learning, embrace a new hobby or discover a new interest. You will find that the excitement of learning brings you extra spring.

25. You have unrealized dreams.

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

The ghosts of dead dreams can haunt us. Fortunately, you can always breathe new life into your vision by finding the courage to follow new and exciting possibilities.

It’s never too late to do the things you desire. At the end of the day, you’ll only regret things you didn’t do. Here’s how to do it:

How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

26. You’re bored.

“The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.” – Susan Sontag

Many people go through life unchallenged, and this can lead to boredom. After all, technological conveniences, safety regulations, and the ease of modern living can often take the adventure out of life.

Some people get stuck in a rut, and become dull without the rough stuff to sharpen things up a bit.

There are many ways to still find the wild in your life. You just have to make it a goal to do things that scare you enough and wake you up to the amazing life adventures available to you.

27. You’re too busy.

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresea, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, etc…”

If you are spending your time being busy instead of being focused on the things that make you feel alive, you will find happiness an elusive pursuit.

Instead of just being busy, learn to refocus your time so that you are effective, while not wasting time on things that won’t contribute to the best life.

After all, you can find many things that take up your time, but don’t take you anywhere.

Take a moment and read this because you might be too busy doing nothing in your life.

28. You don’t sleep enough.

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Ernest Hemingway

People who suffer from insomnia have a 10-fold chance of developing depression compared with those who sleep well.[1] Sleep issues have also been linked to many other health issues.

So, if you aren’t sleeping well, it’s time to remedy this issue.

29. You don’t spend enough time alone.

“Solitude is the place of purification.” – Martin Buber

Sometimes, we don’t take the time to separate ourselves from the noise of life to just rejuvenate our minds and focus inward.

It’s okay to take time to be alone in a way that relaxes you; whether that’s having a coffee on a park bench under a tree or taking a week-long backpacking trip through the Alaskan mountains.

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However you spend your solitary moments, don’t forget to take time to step away from all the craziness of life and refocus. Your mental mojo will thank you!

30. You don’t take the time to set goals.

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins

An aimless life is the source of disappointment and frustration in life.

Instead of just letting things happen to you and trying to keep up, create your own future by setting goals and following through on them. One of the greatest joys in life is seeing a goal come to fruition.

31. You’re dependent.

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” Denis Waitley

While it may be easier to depend on others, becoming independent is one of the hallmarks of adulthood. Those that cling to others with no plan to break free often struggle with self-esteem.

It’s hard to find your wings when weighed down by other people’s agendas.

32. You don’t think you deserve happiness.

“We all of us deserve happiness or none of us does.” – Mary Gordon

Some people have the warped idea that they don’t deserve happiness. They may have guilt about their past and feel they should be punished, or just don’t feel that they are worthy of such an emotion.

Happiness is something everyone should experience. If you don’t feel you are worthy of it, it is time for a re-adjustment of perspective. Give yourself permission to find your happy place.

33. You’re always just one step away.

“Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” – Erich Fromm

If you are someone who is always one step away from being satisfied, this may be hurting your chances for happiness.

If everything is just out of reach, you will never experience the fun you can have in every moment given to you.

If there is always something you need to fill up your life, when will this end? Most people who think this way don’t realize that they will never be able to satisfy the greed monster inside. They truly believe their own self lie that if they just have this one last thing, happiness will find them.

Those who learn to embrace the joy of the moment, instead of putting it off to a distant future that will never happen, will find that they love life so much more than those always trying to fill the bottomless pit.

34. You ignore opportunities.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Jefferson

Sometimes, when opportunity comes to knock on the door, people just decide to keep the TV droning on and not to answer the door. Or, the opportunity looks too much like work, or pushes them out of their comfort zone that they choose to pass on it.

However, if this becomes a habit, you will find yourself frustrated when you see times where you passed when you should have held on with every fingernail fiber.

It’s hard to be happy when you can’t hold onto the good things that come your way. Take the risk, and jump; you may be surprised how much it changes your life for the better.

Moreover, learn to turn your limitations into opportunities. Here’s how.

35. You’re complacent.

“Don’t let your special character and values, the secret that you know and no one else does, the truth – don’t let that get swallowed up by the great chewing complacency.” – Aesop

It’s very easy to become complacent. Yet, you can leave this monster any time you want to start swimming toward a better future instead of floating wherever the waters take you.

There is a joy found in the struggle that you will never experience in a passive existence.

36. You hate your job.

“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

You spend most of your life working. So, if you are in a job that you hate, it’s really hard to keep a happy outlook.

