“The past is a ghost, the future a dream. All we ever have is now.” 

–Bill Cosby

I bet you didn’t know that the way to happiness is can be found in the little gem of a quote you just read. Oh, you didn’t know? Goodie, I get to teach you something today… and that makes me happy.

Anxiety, worry, dread, fear, sorrow, suffering, and regret are all washed away by one simple thing. It’s called “the now.”

Isn’t that cool? Let’s analyze it a bit more.

Largely, the “torment” and “suffering” we humans feel is the result of something that has happened to us in the past or an apprehension of something in the future. If you really think about it, you’ll see that the root to 99.99% of the “problems” we face can be fixed—or reduced significantly—by simply being in the moment.

Our problems, more often than not, are figments of our terribly creative imaginations.

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

                    -Lucius Annaeus Seneca

If you think back to painful situations in your life, you’ll see how they were probably instantaneous in nature—they happened fast and were over fast. Then, you were left to “process” the event over the days, weeks, months and years to come.

Examples include: a death in the family, physical injury, a breakup, losing your job, etc.

After that, you were left to deal with your worst enemy and only ally: time. Each second of each day was torment. You couldn’t stop thinking about it. You lost all motivation to eat and work, or maybe you dove right into both as a means to cope. And while time was a terrible thing that you had no control over, it’s was also the only thing that eventually brought you solace. As time passed, you got better—maybe stronger or maybe more forgetful. After enough time, you were back to your normal self. Maybe you were stronger or maybe you did your best to swept it under the rug.

The process mentioned above that follows traumatic events in your life is often called the “grieving process.” The thing about this process is it is all inside your mind. It is based on you obsessing about the past in one form or another. By coming to the moment, by bringing your thoughts to the now, you can reduce, and at times, eliminate this pain.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the past. The point isn’t to avoid the grieving process, it’s to speed it up, and to hopefully give you the tools to strengthen the process. The better you can grieve, the more likely you are to come out a stronger, more aware and more appreciate person.

I lost my Dad. I don’t talk about it much. But if it does come up, I always attribute it to making me a better person. I use it as a means to celebrate life, to conquer my fears, to not sweat the small stuff. Basically, it trained me to be a Stoic long before I had any clue what a Stoic was. But in that respect, in the grieving process, I think I was one of the fortunate souls. I know there are many people that never recover from a loss like this. They hold on to the past their entire lives, never fully letting go. And that is why these topics are even more important.

So how do we completely eliminate the suffering of the past and dread of the future?

Well, I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, it’s not. In fact, it’s a very, very hard thing to do. Further, there isn’t always a simple “answer” that you can do to magically get results. Sometimes the process takes some soul-searching and a lot of testing and tweaking to find what works best for you.

That said, I do have a recommendation that pays huge dividends for almost everyone. It is this: start meditating. Other recommendations include: practice mindfulness, study philosophy—namely Stoicism—and read up on psychology. Each of the subjects will help you become a more aware individual with a better control over your mental state. Ultimately, that is what we all need: mental control.

The key to finding happiness is taking control of your mind. The single greatest way to start doing this is by returning to the now. Focusing on the present is the first step in controlling the racing mind. It takes real dedication to control your brain, but when you do, you’ll have the power to build any life you want.

I’m not a pro at always controlling my mind, but I am much better than I used to be (I used to worry a lot). By using meditation to train my mind, and through studying philosophy and psychology to better understand what makes me “tick,” I’ve been able to take back more control of my mental state. It has allowed me to reduce stress, use unfortunate situations to my advantage, and become a calmer and happier person.

I cannot recommend these practices enough. They really can change your life. These techniques could mean the difference between becoming your best or living a rushed, hurried and worried life. I’ve lived the latter… forget that.

Learn from the hard lessons I had to. Save yourself a bit of pain and misery by being prepared ahead of time instead of trying to figure it out after the fact, like I did. Maybe you are lead down a path to learning by one of my suggestions. Maybe you start becoming more aware of your thoughts and it gives you the wherewithal to take back control of them. Maybe you remember to be in the present the next time you spend time with your kids or parents or partners. Who knows, maybe all of the above?

No matter what, use the present to improve your life. It’s as simple as that (and as complicated as that). For now, remember where you are, what time it is, what’s in front of you, what you hear, what you see, and what you taste. Experience your senses. Be in the now.

The more you return to the now, the more control you gain over your thoughts.  Control of your thoughts is control over your life. It’s a big circle.

Be in the now and watch as life becomes better right before your eyes.

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