The Magic Trick to Be Happy Right Now!

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[The following question came from my Twitter Q&A last Thursday. Follow me on Twitter and I hope you can participate (answer or ask) next Thursday.]

HOW TO STAY HAPPY

Roman D. ‏ @roman_druzyagin: 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?

(Apocalyptic desert scene from Mad Max)

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 magic existed only right then)

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.

 

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/tracy.lovett Tracy Lovett

    Perfect for me today, James. Really working my practice in the past few weeks, and I feel lighter, easier, healthier, less reactive and most importantly, present.  Here’s hoping the same for you.

  • Anonymous

    B e a u t i f u l !

  • http://twitter.com/thomaskurzok Tom

    I can’t wait for the next FAQ edition :-)

  • http://www.parmcharm.com karen parmelee

    And the crowd said “AMEN!” Brilliant perspective; readjusting that rear-view mirror for the road today! Thank you!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      And always thank you!

  • Marco

    I just read a few posts from Kathryn Schulz’s blog.
    She is a fantastic writer, thank you for making me discover her work.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       She is great.

  • Luca Corinaldesi

    Dear Mr. Altucher, I think you’ll like sentence. You probably already know it.
    “Let the future sleep for now, as it deserves. If you wake it too early, you get a groggy present.”
     Franz Kafka

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       Haha. I like that quote. i didnt know it. Did he write that in one of his books?

      • Luca Corinaldesi

        Yes, I don’t remember the title, but is where he explains his life decisions to his father.

      • Luca Corinaldesi

         I checked now, is a phrase taken from his diaries. Glad you liked it!

  • http://twitter.com/Adam_8020 Adam

    ‘There
    is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s
    whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the
    present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.
    Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.’Yamamoto
    Tsunetomo, “Hagakure”

    Wonderful post James. Thank you again.

  • imkk

    tats wat i needed today :) 

  • Nick

    This reminds me a lot of the “holy moment” conversation in the film Waking Life.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       I would like to see that movie. Its maybe the only Linklater movie I hven’t seen. Loved “Slacker” and “dazed and confused”

      • Ben

        See “A scanner darkly” as well. Similar in style to Waking life. 

  • T_haugen

    I love this concept.  I have been practicing this for years, it started while I was in the badlands of devorce from my first wife, my future wife gave me a book, “Awakening” by Anthony DeMello it is based on a similar concept that we have to awaken ourselves to realize we are not happy because we do not shoose to be happy with the present.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I like DeMello. I am currently stepping through “The Way to Love” by him. 

  • http://twitter.com/roman_druzyagin Roman D.

    Cheers, James!

    I really appreciate you taking time to publish a whole separate post as the answer. You writing always gives me much needed perspective. Sometimes I indeed get lost in the memories of the past or the fears of upcoming future.

    You writing helped me to get out of a really bad place several months ago, and I’ve been a faithful reader ever since.

    Thanks, James, and keep up the great job.

  • Chandrakasturi

    This perspective comes only when lose everything. I lost everything my job, home and I am reconstructing my life again. The fear of losing something makes us sad and we try to hold on to  it and always thinking about it and we lose the present. I was like that when I was about to lose my job, knowing it is coming I tried my best to fend off but in vain and lost those precious moments I could spend with my daughter. Now I do not do it that way, I live in present. 

  • Alfie

    When I stumbled unto your blog last October it was the beginning of what would be a very trying winter. It has had way more impact than the too many partially read self help books I’ve got stacked in the garage. Many thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003665984667 Cassidy Summers

    The following two quotes from your post really resonated with me.
    “The magical moments only exist right now. They will never exist again.”  and
    “The past lies. The future won’t come true. The abundance and magic are only here and now.”
    I really enjoyed your post today James.  I have been following you extensively for a while now and you make me feel good about this world and my life.  I want to say thank you for your dedication to this blog and the people who read it.  Keep up the good work! 

  • Paul

    You are an amazing writer!

  • http://Dow100000.com/ Dow 100,000

    Came across this the other day;

    If you want to know your past, look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future, look into your present actions. -Chinese Proverb

  • Gonzalo Gandia

    Damn it!!! It’s so hard, but you’re absolutely right. Why can’t we just stay in the present? I don’t know…

  • Jorge

    Thank you James. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to write you blog. Please don’t stop writing and sharing your experiences and lessons learned. Reading and the carefully re-reading many of your blogs is helping me (and many others) deal with serious issues. Warm regards, Jorge

  • http://www.adapia.tumblr.com AdaPia

    We all need to be reminded to live in the present, which ironically is the only place where we exist. I am motivated to write my daily gratitude journal again, which had fallen by the wayside. Back on track now, thank you!

  • Guest

     Contentment, humility… great blog. 

  • Roy

    This relates to the “being in this present moment” answer

    One of my friends, friend….she was a successful career woman, leading a good life.

    Then 16 years ago…she was raped.

    This changed her entire life for the worst

    Its been 16 years and she still is not able to get over that tramautic experience.

