07/30/2013 03:07 EDT | Updated 09/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Finding Happiness by Living in the Moment

Have you ever met someone who is so cheerful, you can hardly believe it's real? Sometimes it's not real. Some people can put on a big smile and act like there is nothing wrong with the world, but secretly lead bitter and unfulfilling lives. Then there are those few, almost magical people who genuinely wake each morning with smiles on their faces. They laugh loudly, don't worry about their weight or the latest fashions, and seem to take everything in stride. They may have the occasional bad day, but you'd never know it.

How can these Mary Sunshines live with such abandon and enthusiasm? Most people, if asked whether they are happy, would want clarification before answering. "Do you mean today, or in general? In my marriage or at work? Before my mother-in-law arrived for her two-week visit? Can you ask again after I pay off my car repairs?" Mary Sunshines will answer without hesitation, "yes." Anything that detracts from their overall state of satisfaction is simply a temporary distraction.

I have met Mary Sunshines from all walks of life. None of them are wealthy (though maybe it's just because I don't run in those circles). Not all of them are healthy, but they are all wise. A rare few seem to have floated through life without encountering any large stumbling blocks, simply spreading cheer everywhere they went. The majority, however, lived through formidable hardships, and yet somehow created for themselves a positive attitude that makes even the mundane wonderful.

One Mary Sunshine immigrated from Mexico after spending several years in captivity as a house-slave. Another spent her life in and out of poverty, and eventually had a double-mastectomy. "I have a place to live today, and I'll worry about tomorrow when it comes," the second woman told me.

You may be thinking: easier said than done. Sometimes life is hard! It's only natural to feel disappointed, angry, or sad. Certainly, when you're in middle of a crisis, it can be hard to imagine the light at the end of the tunnel. There are times when we need to mourn. There are situations we cannot get out without help from others, or abuses we suffer because we can't find an escape.

But once we get our heads above water, each of us has a daily opportunity to at least aspire to this level of satisfaction. It seems to me that these happy women I've met now enjoy their lives because they live in the moment. One of my friends, who survived childhood in a household of alcoholics, tells me, "What's done is done. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I only know about today, so I do what I can, and leave the rest up to the Universe."

In his book, The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho states that "...when each day is the same as the next, it's because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises." I agree, but I would add that we can start with appreciating and being grateful for the things that are the same: basic things such as our eyesight, or our ability to walk. Every morning I look out my window at the same trees and delight in the greens and textures which greeted me the day before. I don't need the view to change; I don't wish I was looking out at a beach from a Mediterranean villa. I don't mind cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, because those things remind me that I have a family to care for. Repetition can be a blessing, if you can find joy in the elements of that repetition.

Just the other day, I found myself sobbing. I dabbed at my tears with a tissue, walked over to the mirror and peered in. Mascara ran down my cheeks and was smeared under both eyes. I looked like a pathetic, wrinkled raccoon. Just then, my son Andrew entered the room. "Mom -- have you been crying? Are you sad? Did something terrible happen?"

"Yes, no, and no!" I chuckled, sheepishly. "I just watched 'Letters from Juliet.' Claire found Lorenzo!"

Andrew threw his hands in the air. "Good grief, Mom! You've seen that movie a million times. She always finds Lorenzo!"

"I know," I smiled back. "Isn't it wonderful?"

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