The best way to change your life is to begin working toward your passion, not just a paycheck.

Aren’t sure what your passion is yet to motivate you? Take a look at this advice:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

37. You chase the wrong things.

“When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.”

Sometimes we get confused about what really is important for us.

Do a deep dive inside to discover what you value most. Then, don’t waste your life chasing the things that don’t really matter.

38. You have no spiritual life.

“In the mental calmness of a spiritual life, I have found that the answers to the whys in our lives are able to come to you.” – Clarence Clemons

Many studies have shown a correlation between spirituality and increased happiness.[2] Being part of a group of like-minded people who focus on helping others and unconditionally loving people certainly would help you find fulfillment in life.

Also, many people find prayer and meditation to be very calming and beneficial to their emotional well being. All of these factors, as well as many others, contribute to an overall better mental outlook of people plugged in to the spiritual realm.

39. You have no real friends.

“Making a hundred friends is not a miracle. The miracle is to make a single friend who will stand by your side even when hundreds are against you.”

While your world may be full of acquaintances, if you don’t have a few close friends that will stick by you no matter how rough the storm is, you will find yourself in a sad state.

Life is about connecting with people, and if you aren’t sure how strong yours are, it may be time to find some friends who will always be there.

You will feel more confident in your future by knowing that you will always have support.

40. You’re afraid of yourself.

“I’m sure not afraid of success and I’ve learned not to be afraid of failure. The only thing I’m afraid of now is of being someone I don’t like much.” – Anna Quindlen

As strange as it sounds, many people are afraid of being themselves and don’t trust their own instincts. While no one is perfect, if you can’t trust yourself, who else can you trust?

Learning to put faith in your own decisions and life course will create a much more satisfying journey than constantly doubting yourself.

41. You care too much about what others think.

“Too many people buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t know.”

Once people finally accept the reality that you can’t please everyone, life gets so much easier.

In fact, having a goal to try to please everyone will simply drive you crazy. There is no reason to exist with other people’s motives and thoughts whispering in your ear.

Break free of the people-pleasing cycle and learn to live your own life.

42. You don’t relax.

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” – Alan Watts

All work and no play will drive all happiness far away. We all need some down time. If you aren’t getting enough, you are probably fighting back some frustration and stress that don’t have to hold you down.

Learn to place a higher priority on learning to de-stress. Your mental and physical health will improve dramatically if you learn to take time to rest and rejuvenate.

43. You don’t take risks.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Elliot

Many people don’t push their life to the limits. If you’re feeling a bit unchallenged and unchanged, maybe it’s time to revisit some risks and push yourself a bit farther.

You may find yourself exploring uncharted territory while your friends kick back into the easy-chair arms of the familiar. The excitement of getting over your previous limits creates an enticing existence.

44. You’re impatient.

“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” Robert Schuller

I’ve always struggled with patience. It’s so hard to wait, but sometimes that’s all you can do.

When you learn to approach times where circumstances force you to slow down, try to keep a positive outlook on the situation.

After all, the time will pass either way; you can choose to be calm and take your time to make the best decision, or you can make a hasty turn that takes you down a much worse road.

45. You don’t learn from your mistakes.

“You cannot change what you refuse to confront.”

Have you ever noticed how some people never seem to learn? Even though they always come to horrible outcomes, they continue with the same pattern of self-destruction.

While it’s easy to see this happen to others, it’s much harder to recognize it in ourselves. If something goes wrong, as tempting as it may be just to block the memory, it’s far better to think through how the negative result occurred and how you can avoid replicating it in the future.

Our mistakes do serve a purpose, no matter how painful it is, we need to learn from them.

46. You don’t have a dog.

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.” – Josh Billings

Pet therapy is so effective, it is utilized by hospitals, nursing homes, and disaster relief agencies such as FEMA. Studies show that petting animals releases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, in both the dog and human.[3]

It just stands to reason that having your own live-in pet therapist with a waging tail and puppy-dog eyes will make you smile and brighten your day.

47. You equate comfort with happiness.

“Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.” – Dean Karnazes

Just because you’re comfortable in your life and job, doesn’t mean you’re necessarily happy.

Learn to distinguish between the two feelings. You may discover that even though you have a cushy life, you are dealing with depression.

If so, find what makes you happy, and pursue it even at the cost of your comfort.

48. You don’t love yourself.

“If you are happy, you can give happiness. If you don’t love yourself and if you are unhappy with yourself, you can’t give anything else but that.” Gisele Bundchen

It is impossible to find happiness if you don’t love yourself enough to pursue it. While it may be hard to get out of the boxing ring, it’s time to stop beating yourself up and learn to love the person in the mirror.

