There are countless moments of happiness scattered through our lives. In fact there are countless moments of happiness scattered though each and every day. The laughter of a child, the touch of a loved one, the beauty of a sunrise, the smell of fresh rain, a smile from a stranger. These moments ask just one thing: for you to pay attention. It is the only payment required to pass through the doorway to a full and happy life.
One bright sunny morning, Martina and I went to a local park to do some writing. Inspired by nature on such a beautiful day, we wrote and occasionally discussed ideas. After some time, we noticed a father and daughter crossing the road on their way to the playground. The little girl would have been about five years old, and she was full of beans. She ran from one thing to the next, laughing and playing, while her father made his way to a nearby park bench. As she approached the swing, you could anticipate what was coming next... "Dad! Push, Dad!"
Dad slowly wandered over with a slight heaviness in his step. His daughter was having the time of her life giggling as she was flung up into the air. After about five good pushes, her father reached into his pocket and pulled out his mobile phone. With his head down, and his body slightly turned away, his pushes became more erratic, as he scrolled through emails, messages or social media.
Within minutes, mum arrived, one hand pushing a stroller with a sleeping baby, and the other carrying two take-away coffees. Dad barely glanced up between his cursory pushes and intense downward gaze, but as she approached with a coffee in her outstretched hand, he turned his body slightly and we wondered aloud to each other -- Which hand will he use to take the coffee?
We have moments of choice every single day. Moments when we could look up and connect with our world, or just move through it, lost in thought. Moments when we could be fully present with someone we love, or just turn to the next thing on our to-do list. Moments when we could choose to attend to something with real purpose and meaning, or just get captured by the next distraction.
On that beautiful morning, we watched this father take the coffee with the hand that had been pushing his young daughter on the swing. Coffee in one hand, mobile phone in the other, and his head still down, he wandered slowly away.
For us, watching this little girl's exciting ride grind slowly to a halt, seeing her searching looks in the direction of her father's retreating back, and witnessing one more moment of happiness missed, was the final inspiration we needed to write our book One Moment Please: It's Time to Pay Attention.
Attention has become one of the most threatened resources on the planet today. And as attention fades, it is not just the simple ability to notice what's happening around you that disappears. We rely on our attention to nourish our relationships, to search out true meaning, to recognize the need to change and grow, and to connect us to moments of happiness that lie in wait.
Whether it's the allure of social media drawing you down the rabbit hole, the pressure from your to-do list weighing heavy on your mind, or rerunning the past like a worn out song, the further your attention is taken from the present, the unhappier you will feel. You are missing out on life as it unfolds around you. Do this for too long, and you'll experience a yawning emptiness, a creeping disconnect, and a growing lack of meaning in your life.
The definition of attention is to "tend to," "to care for." When you pay attention, you are really saying, "This is what I care for most in this moment." Too often we're attending to whatever intrudes loudest and fastest, and not even considering if those are really the things that really matter most. For the father at the park that sunny morning, there is no doubt that his sweet daughter would have been on the top of his list of the things he cares for most, but it was clear that his attention had been stolen that day. The flow of his attention, the medium through which he was able to show care and share happiness, had been diverted.
How often are you missing the moment to pay attention to the things that you care for most? It is often an unintentional act, but withholding attention is like holding up a sign that says, "I don't care." We know the feeling when we're talking to someone and their eyes wander, or they're nodding but it's clear that the lights are on and no one's home.
We should never underestimate the power of attention to animate the world around us. It is surely a gift we give to others, but it also returns to us in the form of inspiration, meaning and happiness.
In this noisy busy world, we believe a moment of attention can change everything. How will you give the gift of your attention to the things that matter most, today, tomorrow and in the weeks to come? Because moments of happiness grow as moments of attention flow.
This blog was written by the authors of One Moment Please and first appeared at Mind Gardener.