How to Change Your Focus and Be Happy Now

How to Change Your Focus and Be Happy Now

Don’t we all want to be happy? Then why aren’t we? Happiness is our true nature. It’s what remains in those precious moments when our persistent worries, self-defeating habits, and difficult emotions disappear. When we are happy, we are content, enthusiastic, and alive.

If happiness is our birthright, and at the core of our being, it is wise to ask: how can we reclaim what is so fundamentally true? True happiness takes an inner revolution, a radical change in how we view reality. When we question our assumptions about the world and no longer take our emotional reactions for granted, a new, fresh way of being takes their place. Do you want to be happy? Consider the following, and prepare for the inner revolution.

Shift #1: From Unconscious Living to Conscious Living

Several years ago, my interest in freedom ignited, and I committed to being aware of my moment to moment experience. Strange as it may sound, it was an exciting time for me. I saw the useless mental chatter as I washed the dishes; I discovered physical tension that never seemed to dissolve; and I noticed a subtle heavy feeling I had been facing every morning when I woke up. Once I became aware of these experiences, I knew they could never again have the same hold on me.

Much of our behavior happens automatically, outside of conscious awareness. We inhabit these familiar patterns that detract from our quality of life. These conditioned tendencies run deep, and if our deepest desire is to be happy, the first essential step is to become aware of them. We need to see what is actually happening in our experience when we are triggered so we know what we are dealing with – mental stories, sensations in our bodies, emotions, and the reactions of those around us. We can then ask, “Is this what I really want?”

Bringing awareness to the experience of our lives opens up the possibility for change. When we see a habit beginning to take shape, we can choose not to perpetuate it. With awareness, we are more flexible and open to responding in a life-affirming way.

When we start to become more conscious, we might not always like what we see. But what quickly becomes apparent is the opportunity to live a life that is no longer ruled by unconscious motives and habits that seem out of our control. We become totally alive to our experience as it is actually happening. No longer resisting, happiness has a welcoming space to bloom.

Shift #2: From Looking Outward to Looking Inward

For most of us, the usual way to solve problems is to try to fix something about the situation or other people. This is called the “if only” life: if only my husband would help more around the house, if only it rained less, if only my boss would acknowledge the good work I do. We look outside ourselves to change a situation that causes us trouble.

This rarely works because of the limits of our control.

People do what they do; situations occur unbidden. The only real way to deflate the areas of unhappiness in our lives is the last one we think of – looking inward to examine our own reactions. Seriously consider this for a second. Say that when your husband leaves his dirty clothes on the floor you feel irritated and begin a mental monologue loaded with critical thoughts about him. You’ve tried talking to him about it, ignoring the clothes, picking them up, but nothing has changed your internal reaction.

The key is not to try to change something you have no control over, e.g., someone else’s behavior, but to examine your own reactions to understand the nature of the trigger by asking:

  • what exactly is triggering you,
  • what does the trigger consist of (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, urges),
  • what do you really need.

This investigation, done in a kind and friendly way, brings a tremendous amount of compassion and understanding to yourself right when you need it. As these reactions are investigated repeatedly, they tend to lose their power and drop away.

It takes courage to honestly look at ourselves, to see how we are making ourselves unhappy by our reactions. It is a move from insanity to sanity, from relying on the external world to make us happy to discovering that we can be happy no matter what happens. When we lovingly tend to our reactions, anything can occur, and happiness remains undisturbed.

Shift #3: From Living in the Future or the Past to Being Present

When you take an honest look at your thoughts about the past and the future, you will see that most of them are based on fear or lack, not on happiness. We worry, analyze, doubt ourselves, judge, and obsessively plan. We think about what we need that we don’t have and how a situation other than what is happening would be so much better. And we run these thoughts in our minds over and over with very little useful function. Does any of this sound familiar?

When the mind becomes quiet, even if just for a moment, a pervasive sense of peace becomes apparent. Joy may bubble up for no reason. We feel happy and connected. The experience of being present is always available to us; it is a sense of coming home to a place we never actually left. It may be veiled by the active thinking mind, but when we refrain from feeding thoughts with our attention, we see that reality is always here, completely reliable, never disturbed.

Life is so incredibly rich. There are sounds, sensations in the body, emotions, sights, great intimacy with all things. And when we allow solutions to appear from this peaceful space rather than figuring them out in the mind, a great clarity emerges. Moving from the past and future of the mind to the present is the beginning of being truly alive.

