How to be Present: The 5 Steps for Living in the Here-and-Now

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.

— Denis Waitley

Living in the Moment

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on life, both on that of my own, and the interaction of the billions of other lives out there on this planet. I suppose that’s something that comes naturally with age. But, what I’ve really come to notice is that too many of us are caught up in events and situations, resulting in an inability to truly just live, be present, happy, and at peace with ourselves.

We’re always worrying or planning for the next “big” thing, never just living in the moment. Now, I understand that there’s some cultural differences here amongst different societies across the globe. But, overall, the general state of affairs in peoples’ lives is that of worry, grief, anxiety, and fear. Simply put, we’re not happy, we’re not present, and we don’t live in the here-and-now.

So, I asked myself, the following question: “Do we all really just want to be happy? Or do we all just chase after things that we think will make us happy, never actually achieving that elusive state of happiness?” Maybe we just want to live in fear, and allow our worries and anxieties to take control of our minds and completely reign free.

Or, maybe, just maybe, that’s not the case.

Happiness vs. Being Present

Most of us do want to be happy, in the general sense of the word. But, our perception of happiness is somewhat skewed. We feel like we’ll be happy “when” something else happens. Some event, thing, or person is going to bring happiness into our lives. In turn, it would allow us to be present, and simply enjoy the moment, living in the here-and now.

But that’s never really the case, is it?

Sure, we might be happy for a couple of weeks after we land a particular job, move into a new house, or buy a shiny new car. We might be present and in the moment for a few hours after a blissful experience or some windfall that came in our direction. But, surely, it never lasts long enough. That state of simply just being, never lasts that long, and seems to disappear just as quickly as it came.

In fact, in a study entitled “Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative,” the researchers, who studied 22 lottery winners and 29 paraplegics, came to the conclusion that after a short period, both types of individuals returned to a habitual state of happiness. After the initial excitement or trauma wore off on their situations, they became normalized, no more happier or depressed than anyone else out there in the world.

Now, the difference between being present and being happy is miniscule. Truly happy people are able to live in the moment, all the time. They’re able to be present, and simply enjoy the journey of life, and not just worry about the destination. You’ve seen these people here and there. They walk amongst us, but they’re the rare kind, almost the endangered species of personalities in human beings.

But, if we really do want to be present in the here-and-now, we ultimately have to achieve some level of happiness, enough to satisfy that seemingly insatiable drive within us to continue wanting more and more. So, that being said, how is that we can simply just be happy, be present, and enjoy life for what it is.

Do we need to reach some sort of threshold in order to achieve a certain state of happiness or blissful presence in the world? Well, yes and no. Of course, unhappy people will always find things to be unhappy about. They’re the kind of people that look at life and everything around them with a negative lens, interpreting every situation into a negative one. Happy people do just the opposite.

So, what’s the catch? Are we just born happy or unhappy? Is it purely genetic? Or is there some way that we can be happy and present at the same time?

Basic Human Needs

Well, let’s digress for just a moment.

All humans have some basic needs. We need food, water, shelter, and clothing to survive. When these elements are in lack, there’s a particular mental, emotional, and physical strain that’s clear. We need these things to survive. They provide some basis for our happiness, but not the entire picture. The remainder of the picture has much to do with our career, economic situation, relationships status, and mental well-being.

Basically, we’re happy – and subsequently able to be present – when we feel that all these needs are met and fulfilled to our highest standards.

For example, every person needs love. They need to feel and be loved by another human being. This is an absolute necessity. And, of course, they need to be financially stable. If they’re struggling financially, those worries tend to usurp any ability to be happy and present.

However, once basic human needs are met, and a person has those things in their lives, they should easily be able to achieve some state of happiness and ability to be present, right? Well, we all know that this isn’t always the case. Even when we have these things, we tend to want more. It’s almost an insatiable desire or quest for the accumulation of things that’s never-ending.

This is called the Hedonic Treadmill, a concept that equates life, and our pursuit of all things, to the simplicity of a treadmill. We can never get off this treadmill, because we’re never actually satisfied. When we get what we want, we seem to want more, in a seemingly never-ending cycle that goes on forever and ever.

Think about the lottery winners, for example. You would think that winning millions of dollars would make you happy, right? Well, it would for a short period. But, after a while, you would reach a state of normalcy, and eventually get bored, wanting something else as well.

The 5 Steps for Being Present

So, considering all of this, how can we possibly just be happy, be present, and enjoy our lives. How can we stop worrying about tomorrow and regretting yesterday? Well, the process itself is simple to understand, but like anything else in life, it takes conditioning. Fear and anxiety are concepts of the mind. The mind creates fear and anxiety, putting us into a state of distress. But that’s because it’s been conditioned to do that.

If you’ve read some of the articles or books that I’ve written in the past, you know that I’m slightly obsessed with the psychology of the mind, why we do the things that we do, and the development of habits. There are some simple steps that you can take right now that will get you on the road of being more happy, fulfilled, and at peace with your life, subsequently allowing you to be present in the here-and-now.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t simple. Any habit development takes work. It involves reconditioning the mind slowly over time. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do profess to know a thing or two about the mind and bettering myself. And, I know that you can live in the present moment if you adhere to these 5 simple steps of daily habit development.

