Do you ever feel like your life is a little bit like being on a hamster wheel? Each morning, you hop on the wheel and rush through your day only to feel exhausted and stressed. And the next day, you have to get up and do it all over again. It’s an endless and exhausting cycle where we race from one thing to the next hoping to find happiness and a sense of worth. Unfortunately, that sense of happiness and boost of self-confidence that we chase remains just out of reach.
It’s so easy to get stuck in the mindset that the more you accomplish, the happier you will be. We often tell ourselves, “If I can just get that promotion/lose twenty pounds/buy a bigger house/be in a relationship/have children, then I will be happy.” We’re constantly seeking and calculating what more we need to achieve in order to find happiness. The trouble is, we often find that even if we achieve those things, happiness remains elusive. Losing twenty pounds doesn’t make you happier in the long term. Buying a new house doesn’t guarantee an instant dose of happiness. Getting a raise or promotion also comes with an increased workload and related stress. Feeling continually unfulfilled, we wonder, “What else do I need to do earn happiness?”
Uncovering the Hidden Source of Happiness
In my psychotherapy practice, I often see my clients struggling with this. In my office, they wonder aloud what more they need to do to feel less anxious, less depression, less stressed. It’s almost as if we think that if we can unlock the secret and find out what step we need to take, we can uncover hidden sources of happiness. This never-ending quest for happiness can feel like an unforgiving cycle of dreaming, pursuing, achieving, and eventual disappointment. We want to be happy, and that’s not a bad thing, but perhaps we are approaching it in the wrong way and looking for it in all the wrong places. But, unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Why? Because, living this way actually puts happiness on hold and deprives us of fulfillment in the present moment. By keeping our focus on the future, we are implicitly telling ourselves that we can’t be happy right now because the conditions aren’t quite right. It’s like living in a holding pattern devoid of happiness and fulfillment.
What if instead of focusing on doing, we focused on just being? Instead of feeling restless in our relentless pursuit of happiness, we could feel at peace right now when we make this mindset switch. St. Augustine’s famous quote, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you,” is particularly relevant when reflecting on the search for happiness.
Step Off the Hamster Wheel
On the surface, focusing on being can seem deceptively simple and it might even sound counterintuitive. We’re so used to pairing happiness with achievement and accomplishment that focusing on simply being can seem laughable. But stepping off the hamster wheel of life creates space and time to experience joy in the present moment. Adjust your perspective from focusing on hoping for happiness in the future to finding moments of joy in the present.
Examples of embracing simply being include practicing gratitude, focusing on the present moment (not worrying about the past or future), and being in nature. When you practice gratitude, you are intentionally calling to mind the good that is happening in your life right now. For example, if you are going through a stressful season in life but your family and friends have stepped up to support you, that’s a reason to be grateful. Or, if the weather is particularly wonderful today, that’s a reason to be grateful. Intentionally calling to mind these reasons for gratitude grounds you in the present moment and helps you to focus on just being.
Similarly, being mindful of your present surroundings, especially in nature, can help you find peace and fulfillment right now. One study found that spending time in nature reduces stress and other studies have found that it can improve your mood, lower blood pressure, and improve your sleep quality. All of these factors can contribute to facilitating a sense of peace in the present. Like practicing gratitude, you are focusing on your current state of being rather than on doing some more.
Another helpful way to peacefully focus on just being in the present moment is to practice mindfulness. Dr. Gregory Bottaro has developed a course and book that guides you through how to practice mindfulness from a Catholic worldview. In a nutshell, the practice of mindfulness helps to ground you in the present moment, draw you closer to God, and allows you to free yourself from anxieties and worries. It’s an effective way to take your focus from “What more must I do to be happy?” to “I feel a sense of peace right here in this moment”.
Remember, your worth doesn’t lie in how much you’ve accomplished in life. Instead, your worth lies in who you are as a daughter or son of God. Achievements and accomplishments can’t change that and this is important to remember. It takes the pressure off of you to constantly reach for the next accomplishment. And it frees you to just be.