What Does Living in the Present Have to do with Happiness? And What Can Peanut Butter Offer Us?

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Today, Karri posted: "Why Can't I be Happy?" Funny you asked that, Karri, because happiness has been on my mind a lot today. You see, today on her blog, Beyond Blue, Therese Borchard posted these three provocative pieces:


    5 Steps to Having More Fun: An Interview with John McManamy


    John McManamy: Play Is Crucial to Good Mental Health


    Operating Instructions: This Is How You Play


    Okay, fun and play are hardly to same thing as happiness, but there is a certain congruence in that we have positive goals in mind rather than obsessing on the negative. But, as I explained to Therese, focusing on the positive doesn't come natural to me:

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    "I have to confess, I tend to be an expert in the very opposite, and so - I suspect - do most of your readers and my readers. In fact, I have more words for my depressions than an Eskimo has for snow, ranging from my "mental water torture" depressions to my "Mount Everest death zone" depressions."


    Not only that, I was so good at messing my life up that I literally chased happiness away. And here's where your post really resonated with me, Karri:


    "But I should be happy as a clam. I'm living my dream, I always wanted to be a stay at home mom, and here I am. I have two wonderful girls that I adore, and a husband who is usually understanding and is wonderful. My father is going to help with the expenses of daycare for me to go to college, and possibly give me a loan to pay off my debts and get some things taken care of. Why can't I be happy when there is so much good in my life?"


    Now, compare what you just wrote to one of the answers I gave to Therese in my interview at Beyond Blue:


    Back in the late 80s, I moved to Melbourne, Australia to take up a feature writing position on the business pages of a newspaper there. I found a great apartment in an unbelievable locale surrounded by parks and gardens, I was working with a super editor, my colleagues were fantastic, and slowly but surely I was getting recognition in my new environment. In short, my work life and social life were going great.

    How did I blow that? Easy. I failed to live in the present. I fretted about the future. I got over-anxious. Instead of being the kid who could have played ball all evening with my friends, I was more like my mom worried about getting me into pajamas for the night. So, in a practically perfect situation, I managed to convince myself I was miserable. Mental illness thrives in these conditions. My bipolar was undiagnosed and I was a sitting duck. In nothing flat, I was a stranger in a strange land with no job, no friends, no income, no prospects.


    In response to another question, I came up with this: "Enjoy the peanut butter."


    Forget about the bread. Stick a fork in the jar and go for it. "Enjoy the peanut butter" is my metaphor for living in the present. It comes from an old Zen parable about savoring strawberries as tigers are about to rip you apart. The present is where life is happening, here, right now.


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    So here you are, Karri, conflicted, caught between two worlds: A present that is very real, one that offers you a lot of happiness and a future that only exists in your own mind.


    But life is way more complicated than that. We can get too comfortable in our own present. We tend to stagnate, not grow, which sets the scene for depression and all that comes with it. So we need to be challenged, and out of that we become better people, more fulfilled, perhaps even happier - that's what the future offers.


    Any so-called "normal" person is going to feel anxious in your situation, Karri, but anxiety and a mood disorder do not go well together. There are no easy choices, here, but please take heart in the fact your choices are two very good ones.


    Please don't make the mistake I made more than 20 years ago. You are in a good place right now. Enjoy that for all it's worth. Don't let your anxiety over the future rip your present happiness away from you. Whatever decision you make, it will be the right one for you. In the meantime, I urge you to do the very thing I failed to do way back in another time and another place: ground yourself in the present.


    Sounds so easy, but with our past constantly nipping at our heels and the future always about to crash down the door, we tend to completely disregard the one place where life is actually happening, here, right now. Time to set a new place at the table. Enjoy the peanut butter ...

Published On: June 19, 2009