Now, habits don’t form overnight. Don’t get me wrong, the 5 steps are simple. You focus on these 5 habits and you can be present, but it’s going to take you at least 90 days to develop the habits. And, so many things can distract you in 90 days, but if you can make it that far, you can rest assured that the habit will begin to take root in your mind.

Step 1: Daily Gratitude

The first 5 to 10 minutes of your day should be devoted to daily gratitude. This involves writing down what you’re grateful for. Even if you feel like you have nothing to be grateful for, find something. Spend the time to write it out, no matter how big or small it is. But this must be done on paper, or in some digital format. You can’t just think it in your mind. It has to be an act that you perform every single day.

Why does daily gratitude work?

Well, when you’re actively searching your mind for things to be grateful for, a visceral change occurs. You go from seeing problems to seeing solutions. You go from a mind that’s constantly focused on the negative, to one that seeks out the positive, no matter how big or small it may be.

Step 2: Physical Activity

This can be 5 minutes a day, 30 minutes, or an hour, but there has to be some time blocked off to develop the habit of physical activity, such as exercise, yoga, or some other lightly-strenuous activity. This doesn’t have to be something exhaustive. In fact, the more you set your mind to do a huge exercise regimen in the beginning, the more you’ll likely fail.

Why is that?

Well, habits are built up slowly over time. Whatever habits you have now, you’ve most likely had for years or even decades. So, when you tell the mind that you’re going to do something that involves an enormous commitment, in the beginning, while it’s still exciting, it might work. But we all know that, all too often, we simply get overwhelmed and frustrated, and end up throwing in the proverbial towel.

But physical activity doesn’t have to be an exhaustive commitment. Just commit to walking around the block just one time every single morning. Yes, one time. Why one time? Well, like any other habit, this small change will build over time. When you only commit to a small amount, the mind simply can’t argue its way out of it.

As you do your physical activity, no matter how big or small it is, focus on you’re breathing. Try to be as present as possible. Feel the breath as it enters your lungs, your heart as it beats the blood through your body, and the feel of the wind or the breeze on your skin. Just focus on being present, that’s all. Don’t worry about anything else during this time.

Step 3: Limit Distractions

Commit yourself to limiting your distractions during a specific block of tie. Pick one small block of time, whether it’s for 15 minutes or even one hour, and turn everything off. This includes the television, Internet, phones, and everything else that can interrupt you. During this time, find something to read that will inspire you or motivate you, or simply spend it with someone you love.

Our lives are so filled with distractions, that we tend to forget the things that really matter and count. We have to realign ourselves with the things that are important. Status updates and world news matters, but not at the expense of your happiness and ability to be present. Give this a try, but ensure that you do it every single day.

It’s hard for us to limit the distractions. It’s been said that the average person checks their phone over 160 times per day. But, in order to find some inner peace, be happy, and be present, this is important. Do just 15 minutes first, and focus on just one thing to better yourself, or time with the family. Then, build it slowly over time.

The goal is to limit the distractions and just be with yourself for as long as possible in any given day. You don’t need to quiet your mind; you just need to quite all the noise that’s out there in the world, pulling you in every which direction.

Step 4: Find a Way to Give

Find a way, every day, to give something to someone in need. It doesn’t matter how big or small, and it doesn’t have to involve money. Our most precious asset is our time. Not a single person on earth has more time than the other; it’s the greatest equalizer. Giving your time to someone else in need is one of the best things that you can possibly do. But, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a tremendous commitment.

When you give, you shift the focus from you to others. Each person can give in different ways. Each person can provide some sort of value to another person in his or her own special way. But when that focus does shift, a real transformation occurs. It’s one that’s easily noticeable. If you’ve ever done any charity work, you’ve most certainly felt this before.

This transformation allows us to be happier, more at peace with ourselves, and subsequently, more present. Give it a try today. Try to find something that you can do for someone else in need. See where you can give. Search your mind on how you can contribute something to someone in this world. DO it every day.

Step 5: Find the Beauty in Something

It’s said that our universe is 13.8 billion years old. This is a scientifically proven fact. But, before there was the universe, there was apparently nothing. From this nothing, came time and space. Yes, there was no time nor space prior to this, it all developed in an instant that eventually evolved into a universe with stretches beyond the imagination of the mind.

Now, according to the first Law of Thermodynamics, energy can neither be created or destroyed. Whatever energy was here in the beginning, is still here, it’s just in different forms. So, all of us, our energy and our consciousnesses, have been around for 13.8 billion years, in some form. We are all part of the same thing. We all come from the same source of energy.

That being said, no matter what you believe in, religion wise that is, there’s no denying that we are all interconnected. When we step out into the world, and really see and feel things, we realize that we’re all part of the same system. We’ve all stemmed from the same origins. So, finding the beauty in things shouldn’t be that hard, right?

Well, we all know that we don’t tend to do this. We’re more focused on hate and pain rather than love and beauty. But you can shift the tide. Find the beauty in something; anything. It doesn’t matter what it is. Take a walk and listen to the birds chirping, or literally smell the flowers. It’s the little things in life that will allow us to be happier and more present.

Sound corny? Well, I assure you, if you want to be happy and more present, give this a try. Do it every single day and really put your effort into it. You’ll find you’ll be far happier, more fulfilled, and more present than ever before. But it won’t happen overnight. Nothing ever does.