Try these 30 Ways to Practice Self-Love and Be Good to Yourself.

49. You play the victim card.

“It’s hard to be happy when the world is conspiring against you. People who take on the role of a victim, are never happy. This is because they don’t have any control. They believe that their unhappiness has been caused by an external factor and it can only be taken away by the external factor. They live in the miserable land of ‘if only.'”

If you live your life as a victim, you also believe the lie that you have no power to change it. That’s not a way to embrace a meaningful existence. (Here’s what happens when you refuse to be a victim.)

Instead, change your faulty belief systems and empower yourself to take responsibility for your actions and the corresponding reactions you encounter.

Never give your power away to someone else.

50. You don’t allow yourself to be happy.

“You know why it’s hard to be happy? It’s because we refuse to let go of the things that make us sad.”

So, what are you holding onto that’s making you sad? It’s a fair question to ask yourself.

Sometimes, we consciously choose unhappiness because we can’t let go. Or, we unknowingly chose it because we haven’t taken a good, hard look at our lives and discovered what we need to cut out.

The choice to be happy ultimately lies in your hands. Happiness doesn’t have to be elusive. Sometimes, all you have to do is  to open the door to the thrilling possibilities before you.

Editors’ Picks on Happiness & Motivation

Featured photo credit: Nick Karvounis via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] National Sleep Foundation: Depression and Sleep
[2] The Chopra Center: The Correlation Between Spirituality and Happiness
[3] Science Direct: Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics

More by this author

Sarah Hansen

A corporate-sales professional turned entrepreneur

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Future

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Future

We often hear people talk about the importance of living in the present and the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, especially the lower levels of stress and anxiety, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly worrying about the past or plans for the future?

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then, we’ll look at some of the obstacles and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.

The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.

The Importance of Living in the Moment

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” -Buddha

While it can be difficult to live in the moment, it has innumerable benefits.

Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:

Better Health

By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being[1].

Improve Your Relationships

Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally s/he’s a million miles away?

Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and building relationships with them extremely difficult.

How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with her/him because we can make a much deeper connection.

By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.

Greater Self-Control

You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier[2].

Why Do We Worry?

Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.

When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then, once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.

Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.

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Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.

3 Steps to Start to Live in the Moment

Step 1: Overcome Worrying

In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:

Calm Your Mind

When you calm your mind, you are able to see more clearly.

The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. Then, we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.

In addition to seeing more clearly, a calm mind will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions, allowing you to live in the present.

Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems

Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.

People with more education tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.

If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.

Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment

In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, as well as outside influences.

Racing Mind

Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.

You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.

If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down.

Unpleasant Situations and a Troublesome Past

None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.

So how do most people cope with painful emotions?

By doing whatever we can to avoid them, we can take our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.

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In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.

Some people resort to things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as food, alcohol, or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.

A Wandering Mind

From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. Therefore, it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.

Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. One thought starts an endless chain of thoughts, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function or get distracted with something else.

Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities[3].

Outside Influences

Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The media draws our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future[4].

Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.

Step 3: Practice Mindfulness

So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?

Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.

Understand Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful is to live in the moment.

When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment, and you are fully in touch with reality[5].

You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.

This may be counterintuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then, much of our understanding will come from simple observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.

To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.

If you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you live in the moment.

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You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you and suit your lifestyle.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.

Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.

You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to start spending time away from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.

This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article: What Is Mindfulness Meditation? 7 Ways to Start Meditating

Mindful Breathing

While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.

You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.

Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

Mindful Walking

Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting or calling someone while walking. But are we really?

Instead of getting on your cell phone or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking to train yourself to live in the moment and focus on the task at hand?

Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing, but instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.

You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.

In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable and can really help your mind settle down.

You can discover more benefits of walking in nature here.

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Mindful Eating

Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. Therefore, many of us try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.

The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level[6]. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.

Live in the present with mindful eating.

    Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss[7].

    So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:

    • Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
    • Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself.
    • Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.

    You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating

    Mindful Activities

    Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander,. When it does, just bring your attention back to washing dishes.

    Notice some of the specific movements or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.

    You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.

    Final Thoughts

    Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time, and this will add up to greater peace and happiness, as well as get you closer to achieving your goals.

    Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.

    Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning, but I can assure you it will get easier.

    The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying. When you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.

    More About Living in the Present

    Featured photo credit: Smile Su via unsplash.com

    Reference

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