I’m almost finished reading Solve for Happy, and it’s one of those books I’m sad to be coming to the end of. I really love it.
One big recurring theme throughout it is the concept of mindfulness. The author talks about how we so often spend a majority of our lives “living in our thoughts” in the past, the future or just anywhere besides where we actually are in the present moment.
The past is gone. I mean, yeah, there are memories (which are certainly nice to think about sometimes!), but no matter how much we think about the past, we cannot actually go back in time and change anything.
Also, as he says, nothing ever “happens” in the future that you are thinking (or worrying) about, either. It hasn’t occurred yet, and the odds that whatever we are imagining actually will take place, just precisely as we are envisioning it, is miniscule.
“If you’re not in the here and now, then you’re simply in your head.”
Huh. That is an interesting thought. I don’t want to miss out on present moments of my life because I’m sitting there essentially silently TALKING TO MYSELF about things that either already happened (and I can’t change) or haven’t happened yet (and I also can’t change)!
The Full Awareness Test
In Chapter 6 he asks the readers to participate in the Full Awareness Test. This involves just sitting still with your eyes closed, and then opening them and really looking around you. Really noticing every detail around you. (i.e. Blue sofa. Two lamps. A candle on the table. I smell bread. Etc.). Gawdat says that this is a great exercise to really anchor yourself in the present, if you find yourself getting lost in a perpetual cycle of past or future thoughts. The present just is. It’s not good or bad until we throw in comparisons or judgments from our thoughts, wondering how something could be different/ better/worse in the past or future.
Bringing in the past/ future all the time is what can lead to unhappiness. I’ll quote a little section here:
“To make a judgement you need to compare a current observation to one you’ve made in the past. To be anxious you need to think about the future and anticipate that it’ll be worse than the present. To be bored you need to long for a state other than what’s happening in the present. To be ashamed you need to re-create a moment that no longer exists. To be unhappy you need to focus on what you want that you don’t have yet. With the exception of (physical) pain, no one ever suffered from what was going on in the present moment.” – p.138
I decided to try a version of the Full Awareness Test on my walk yesterday afternoon. No headphones, no podcast, no getting lost in my thoughts…just noticing every little detail I could around me. I used my phone’s voice recorder to make note of things as I walked! Haha.
Here’s what I noticed:
–the sun was only hitting the right side of my face
-my left cheek felt cold!
-my left hand was warm in my jacket pocket, but my right hand carrying my phone had cold fingers.
-I could hear the geese honking almost continuously near the pond
-someone was pounding with a hammer on a nearby house
-delivery truck brakes squeaked on the next street
-the plants near the pond have all dried out now and make a loud rustling sound in the wind
-my hair kept blowing across my face
-a small wind chime was spinning and chiming
-not a cloud in the sky, except for two tiny little ones in the distance
-a single leaf was blowing down one street, making a pretty loud clicking sound on the road
-a few pieces of cotton/ fuzz in the air
-the sudden smell of cow manure! Must have been blowing in from the nearby country with the big wind gusts.
I know none of this may seem very earth shattering to you. But it was a cool thing to do, like a mental experiment. ALL of that would have been happening anyway, if I had been listening to a podcast/ music/ on the phone/ lost in my thoughts, but I wouldn’t have noticed any (or much) of it.
I don’t think we necessarily need to walk around narrating our lives to ourselves either and can never have permission to let our minds wander, but I think this might be a good thing to practice at least once or twice a week. Or even at points during the day! I tried it again briefly while I filled a pitcher of water, just staring at the bubbles forming and really noticing the water leaving the faucet.
The more we practice being aware and present, I think the better we can get at it.