Shift #4: From Criticism and Judgment to Appreciation and Gratitude

When the intention arose in me to become very aware of my inner experience, much to my chagrin, I noticed that my thoughts were often critical and filled with judgment – not just of people around me, but of myself as well. As I delved into the experience of these thoughts, I found negativity, disconnection, and shame. And once I started ignoring them, the critical thoughts subsided. Effortlessly, they were replaced with a natural openness to people around me.

I imagine I’m not alone in realizing the degree to which criticism and judgment were taking up my mental space. When we begin to live in appreciation and gratitude, we notice unlimited opportunities to be kind. We generously offer compliments and express our thanks. We let go of grudges, finally. We stop the inner violence toward ourselves. We feel joyful and at ease.

So how to experience happiness? It takes an inner revolution. Make a commitment to be conscious in your life. Look inward to become aware of the patterns you play out that disturb your well being. Live in the present; be awake to life as it is actually unfolding. Let go of the critical mind, and allow your heart to sing. Happiness is right here, right now, in this very moment.

Please feel free to comment with your reactions, insights, etc. I’d love to hear from you!

Photo by dotbenjamin

Gail Brenner

Gail Brenner, Ph.D. writes at her blog, A Flourishing Life.She offers inspiring articles that support people to untangle self-defeating habits and live conscious lives of authenticity, fulfillment, and joy.

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22 Comments

  1. lovely! my question would be? how to manage finding that happiness in everything, all the time and then not needing that much to be happy? having so many things to do yet, but being at peace. It is a quarrel I am curious about..

    Reply
  2. Thanks for this post. I always find myself judging and criticizing people. I don’t have a generous enough heart to accept people as they are and not judge them. All of us have positive and negative points, so I should ignore the negative things and look at the positive ones. I do exactly the opposite. I have tried to change myself many times, but just can’t. Any advice on this?

    Reply
    • @Anamika Thank you so much for your heartfelt question. It sounds like the person you are judging most is yourself. You are criticizing yourself for criticizing other people. I suggest starting by noticing these self-judging thoughts and bringing a huge dose of tenderness and compassion toward yourself. As you accept yourself as you are, I suspect you will be more accepting of others.

      This is a process, so you may not change overnight. Love always heals, so if you continually accept yourself, in love, as you are, judging thoughts and all, you will realize peace.

      Please feel free to keep in touch and let me know how you are doing.

      Reply
  3. Argh! I hate to be the voice of dissent here … but here’s the problem: The idea that we are not in control over our experience. I beg to differ. We are the powerful Creators of our human experience. No, we can’t “control” what other people do. However, we attract every single circumstance in our lives for a reason. We create all of it, all the time.

    The problem with the “make yourself feel happy” approach to life is that, sometimes, unhappiness is an important signal that our circumstances are no longer serving us and we need to CHANGE them. We can invest a lot of energy in feeling better about our circumstances … but what about changing the circumstances so that they better reflect our authentic nature?

    I work with WAY too many people who have spent years in personal and spiritual development, working on themselves to feel better … but my goodness, what they really needed to do is leave that relationship, change careers, and get moving! Sometimes fear is perfectly valid. So is anger. They are important signals we send ourselves that something is amiss. And unfortunately, personal development is effectively teaching us to talk ourselves out of real and valid emotions.

    Feeling good is always available – of course we can choose whatever state we want to be in. But we also need to address the external circumstances that may be causing our unhappiness.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

    Reply
    • @Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul, Thank you so much for your insightful comment, Andrea. I actually don’t think we are too much in disagreement.

      The way I see it, embracing one’s experience does not mean throwing wisdom out the window. In fact, once we accept things as they are, including all the feelings you mentioned, we stop deluding ourselves, and we have the clarity to know the next best step, which may very well be making a concrete change in our lives. When people are not living in alignment with their authentic nature, seeing the reality of how they are “off” is an essential step to making different choices and realizing happiness.

      In my personal experience, as I became more aware of my automatic thought processes, beliefs about the world, and emotional patterns, things changed dramatically in the direction of well being, greater alignment, and happiness, both inwardly and in my life circumstances.

      Reply
  4. @deniz, I love your question, Deniz. It is the essential question in life – how to be happy. Enduring happiness is not to be found in temporary things such as people, situations, anything that is beyond our control. We can’t think or feel ourselves into happiness.

    We realize happiness when we turn our attention inward and investigate deeply into the nature of reality. What you find is that happiness is our true nature, our essence. It is always here and available, but is covered over by our habitual patterns of thinking and feeling.

    When we see through the layers of our thoughts, stories, belief systems, emotions, identities, when we no longer automatically enact these familiar habits, everything we think ourselves to be falls away. What is revealed is the natural, luminous flow of life, ease, peace, happiness, wholeness. You can think of it as lifting the veils to become aware of the truth of reality.

