Happiness is in the Now – Insights from the Wilderness #230

“Why is happiness so elusive? Why do we have to struggle so hard to achieve it? It seems that happiness is like a butterfly. It flits from here to there and is very difficult to capture. I can never hang onto happiness for more than a few moments. Why is that?” Is that your experience?

Happiness is in the now

These are common questions I receive from my readers and life-coaching clients. My response is that reality and happiness are inseparable. They work as a team. Happiness is much like capturing a butterfly, you have to have the right net. In the case of happiness, the net is talking about happiness and “now” as one subject. Not two. Let me explain what I mean.

Happiness can only be experienced in the reality of the present moment. Unfortunately, the average person spends very little time living in the present moment. We tend to spend most of our lives preparing for and imagining an illusion called “the future”, or ruminating about an illusion called “the past”. Both “the future” and “the past” are illusions of reality created in our minds. Neither of them embrace the present moment, the only true reality that actually exists. The only place happiness can be experienced.

The Future

worryIf we live for the future, which we have virtually no control over, we will be fearful, anxious and powerless. Disappointed when our plans and expectations fail to materialize. Living for the future ignores the reality that we live in a finite and unpredictable world. We can make guesses and predict the future, but in the end accidents happen, life happens, and our expectations and plans for the future often fail to come true.

We may have many ideas, worries, and plans about the future swirling around in our mind, but reality reminds us we can only experience the “now”. Until the future we are dreaming about arrives, it is only a possible future. It is not now. It is not reality. It is not part of our moment to moment experience.

As Alan Watts says in his The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are……..

we rush into the future as if we are pursuing a mirage….an idea….but we can never actually catch the future….it is always just beyond our grasp. We spend our lives chasing a secure future as a mental abstraction and miss the present moment that is the only true reality there is”.

In other words, we live in our minds rather than in reality.

To state the obvious, reality is never-ending change, and it can only be experienced in the “now” of the present moment. Our need for security, and our tendency to worry about the future, drives our obsession with the future. Both are illusions. We can only experience and live in the reality of “now”. The future is nothing but a collection of wispy illusions created inside our minds. Until you experience them, they are not real.

Personal improvement, getting ahead, becoming the perfect self, and security are all butterfly illusions of the future that we chase after in the hope (or fear) that we might catch one of them.

The Past

The moment we experience something in the “now”, it becomes a memory called the past. Because the mind is good at remembering, we use those memories to create a sense of “self”. An “I” that had those experiences. But in reality, there is no “I”. Our true self is the knower, the observer, the pure consciousness that sees and experiences the present moment. Because the mind can remember, our present moment experiences become a series of memories that creates a sense of historical “I”-ness. “This” happened to me. “That” happened to me. The reality is they simply happened…..and our observing consciousness happened to be present to experience those various happenings.

Watts reminds us……

When you know for sure that your separate ego is a fiction, you actually feel yourself as the whole process and pattern of life. Experience and experiencer become one experiencing, known and knower only one knowing. We achieve the goal of happiness only when we realize that life is entirely momentary; when we accept the reality that permanence and security are illusions, and there is no “I” which can be protected. Until we can embrace those ideas, we will experience unhappiness, fear, frustration, and anxiety in our attempts to get the “I” out of the experience. We and our experiences are a nondual unity or oneness. There is no separate “I” to be found.


Happiness and “now” come as a package. They work as a team. Reality manifests itself in the “now”, and there is no “I” that is separate from reality. There is only the observing consciousness of our true self. The moment we try to separate ourselves from the experience we are observing in the now, we move into our minds and become a separate “I” having the experience.

For example, when we are caught up in experiencing a sunset, or immersed in the beauty of a classical piece of music, we are one with the experience. The moment we think about the experience we have moved from a nondual unity with the experience of now back into our dualistic primitive ego mind. A dualism that assumes “I” am separate from the sunset or the music. In other words, the experience of now and “I” have become two separate objects. When that happens, our consciousness will once again be trapped in our minds creating abstract illusions of the past and future, and the present moment will disappear from our awareness.

The moment that happens, unhappiness, worry, and anxiety will quickly return.

Life is entirely momentary. There is neither permanence nor security. There is no “I” which can be protected. There is only the “now” to be experienced. And “now” is only place where love, beauty, truth, awe, gratitude, and happiness can be experienced.

Do you get stuck living in the past or future and missing the now? Comment below and let me know how this is effecting your life.

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