For the past year, I’ve had my mind fixated on a goal: attending Northeastern University. My thoughts and my actions were both aimed towards this objective, everything I did was in line with it. I was constantly thinking about my future in Boston, and I felt like my life had a purpose; but was I happy?
“Delay gratification,” “plan for the future,” “Keep your eye on the prize.” These remarks have become banal upon repetition; everybody knows that goal-setting brings virtue to one’s life. Objectives and aims can drive people and give their lives meaning, yet to live a fulfilled life, we must not overlook savoring the moment.
Mindfulness is a state of mind one can achieve by focusing on the present, by being aware. It has been accepted by countless research studies and is used as a therapeutic technique as well as for leisure.
According to a major study led by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, people spend 46.7% of their time thinking about something other than what they are actually doing, and this tends to make them unhappy. On the other hand, individuals who are aware of their surroundings, their thoughts, and their sensations are prone to experiencing more positive feelings.
But you might be thinking, if you are at work, day-dreaming about your kids and your family that await you at home, wouldn't you be happier? And in simple terms: no, because chances are that if your mind has the habit of wandering, you'll never be present in the now. When you get home, you'll probably be thinking of all the work left to do for the next day, and you'll soon enter a vicious cycle of inattentiveness. And even if this isn't the case, no matter how positive your thoughts are, and no matter how unpleasant the task is, you'll be better off by giving it your undivided attention.
What mindfulness proposes is that we acknowledge our feelings first. If you're at work doing some tedious tasks, realize that what you are is not enjoyable. Then, think to yourself, why you are doing it; maybe you need the money to get your kids through college, maybe you are busting your ass to get a promotion that will give you more free time to spend with your family. Regardless the reason why, knowing the purpose of the activity will instantly make it less annoying, but we must not get carried away by our greater goals. Once you know what you're doing and why you're doing it, just do it. The premise of mindfulness is accepting sometimes bitter realities that we all have to endure.
And as for me, having a clear objective certainly made me get through tough times. When I had to stay up late studying, I knew it was all for a reason. But somehow I was still sleepwalking through the good times. I was getting home after a long day's work and inadvertently neglecting my children by thinking about tomorrow's work--metaphorically speaking of course. While I was at school, with my friends or family, I was thinking about what my life would look like in five months. I was focusing so much on the destination, that I was not enjoying the journey--I was miserable.
So when asked if I had been wrong about happiness, I was blindsided. I had an objective, and I felt like what I was doing was purposeful, but I wasn't sure if I was actually happy. Most of the time, I spent complaining about wanting to be somewhere else, and I let precious moments pass by me.
But the good news is, it's not too late. I'm not living in Boston looking back at my last year in high school full of regrets. I still have time to enjoy Lima, to spend time with my family and with friends. And chances are, it's not too late for you either. So go out there, and live your life. Set rigorous goals that will challenge you, but never forget the power vested in a single instant.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”