    Poor thing is replaying that one event in her mind, over and over and over

    I cant imagine what it must be like for her…I dont wish it on anyone

    Most of us are living in the past in the same way…..we have habitual thoughts and mental imagery of the past playing over and over in our minds

    The emotion attached to those thoughts and images is so strong that its hard to let go

    So…What is the best way to release these chronic, habitual negative thoughts and images

    Please dont say…just do it

    many of my smoker friends hate it when i tell them to quit….they keep asking….”how?”

    people who live in their negative past…..are like addicts….the brain wants the same thing over and over….negativity from the past

    what is the step by step way to release these past negative thinking

    I know there are different ways….maybe NLP….hypnosis…EFT   .etc

    perhaps the method that James practises….forget what its called…sorry

    Any insights?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lori-Sandler/1348366165 Lori Sandler

    You brought tears to my eyes today, James. We can neither change the past, nor truly predict the future (no crystal ball here). So to live in the Moment is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our self, and to those around us. Revel in it. Enjoy it Now.

  • Stu

    The goal of achieving happiness is a trap.  The more you try to get it for yourself, the more it alludes you.  You have to give it to other people in order to receive it back.  Our self centered culture doesn’t get it, so we keep trying to accumulate more stuff which works opposite to that universal law.

  • http://twitter.com/kamalravikant Kamal Ravikant

    The only thing that matters. Nice reminder, thank you.

  • Guest12

    Are you happy right now? 

  • Stallie334

    You are spot on! I stumbled across your blog the other day and I’m hooked!

  • husseinghouleh

    I believe that our capability in monitoring our psychological feelings as they occur, such as being happy or sad, afraid or worries,
    while understanding and realizing their causes, and appreciating their
    dimensions and fluctuations, are one of the most important pillars to
    develop something called our “emotional intelligence” But when we are unable to understand
    such feelings and emotions when we encounter them, we become victims,
    like a hostage yielding under the mercy of our feelings and emotions,
    driven by fluctuations of surrounding circumstances and conditions.

  • 4thaugust1932

    Happiness? Quite simple. Practice altruism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tienvnguyen Tien V Nguyen

    I think too often we do everything to protect our status quo, no matter what it may be at that moment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Freeman/100002102858209 Rod Freeman

    Excellent post – great way to start my morning with the reminder to stay in the present and be grateful. Keep up the great work man.

  • Goofy49er

    I appreciate your post your writing is engaging and helps me self examine, and Supplement my own thoughts and ideas.

  • http://fuzzyorangemagneticsocks.com/ Stephan Iscoe

    Thanks again, James!
    Your anecdote re Kathryn Schulz, helped clarify a thought I’ve had for a long time: The past and future are both fantasies, but the past is better documented.

  • http://manlyvirtues.blogspot.com/ Brandon Harnish

    Good post. I needed this.

  • Koenmrt

    And I’m happy because you’re talking to me. Regards Koen

  • P_Jaunne

    There is a book called “a course in miracles” which I think is better called “a course in forgiveness”  because forgiveness is essentially what the book is all about and the word miracle is prone to a lot of misinterpretation. The book main thesis is that happiness is/depends on total forgiveness, without exception. And it can be achieved NOW, or never. We forgive the past, the future, the world, our enemy, ourselves, etc, etc.  And, it has to be TOTAL — toward everyone and everything, again, without exception.  Any slight unforgiveness you carry toward any one person or one thing inevitably destroys your peace and happiness.  It’s annoyingly hard to practice or accept, since the book’s main thesis allow no exception and my brain likes to find holes in the logic and come up with reasons why certain exception(s) should be allowed.  But it also let you know that you can forgive yourself for not forgiving, and then you can proceed to choose forgiveness once again, and again, and again–until you eventually achieve total forgiveness (aka happiness).

    Anyway, great post, thx James.

  • http://www.billkasal.com/ Bill Kasal

    Well said, James.

  • http://twitter.com/marieaub Marie Aubrechtova

    That’s so true James. I’m reading the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle at the moment, which has a similar message – to focus on the now and forget the past or future unless you need it for practical purposes. It’s such a simple message, but so powerful when you use it. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1097683082 Bill Combes

    Your posts motivate me every day!  Keep them coming and thank you for putting thought into what you write and doing it with conviction.  

  • http://twitter.com/udoka29 Udoka Chiefe

    Last night I thought of something I swore would never cross my mind: suicide. But thankfully, my desire to live and grab life by the horns till the very end when the Man upstairs says its time to go stopped me. Life is too short to dwell on the mistakes and let it dictate the rest of your life.
    So I failed to secure my future in the worst economic atmosphere of my generation, well, at least I’m not brain damaged and without limbs to work through it.
    Thank you for sharing this with us all. You’ve helped me and countless others in immeasurable ways.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.alfatah.3 Don Alfatah

    Amen

  • Gale

    James this is real great service you
    have done to the people who want to find salvation in their lives of today’s
    economic commotion. I’m touched and thank you very much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richand.famos Richand Famos

    yah cool idea ther is so much more to happiness and these super complex emotional lives we live creates memories and projections and all can be used in loving caring ways to create a rich and happy life.all happy is not possible in a balanced universe though, unless one is some how bizarrely unique. arich life always has struggles and visisitudes. vut cun yu do…