QUESTION: How can I be happy, when the future holds little promise, and you fear you haven’t lived the kind of life you can be content with?
ANSWER: In June, 2003, I Googled what would happen if I put three unlit cigarettes in a cup of water overnight. Then drank the water in the morning. The idea is that nicotine is a lethal poison. When you smoke it you burn most of the poison away. But if it drains into the water… The theory was I’d be dead of a heart attack in sixty seconds. My fear was that I would I have brain damage instead.
I’ve known people with brain damage. That would be no good.
It was three in the morning. I knew I was going to go broke. My office had papers and dead computers and dead books and the cards of dead friends everywhere. The IRS letter was next to my computer. I had an incomparable loneliness in all of my relationships. All the work and hours I had put in had added up to this dirty office and no money.
Or maybe there was the other time. My whole life added up to being escorted by police to a hotel room to spend the night. “To calm down.” Or the time I was thrown out of graduate school. Or the time I was asked by my boss, “don’t you think it’s important to show pride in your work?” Or the times I was cheated on.
If I really want to be honest I could say I threw a burning iron at someone and that’s when the police came. But perhaps that would seem too much. If I wanted to truly be correct, I could look back at the past and say I did everything they told me to do, all the secret agents that wanted to destroy me: friends, parents, colleagues, bosses, lovers, and here I am – look where I ended up? And where did they all go? Back to their safe houses, in the James Protection Program so I never see them again.
I could sit here all night until daybreak talking about the past, which is gone forever. And the future, which will never exist and yet seems so real. Maybe the economy will end us. Or global warming. Or Greece. or war. Or we lose our jobs. You and me. We can be scared all night together. And who will survive when the world turns Mad Max and rogue skinheads will kill us for our gasoline?
The future just a bleak desert, mirages of water only lasting a few seconds before I realize my thirst won’t be quenched. May never be quenched again.
One thing you forgot to mention in your question, my friend, is the present. Right now. The only thing we know exists. The most important thing of all and we left it out. I was googling cigarettes in water when I could’ve been looking in on my sleeping one year old. I could’ve kissed her forehead. I could’ve been grateful to be given such a magical moment. Then I could’ve called my father one month before his fatal stroke and told him I loved him. Instead I never spoke to him again.
I gave up that magical moment forever because of worries about the future and because of something I did in the past.
The magical moments only exist right now. They will never exist again.
The way we miss them is when we focus on the past. Or we try to drink from the mirage in the distant future. Flying unicorns could be all around us but our eyes are glazed over with cataracts of the dismal future and bleaker past.
I would say, “if only this company sells, I’ll be happy.” And then I was never more miserable. And then later I would say, “I blew it so bad I ruined everyone’s life and not just my own.” And then I was never more miserable.
If only I had left out both those statements out I never would’ve been more happy.
Abundance doesn’t exist only “after X, Y, Z happens”. Happiness doesn’t exist because “I already did A, B, and C”.
Magic and Abundance only can exist right now exactly because the past and the future simply don’t.
This doesn’t mean live only for the moment. We all have responsibilities. But DO them. And then be grateful. Find the five things you are grateful for. There’s always five or more. List them. That’s abundance. And it compounds into more abundance if you always bring yourself back to it when your mind wanders like a time machine. Everytime your mind wanders, bring it back, list what you are grateful for.
I’ll tell you a story. I asked Kathryn Schulz what the inspiration of her book, “Being Wrong” was. She said she was talking to a friend of hers and the friend was describing in great detail the funeral of her father. The snow coming down in large flakes that covered the ground, the tears, the intense sadness that brought the memory to life. “But,” Kathryn asked her, “I thought your dad died in July?” So there couldn’t have been snow.
The past lies. The future won’t come true. The abundance and magic are only here and now.
The Magic Trick
If you always bring yourself back to that present moment, the future will more than take care of itself.
The abundance will grow every time you bring yourself back to the present moment and count the things you are grateful for.
That’s it. That’s the only trick to get great abundance in your life.
We start off with that helpless destined feeling. That we will die with our handcuffs on. And the hopes we had would be put a stop to. We would be found guilty in our worst nightmares. We would be silenced by our fears.
But right now I’m happy I’m talking to you. I’m abundant because you are listening. I’m grateful because I can feel my breath. Maybe one day I’ll decay and die. Maybe one day all around me will be the mirage and the desperate heat. Maybe one day my past will seem too much for me. But right here and now you and I are both alive. We’re both breathing. Knock knock.