Looking for Happiness? Be Present

Of all the lessons Vicki, a wise and patient counselor, taught me, being authentic and present is high on the list.

The best experiences in my life this last year, especially those involving my children, have come as I’ve put the phone away and just been in the moment.

Backpacking with my son. Playing a silly game with the kids. Hanging on the beach. Floating along in the ocean waves next to my daughter with our faces buried in the water looking at the creatures. And this past weekend.

I was in Utah the first couple days last week teaching lessons for youth at BYU through their Especially for Youth (EFY) program (love it) and then in Wyoming teaching a lesson for girls camp (love it). Both were great experiences.

Because I was away from the kids and am in the midst of a heavy travel period, I try to prioritize the kids when I am home (almost forgot to do my laundry before this week’s trip!) and give them my best. But that’s so HARD because there are a million other things to be done. The aforementioned laundry–not just mine but theirs also–getting a new passport, shopping, expense reporting and invoices–even though my mom does most of it I still have to get her all the paperwork and receipts–booking flights, gassing up the car, running kids to activities, home repairs, cleaning, making food…

Many of these things can be done together, which is great, yet with as much as there is to be done it’s not always quality time. And since it’s summer I want to do fun stuff with the kids, not just the mundane and call it good. AND with raising 4 kids there’s of course not really enough of me to go around. Thank goodness for Grandma and all that she does. I feel terribly for Ashley, who is already grown and out of the house since she gets so little from me.

So this weekend: I saved Friday for hanging out with the kids. In the evening, we met up with Tiffany—husband Jon couldn’t make it since he was feeling ill—for miniature golf, dinner, and ice cream. She is so good for my kids and they love her. During miniature golf and while trying to decide on dinner, I noticed myself trying to manage the experience to ensure everyone had a good time, rather than just relaxing and being there. During ice cream, however, I connected to the moment. I didn’t have to ensure anyone had a good time. I left it to them to manage their own experience. I just lived. I was present. It was awesome.

Saturday, we went to Elitch’s, the local amusement park. I was looking forward to it since I knew how much the kids were. But here’s the thing. I hate lines anywhere, especially at an amusement park where you wait 30 minutes or more for maybe 90 seconds of thrill. Also, I sometimes have a hard time with the type of crowds that are typically present; people trying to cut in line, socially unaware, self-focused, etc. I also knew we would be coming out to the car for lunch and dinner since $18 hamburgers (I’m exaggerating, but only a bit) weren’t going to work with 3 kids and 2 of their friends and the kids would likely complain about having to leave at those times, complain about the food, or complain about something else. So as excited as I was, I was gearing myself up for battle. Until…

photo credit Amy Aletheia Cahill

photo credit Amy Aletheia Cahill

Until I decided, made the CONSCIOUS CHOICE, that I was going to have a good time no matter what. I was going to roll with whatever was presented and not get worked up. I decided I was going to focus on being present with my kids. I was going to enjoy the time with them, whatever happened. Nothing was going to be a big deal.

So instead of complaining when the line was long, I took the time to look at my children and talk with them. I took the time to just exist with no agenda. I had no fear, worry, or concern. When someone tried to cut in line I would simply ask the question if that’s what they were trying to do or how they got in front of me and they would back off. OK, so the three times it happened it was little kids and I’m such an intimidating presence how could they have done otherwise, I get it. But I didn’t get worked up about it. And I didn’t worry about managing my kids’ experience. They were responsible for that. Instead of worrying about them getting bored in line, I wanted them to be since they are on technology so much and being bored would be a good thing for them. If they didn’t like some of the food we brought, there were other options. I reminded them to drink as often as they could so they didn’t get headaches or feel nauseous, but knew I wasn’t responsible beyond that. I focused on providing the right environment and they were responsible for what they did with it. Instead of worrying about them getting lost or hurt, I remained vigilant, communicated lots about our plans, and trusted all would be OK.

And it all worked. I had a great time, despite only riding two water rides in 2.5 hours. Despite only riding one real thrill ride – maybe that was a good thing, since as I get older my ability to endure centrifugal force or being thrown around violently decreases dramatically. Despite it being hot. Despite there being some, luckily not many, annoying people—probably because I didn’t let people annoy me, more of a choice. More importantly, I was in the moment with my kids. I wasn’t grumpy and I didn’t take away from their experience.

Confession, I was a little frustrated that the ghost blasters ride didn’t seem to be working so my points didn’t register, meaning my kids beat me. That would have been OK in a fair fight, but not when it was a technical issue. Fortunately, Josh wanted to keep riding and when I insisted on switching to the spot he always had, I recorded the high score, which I made sure to let the kids know a few times that night and the next day.

Why am I telling you this?

To brag that I’m awesome and can be in the moment? To show you my kids have a wimp for a dad who can’t handle spinning rides? To boast about being the master blaster with the high score? No and no, but maybe that last one a bit…

Because I’m TERRIBLE at being in the moment. Because even though I usually try to incorporate something about being present and authentic in my training classes, I still stink at it in a big way. Because when I’m with my kids, I’m often somewhere else mentally and I don’t want that to happen to you!

I want you to live a life full of exuberance and joy. I want you to connect to the here and now and really enjoy the people with whom you share your journey. I want you to feel of their love and show them your love by simply being present in the moment. That’s all we have anyway.

Of course bills need to be paid and plans have to be made. What I’m saying is that in spite of those realities, you can take the little pockets of time afforded you to push everything else away and just live. Now. In this very moment. Now in this one. Now this one. Look at your child and just connect without words. Study without knowing the outcome the scene in front of you. Breathe. Don’t worry. Put aside fear and concern. Breathe again.

There are many things that might keep us from being present in the moment. For me:

  • Financial concerns keep me from being present
  • The never-ending To-do list keeps me from being present
  • Wanting validation from other sources keeps me from being present
  • Forgetting who I really am keeps me from being present
  • Worrying about my kids and their spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental well-being keeps me from being present
  • Being impatient keeps me from being present
  • And multitasking keeps me from being present.

At Elitch’s, my phone stayed either in the car or in my backpack for almost the whole day. We waited in lines for the greater part of the day. The sun was beating down on the kids. Rides were closed for maintenance. And it was a marvelous day. The kids don’t remember the lines anyway. They remember the 30-second ride. They remember being in a fun place. They remember being with friends and family.

Kids don’t know any differently than being present. They just are naturally in the moment. No fear, worry, concern. They are just living for now. Maybe we can become more like little children and enjoy life a lot more. I sure hope I can.