Some happy moments are fleeting: a fiery sunset on a peaceful beach, watching your kid get to the final round in the spelling bee, or finally emptying your inbox (just me?). But while moments like these come and go throughout your life, it’s possible to stay in a place of happiness all the time.
Now, when I say “all the time,” you might think I mean “some of the time,” or “most of the time.” I don’t. I mean all the time.
That includes the moment when the beautiful beach sunset gets interrupted by a seagull stealing your sandwich; when your kid misspells “supervisor” (like I did in my 4th grade spelling bee. I’m still not over it); or when you take your lunch break, only to come back to a dozen emails from important clients, and a dozen more from subscriptions you don’t remember signing up for.
Yes, you can be happy even then. Remember the simple, powerful truth about happiness: I can be happy now.
That’s because staying in a place of happiness isn’t about what happens to you; it’s about what’s happening inside of you, all the time.
External vs. internal forces
Too often, when we think about what makes us happy, we think about external things: the vacactions we take, the money we make, the “likes” we get on social media, or the cars we drive. We seem to think there’s a magical level we’ll reach where we have “enough,” and we can finally allow ourselves to be happy once we reach that point.
We think, “I’ll be happy when…(fill in the blank).”
There are a couple problems with this way of thinking.
Problem 1: You’ll find what you look for.
If you’re constantly preoccupied with the external things you don’t have, you’re going to see them everywhere you look.
If you’re dissatisfied with the city you live in, you’re going to be reminded of that every time you drive past that rundown park or get stopped because of a broken traffic light. When you are unhappy with the car you drive, every “nicer” car on the road is going to catch your eye, and yours will seem particularly old in comparison. If you’re critical of your weight or body type, you’ll notice people who are thinner or more athletic than you. And so on.
This comparison game is only going to take you farther away from any sort of happiness. And the bigger problem is this: when you train your brain to think this way—to concentrate on everything you don’t have—you won’t be able to think any other way, even when you do get the thing you thought you wanted.
That’s always going to leave you chasing the next high: the newer phone, the bigger house, the more expensive clothes, the most impressive vacation. You’ll never be satisfied because your brain will be trained to look for what you’re missing.
Your brain will believe that the grass is always greener on the other side.
But the truth is, the grass is always greener where you remember to water it.
Chasing after “things” is never going to lead to lasting happiness. Only learning to be happy with what you have now can possibly do that.
Problem 2: You can’t control external forces.
The other problem is this: you have no control over anything outside yourself. You can’t control what other people think about you, or the weather, or the traffic. No matter how much you might want to or try, you can’t completely avoid sickness, economic downturns, or Instagram algorithms. It simply isn’t up to you.
Does that thought depress you, or encourage you?
I know that some people find this lack of control depressing or discouraging. They think this means that they are a victim to their circumstances, and that they simply have to accept whatever comes their way.
But it doesn’t mean that at all.
Consider the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program, which has been applied to many other self-help and addiction recovery groups. The very first step of the program is admitting to being “powerless” over alcohol—acknowledging that your life has become unmanageable and that you are, in fact, addicted.
The interesting thing about it is this: only by acknowledging that you are powerless can you get on the path to reclaiming your power.
Similarly, only by recognizing our own inability to control the world can we start to regain the ability to control our lives.
I want this thought—the thought that you can’t control external forces—to encourage you. Because once you accept this, you are far more likely to discover what truly brings you happiness.
You are only able to control what’s on the inside, but the good news is this: controlling everything inside yourself is more than enough to help you find the happiness you want.
Happiness on the inside
Taking all of this into account, you’ll realize that staying in a place of happiness has nothing to do with what’s going on externally, and everything to do with what’s going on internally. So what does lasting happiness on the inside look like?
It looks like celebrating things that have nothing to do with external circumstances.
People with lasting happiness find that happiness in things like:
“A for effort” is usually thought to be conciliatory. “Sorry you couldn’t do A-level work; at least you get an A for effort!” But here’s the thing: effort matters, because effort is something you can control.
When you’re trying your best, working your hardest, and giving yourself credit for it, you’re creating happiness and satisfaction for yourself.
When all is said and done, none of us is perfect. (Learn more about the dangers of perfectionism here.) That means that if we measure ourselves against a standard of perfection, we’re always going to come up short.
It’s much better to measure growth and progress. If you’re progressing and moving toward your goals, you have every reason to be proud of yourself.
Valuing growth is often referred to as having a growth mindset, which is correlated with things like higher achievement and innovation.
In contrast to the comparison game so many of us play, there’s gratitude. Being grateful for what you do have is going to bring you far more satisfaction than continually complaining about everything you don’t have.
If you can discover how to be grateful, you can create lasting happiness for yourself.
Thoughts to help you stay in happiness
If you want to stay in a place of happiness, you’re going to have to retrain your brain to think differently about happiness.
Here are some thoughts that might be holding you back from lasting happiness, and new thoughts you can adopt that can help you be happier and stay happier.
Old thought: “I don’t have enough.”
New thought: “I am enough.”
Remind yourself that you are all you need to be happy. Your thoughts are all you need to be satisfied with your world and your life.
Old thought: “I have to wait for happiness to find me.”
New thought: “I create my own happiness, any time I want.”
You hold all the power when it comes to how you feel inside. Embrace that power. Find hope in it. When you create your own happiness, nothing can take it away from you.
Old thought: “Happiness is the goal.”
New thought: “Happiness is the way.”
This new thought will serve you more than any other. Happiness isn’t the goal; getting what you want (or think you want) won’t make you happier. Rather, happiness is the way; learning how to be happy will help you be more successful in several different areas of your life. (No, really—it’s science.)
This is also important in connection with the Design.org Egg framework, which helps you track your journey from Hope to Meaning. Happiness isn’t the end goal, or what awaits you on the outside of the Egg. In fact, happiness is what will help push you through each individual stage.
Staying in a place of happiness is all about learning how to be happy, no matter what. It isn’t about doing more, having more, or achieving more so that you can find happiness; it’s about using the happiness you create to help you live a life you love.
Our assessment can help you get started with an intentional focus that will help you get on the path toward a life you truly love. It will also help you discover which stage of the Egg you’re currently at, and will get you started with our coaching tips that will help you progress on your journey towards Meaning.