06 January 2008

Living In the Now – The Philosophy of Happiness with a Twist of Zen

There are certain ideas within the Buddhist tradition which are of great interest to me. One of these is the idea of living “in the now”. So how does this concept work? Well, it’s not easy to explain but I’ll try. I want you to think about this next point carefully. What is life? What is life comprised of? A simplified answer could be that we are born, we go and do a whole bunch of things in the middle and then to end it off we die. Maybe a better question would then be to ask: But how is it that we actually experience life? By life I of course mean that bit in between being conceived and passing on.

So far as I see it and as the Buddhist notion of “living in the now” seems to dictate that Life is really just made up of whatever is happening right now. That’s right, right now, this very instance. Ultimately, life’s entirety is really just a compilation of all the little bits of “now” you experience. Think about it, even memories are distorted by how you feel “now”. Therefore how you live life and whether you feel you have enjoyed it or not (which of course is completely subjective) is dictated by what is happening “now”.

Life is now. As you read this page, you live, you are “living in the now”. I suppose a nice way to look at it would be to say that we cannot change the past, nor can we foresee the future, therefore it is not worth troubling over what we can’t control and simply take joy in what we can do “in the now”. You choose “now” whether you wish to be happy at this point in time or otherwise if you want to be sad. Thus what you do at least have control over (that is to say what happens in slots of “now”) is I suppose the perspective you choose to take on life. If you wish to be optimistic you can be, alternatively if you wish to be pessimistic the choice is equally yours. That is all done right “now”.

I see the theory of “living in the now” as closely related to how contentedly we live life. For if life is made up of little bits of now, then its sum (whether you lead a happy life or not) is simply determined by how you choose to feel during the many “nows”. Unfortunately I think many people interpret this wrongly. Still, it is not at first a simple concept to grasp. Many people’s instinct would probably be to say “but what does this mean Sam? Does it mean we should always do things that we enjoy and therefore become hedonistic?

Simply put, no. We should not by this theory become hedonistic in a material sense and indeed the Buddhists also have a theory of balance known as ““The Middle Way:”” which also suggests one avoid extremes. Its important to realise that hedonism (as we know it) is almost always a symptom of various psychological feelings which somehow make the individual feel inadequate, unfulfilled or somehow in need of a emotional support. These emotional problems encourage the sufferer to find solace in some sort of substance, whether it be food, alcohol or whatever. In comparison, “living in the now” encourages accepting yourself NOW, for who you are, not what you were or what you might be. Through accepting yourself now you are also coming to terms with who you are, you avoid a life of denial and you fulfil your own emotional needs as best you can from within your own mind.

The true power of “living in the now” is that it is not progress driven, thus it is anti-materialistic and does not place constraints on happiness. If you can’t love yourself now then you have placed some sort of limitation on your happiness by subconsciously believing something like: “I will be happy when I am X” or “I will be happy when I have X”.

This sort of thinking places a constraint upon happiness. Thus an external demand inhibits your own ability to be happy. But why do this? Why not love yourself for who you are at this very instance in life? As a person with perfectionistic tendencies I also found this concept very useful, as it allowed me simply to enjoy life and stop feeling as though everything had to be done as perfectly as possible for it to be a success. We all deserve to enjoy life, but unless we love our own being this cannot be accomplished. Hence the need for the whole philosophy of “living in the now”

Some other sources also stressed the importance of the “now” nicely, so here are a couple of quotes:
“Most of us are so intent on looking either forward or backward at life that we go through much of it as if in a dream, with a limited awareness of present reality.”

“The past and the future are illusions. They only exist to the degree we focus our attention on them right now. We create the past and the future by imagining them in the present. But we don’t even exist outside the Now.”

Many people will falsely assume that they will never accomplish anything if I they are content as they are, and that something to strive for is needed. However having goals and striving towards things is compatible with living in the now. True, when living “in the now” you will feel more fulfilled regardless of the external situation, but the fact is that if you are happy and content you are in fact more likely to succeed at what you do, because you approach it with an innately positive attitude. You will also feel more inclined to do what it is you enjoy, and not waste life going in the wrong direction after a false hope like earning large sums of money in an attempt to gain happiness.

“Living in the now” is an interesting and complex concept, one that I shall hopefully investigate further. But for now we must realise that we only live once, and inevitably each of us will eventually die, but is this not all the more reason to cherish our time alive and love ourselves? Why go through life hating yourself or not being content with who you are? The simple fact is you don’t have to. Learn to love yourself, change your ways if you wish it, but it is often not even so much what you do that matters but rather how you see yourself. So embrace yourself, smile and go and enjoy the little bits of now which are the sum of our lives.


DarkGrin.com said...

Nice article! I linked it up at:


Check the site out, I'm sure it has some like-minded thoughts

Tip Diva said...

Thank you for submitting your post to Carnival of Tips. This is a great post... as a cancer survivor, I totally relate to "living in the now" and I couldn't be happier.

CG Walters said...

Thank you, Samuel.
Peace and wonder,

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