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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Wake Up to What Makes You Happy!

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: May 18th 2009

smiley faceJohn was a 75 year old man who was living his final days in a hospital with no family to speak of and few friends to come visit him. He was struggling with cancer and was so weak at this point that he didn't have much strength move or walk around, but he did have his mind still and had time to think. He turned to his pastor who would come visit him and said, "If I only had it to do over, I would have done things differently." "What do you mean" asked the pastor. To this he replied, "I was so busy my whole life, focused on what needed to get done, driven to get that next project accomplished, that I never stopped to look around and realize what was most important." The pastor had an idea of what he was getting at, but still asked him to "say more." "Well, it was as if I was sleepwalking through life, driven by this illusion that if I just had that next thing, then I'd be happy, when all around me life was happening. My mind was constantly somewhere else and I feel like I missed out on so many connections with people, that is what really matters, it's who you love and how you love them."

Psychiatrist George Valliant conducted a major 42 year longitudinal study of men at Harvard to come to terms with what is the basic principle involved in healthy aging. He said, "That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people."  This seems in tune with what John is talking about. Why does it take a major catastrophe such as 9-11 or the levies breaking in New Orleans to bring people to the fundamental principle that life is about relationships.  How often are we living upstairs in our heads focused on either where we need to be or where we wish we hadn't been and not in the present where relationships actually occur?

If you're interested in becoming more present to day to day life, one thing you may want to put in your electronic calendar is a little pop-up that asks "Am I awake?" or "Where is my mind right now?" Often times we are in conversation with someone and we are either thinking about what we need to do next or planning the next brilliant counter-argument. Imagine if you got that pop up in the middle of that and then came down from your mind and began to just listen to what the other person was saying. This act of "just listening" allows the other person to feel heard and a connection begins to cultivate. When we're off in our heads, the connection is weaker.

So go ahead, trying asking yourself, "am I awake?" If you're mind is off somewhere else, that's perfectly fine, just bring it back to what is actually happening in the present moment. You may do this over and over again. There's no need to be harsh on yourself if this is difficult, for most of us it really is. It's more a practice of awareness and gentle redirection of attention. Practice this for a few days, at the end of each day; see if you noticed anything different that day. See if you felt more connected which in this major study, showed to be the key to healthy aging.

As always, please share your thoughts, questions, and stories below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

live in the moment - 2002to2009 - May 25th 2009

Very interesting. It's true, too, that it's so difficult for us to do in the moment and remember that we're awake, and alive, RIGHT NOW. Doesn't seem quite natural that it's so difficult. It's like we've gotten some bad training somewhere along the lines...

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