    This is a short answer to a very profound question. For more, check out the articles on this site, The Change Blog, and on mine as well, A Flourishing Life.

    Reply
  5. Hi Gail, this was really beautiful. I love the idea of the “inner revolution”, and to start by stopping looking outside our ourselves and to start examining our inner thoughts, beliefs, and judgements, while staying present. Outstanding and beautifully simple. Thanks you!

    Cheers,
    Miche :)

    Reply
  6. Hi Gail,

    As somebody who has previously lived so much of the exact opposite of what you have described here, I love what you have said here because it has impacted my life in such a positive way. Consciousness is something I think we develop when we are ready for it. For me. I’ve developed it through a sport (surfing). I also found that the more I look inward that’s where I find the answers to most of my questions. Presence is one of those things I never truly understood until a few months back when I found a connection in the ocean and realized in that moment I’m riding waves I’m literally thinking about nothing else.

    Reply
    • @Srinivas Rao, Great comment! You never know where/when the insights will come. Through surfing, you discovered the “state” of being in flow, of losing yourself into the flow of everything, which is available when we are free of thought. And I love the metaphor. People speak about consciousness being the ocean, with each unique person being the waves. When you are surfing, are you a wave or the ocean??

      Reply
  7. Love this post especially the shift from looking outward to looking inward. The outward is a result. It’s happening. Those clothes are on the floor. One can argue that they shouldn’t be there but they are. Your spouse just did what he/she did. You can argue that they shouldn’t have, but they did. It’s an outcome. It’s over. All change, all creation begins in thought and ends in structure. What’s here today is a result of past thought. What will be here tomorrow is a result of what we think today. So thinking – the inward – starts the creative process. When I can remember this, it opens up the possibility of really creating my life. It reminds me to ask, “Are you sure Bill that you want to be thinking about this?” (this being whatever it is that has captured my attention for the moment).

    Thanks

    Reply
    • @Bill So beautifully said, Bill. Thought is the beginning of creation and not believing thought is freedom. The thoughts don’t need to stop – we just stop becoming immersed in them. Then real possibility for a joyful life opens up….

      Reply
  8. Happiness is snuggled up in a quiet spot within you.
    You need only be still and silent and allow it to unfold, until it eventually engulfs you.

    Great post.

    Live Life Happy!

    Reply
    • @Jacqueline: Well said! I especially like how you suggest allowing happiness to unfold. Happiness is here, and when we are quiet, there is the space to become aware of it.

      Reply
  9. Hi Gail. 99% agreement. A couple of quibbles – sometimes focusing on the outer can be helpful. Taking note of what captures our attention can tell us lots about ourselves.

    Like you (I think you are saying this in a different way) I think judging the judge is an unhelpful circle. Eg I should be ashamed of being ashamed or judge myself for judging others.

    I think sometimes paying attention to these things instead of just ignoring them can be important. It can tell us lots about what we follow and what we need.

    Thanks for an excellent post.

    Reply
    • @Evan Quibbles are most welcome, Evan!

      I agree about noticing what captures our attention – it can be very informative in lots of ways. The point I was making is that when we look outside ourselves for lasting happiness, we’re not going to find it – in people, situations. When we come to peace with our inner reactions, then happiness is possible.

      And I appreciate your clarification about judging the judge being unhelpful. If we find ourselves judging others, we are probably judging ourselves as well, so looking inside is a good starting point for the investigation.

      Reply
  10. I absolutely loved reading this article, Gail. I’m a firm believer in looking inward for solutions to the things we want to change in our lives. It is much easier to blame external circumstances, but true empowerment lies in turning your attention to the only place where you can make changes–within yourself.

    Reply
  11. Thank you for this inspiring post.

    Reply
  12. Wow excellent points!

    I really enjoyed your thoughts on turning inward, and on focusing toward the present. It is really interesting what can happen when you do that, and I feel that where we are heading as a society is forcing people to realize that they need to understand themselves. So, I really appreciate fellow people that write about these topics with all of us and keep up the motivation and this raised awareness.

    PS – Would you happen to ever take requests for Guest Posts? I do a blog that is somewhat similar to yours. ;)

    Reply
  13. Shift #1: From Unconscious…

    I really enjoyed your article on changing focus and being happy. Among all, I am quite motivated with the tips # 2, From Unconscious Living to Conscious Living. I have tried this tips over the few years and am unable to master it. Do you happen to have any techniques that will be able to help to start living with conscious mind in life? I also tried to tell my mind to be conscious, but it doesn’t work all the time. As a result, my attention gets distracted to other people/things around me, and I am having difficulties gathering my attention.

    Reply

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