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Yes, NY Times, “being in the moment” is not a magic happiness machine—but it’s still worth it


Photo: Stocksy/Milles Studio

In the recent New York Times op-ed “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment,” Ruth Whippman argues that mindfulness is becoming “a special circle of self-improvement hell, striving not just for a Pinterest-worthy home, but a Pinterest-worthy mind.” Well, in rebuttal: It doesn’t have to be that way. Here, wellness star Desiree Pais, a Kundalini-trained yogi and founder of clean beauty brand Benshen, shows the way. 

Desiree Pais lessons in heartbreak
Photo: Desiree Pais

I often joke that I was much happier living in the whole “ignorance is bliss” realm prior to entering a career in the wellness world. Now, I find myself wondering if I’m joking.

Over the last few years I have done three yoga trainings, studied with some of the greatest living masters, and have dived headfirst into reading countless books on health and wellness. Yet, I found myself further away from feeling as healthy, vibrant, and happy as I had been promised. I looked and felt the exact opposite. Honestly, I still look and feel the exact opposite.

It’s taken me six years to figure out that I had merely tweaked my perfectionism and turned the pursuit of happiness into another avenue in which I could actually be unhappy. After trying to do every mindfulness practice once and setting extremely high expectations for my self-growth, instead of feeling better I felt more miserable than ever.

In other words: It’s not the practices, folks. It’s us.

But I have learned something: The practices themselves have not been making me unhappy—but my approach to them, and our approach to them as a society, have. We have taken these profound tools and squeezed the life out of them, turning them into another vehicle in which we can chase after one illusion after another, only to find ourselves exhausted and miserable, since we can never seem to reach our destination.In other words: It’s not the practices, folks. It’s us.

The mindfulness revolution, which has been life-changing for some, is starting to drag others down. The reality that’s hard for many of us to wrap our heads around, including myself, is that there’s no inherent happiness in these practices. There’s no happiness on the other side of them. There’s no happiness in mindfulness, there’s no happiness in yoga, there’s no happiness in the “multibillion-dollar spiritual industrial complex,” as Ruth Whippman puts it in her compelling New York Times piece, “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment.”

Happiness is a choice. It’s a choice we have to make in every moment. The mindfulness, the awareness, the yogic practices are all teaching us to slow down enough to see that we have a choice but still it’s our choice to make. If we haven’t developed mindfulness, we don’t realize that we have the choice, and we continue playing victim to the stories in our heads and the world around us. Mindfulness, the act of coming into the present moment, is solely an opportunity for us to stop the proverbial car and decide if we want to keep driving down that road or if we want to take another.

The mindfulness, the awareness, the yogic practices are all teaching us to slow down enough to see that we have a choice whether to be happy, but still it’s our choice to make.

It’s up to us now to stop using these practices as another means to be unhappy and choose happiness, again and again, in every moment we’re able to remember to be mindful enough. And in the moments we forget, we just keep moving along until the next opportunity arises where we can practice choosing happiness instead of unhappiness.

As a close friend recently told me, which I will share with you all since I think we all need to hear it: “Don’t you dare use your spiritual practice to make you feel bad about yourself.”

Another “positive” thing that can end up bumming you out? Aggressively empowering memes—here, The Big Quiet founder Jesse Israel details the love-hate relationship he has with his Instagram feed. And for more intelligent insights from Pais, check out the surprising, hidden lessons she found in heartbreak

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