Happiness can only exist in this moment.

That seems like a simple concept, but there are layers of subtlety to it that I am just starting to unpack.

How much of what we spend our time and energy on is trying to work towards eventual happiness? And when we live that way, how often do we really achieve it?

There is no destination to reach where happiness shines upon us constantly. There is no “solving” reality. There is only what is right now and our attitude towards it.

It is so easy to follow what society deems the “essentials to happiness” — money, love, beauty, travel. These are required for us to be happy, right?

I’ve had money and I wasn’t particularly happy.

When I was richest, I was the most burnt out, unhealthy, and angry at the world. It was this time when I alienated myself most from my friends and family and saw sides of myself I did not like at all. When I was richest I felt that things were scarce and that I had to grasp onto everything that I had earned.

I have been single for long stretches of time thinking that love would fix all my problems. When the right partner comes along, I won’t feel lonely or sad. He will fill up the dark corners of my heart. So I grasped at the wrong things for a long time, hoping they’d fix me.

When I met my partner, I found out that even a seemingly perfect relationship doesn’t solve my problems. Being with him doesn’t dissolve my fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame. In fact, in this relationship — the one that I had been searching for — I had my deepest darkest moments. And that wasn’t a symptom of our relationship. It was in loving him — not grasping at him but really loving him — that I had to start loving myself too. It turns out there’s no instruction manual for that. It meant I had to actually pay attention to my thoughts and feelings for, perhaps, the first time in my life.

Who can categorically say what is and is not beautiful?

When I was my thinnest and perhaps would have been considered my most beautiful by societal standards, I was sick with anxiety and unable to eat. Each time I did, my body rejected it, as if I had drunk poison. I felt empty and ugly and, despite being thin, I hid in the clothes which hung off of me.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend nine months traveling around the world by myself. During that time I felt drunk with adrenaline and lust for the unknown. I felt like someone else entirely. Brave, even.

But the second I stopped I felt like I didn’t know the person who did all of that. Could that have really been me? She was brave and fearless, but I am scared and weak.

No, none of that caused happiness. I would get brief glimpses and then felt that lack of control take back over my life in a way that overwhelmed me.

My definitions of these elements have changed. And I am slowly realizing that happiness is finding the beauty in what is around you in the moment you are in. If anything, the less control I have, the more I enjoy my life.

I feel rich when I am surrounded by friends and family; When I help one of my students accomplish their goals.

Money can help me survive, but so far, my absolute poorest days have been my happiest.

I feel loved when I can be flawed and honest to those around me; when I can show up for my loved ones authentically; when I stop focusing on my so-called imperfections.

I feel most beautiful when I feel intelligent; When I can help someone solve a problem; When I am given the opportunity to make drama out of a situation but choose not to; When I step onto my yoga mat and listen to what my body is asking for rather than what my ego demands of me. Some days that might be only doing prone poses lying on my back, others it is only meditation. When I practice from this place that I feel strong and whole.

I feel worldly when I meet people from all over the world and we all have the same concerns; When a morning enjoying coffee and croissants at home feels like a holiday; When I can communicate clearly with people from different cultures.

My happiest moments lately have been rather unexpected. Coming from moments I used to consider stressful and dark, I am finding more comfort.

I notice how amazing my job can be and then immediately feel the pang of pressure that is so ingrained — I must progress higher! I am not successful yet. But then I remember, I don’t have to progress anywhere. I like where I am. That isn’t a negative thing and doesn’t mean I’m not motivated.

On my most anxious days, which will always exist, I don’t try to distract myself from my feelings. Instead, I open myself up to them. Now, I sit down and I breathe through it — letting the heat, heart racing, and overwhelming thoughts bubble to the surface. But then they simmer and stop. It always ends. And this way, when it does, I am not pushing it down and avoiding it — it’s out of my system and no longer has a place in my body.

I feel happy when I remember that strong emotion doesn’t need to equate to anxiety; And that emotions aren’t bad. As a person who has felt such strong anxiety, she thought she was going to die, I had allowed any emotion to sit under that umbrella term. Excitement, nervousness, sadness — not anxiety. And more recently, grief — definitely not anxiety. It is a new one for me but I am giving it space when it passes back through me.

I feel strength within softness these days.

And maybe happiness is overrated. It, like everything else, comes and goes. And when we try to grasp onto it, we can never really have it. It’s the worry of it leaving that consumes us once we finally find it.

Our emotions cannot be entirely dependent on externals. That’s where our suffering comes from.

So perhaps we should stop our pursuit of happiness and instead pursue presence. Presence comes from trusting our ability to respond with whatever happens around us. Once we can trust, we might actually feel that happiness we’ve been pursuing all along.

Originally published at medium.com