How do you find happiness?
It might seem like a silly question, but it’s actually very important.
You see, you’re not the only one asking it.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18% of people in the U.S. suffer from severe anxiety and 6% suffer from major depressive disorder.
The suicide rate rose by 24% between 1999 and 2014, and it’s still rising.
It would seem that many people — maybe even you — are struggling to find happiness in their everyday lives.
The good news is that effective solutions for finding happiness already exist. And I’m going to share them with you in this article.
But first, let’s talk about what happiness actually is…
What does it mean to be happy?
What Does It Mean To Be Happy?
You know it when you see it.
Someone wins the lottery, graduates from college, gets a promotion, or sets their wedding date. They are smiling, they are talking about how great it is, and they are making plans for the future.
They are in full control.
They can do anything they want with their life and they can do it whenever they want to do it.
The world is their oyster and they are its pearl.
But the feeling is fleeting.
Only a week later, misfortune befalls them — a car accident, sickness, or a broken relationship — and they are no longer happy.
That’s also easy to see.
They slouch, spend a lot of time scrolling through social media, they don’t smile much, and their energy levels are depleted.
Was that happiness?
Is happiness really so fleeting?
Well, yes and no.
To understand what it means to be happy, we first need to understand that there are two different types of happiness. There’s inner happiness and outer happiness.
Outer happiness is what most of us depend on for our feelings of contentment and joy. However, that’s a bit problematic. Because outer happiness is dependent on external events — winning the lottery, getting married, graduating college, etc.
And as you well know, those things only happen every once in a while.
Inner happiness, on the other hand, is a joy and contentment that we create, regardless of external events. This is the type of happiness that we experience when we decide that our lives are satisfying, that they serve an important purpose, or when we simply choose to be happy because we want to be happy.
Some people call this joy.
Inner happiness, joy — whatever you call it — this is the source of real human happiness. This is how you live a happier life.
You don’t find happiness, you create it.
That’s not to say that you can’t experience excitement when something good happens in your life, but that’s not the happiness you should depend on… because it’s not the sort of happiness that you have control over.
Inner happiness is what we’re after.
We’re after the resilient inner happiness of martyrs who feel joy in the face of certain death, of concentration camp prisoners who feel peace while being abused, and of disabled people who feel content with their situation as it is.
Because if they could create happiness… so can we.
Inner happiness isn’t frivolous and it’s not dictated by external events — it’s controlled by one thing and one thing only: our minds.
So now the question is, how are we going to create happiness for ourselves?
Just three simple steps.
Step 1. Accept Things As They Are
True inner happiness only exists in the present moment.
When we create our own joy, it’s not about something that’s going to happen in the future and it’s not about things that have happened in the past — it’s about right now at this moment.
Because if we’re not happy about this moment, then our happiness will only last so long as we’re focussing on the future or the past.
We’ve got to find contentment here and now.
The good news is that suffering rarely exists in the present moment. If you take a second to examine yourself and ask, “Am I suffering right now at this moment?”
The answer is probably “no.”
And if you are, then it’s probably because of a focus on past or future events, not something that’s currently happening.
To find happiness, we’ve got to come to grips with this simple truth.
Suffering rarely exists in the present moment.
Refocusing on the present moment, then, is the quickest way to finding peace.
All that exists is right now… and that means we don’t have to concern ourselves with the future or the past.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
So here are some tricks for bringing yourself back into the present moment.
- Meditation — Being silent and being still for even 10 minutes can have a big impact on how happy you feel. It puts your worries and concerns into perspective and it serves as a reminder that always being busy isn’t the answer to a happy life. Checkout Headspace to get some guided meditations.
- Physical Activity — There’s nothing quite like the physical stress of exercise to bring your mind back to the present moment. We’ll talk more about this soon, but it’s a good idea to start building a habit of exercising every day for at least 30 minutes.
- Cold — Cold temperatures have a physiological effect on humans. Cold water, for instance, makes us more alert, increases our blood flow, and even creates endorphins. One of the best ways to stop a panic attack is to splash your face with freezing cold water. I highly recommend trying a cold shower to see how it affects you — it’s made a big difference in my own life.
- Journaling — I’ve found that writing down my thoughts really helps me put them into perspective and think through them rationally. If you find yourself in an unfavorable mental state, trying jotting down your thoughts and coaching yourself a bit.
Step 2. Find Purpose in The Future
Okay, so let’s assume that you’ve found peace in the present moment.
You’re content and you’re happy, you’ve accepted things as they are.
In some sense, that’s really all you ever need. You can rest assured that when your life gets difficult, this is where you will turn — you will remember that you have full control over your own mind and that you can find happiness in any situation.
Still — and especially during good times — most of us want to use our lives to work toward something meaningful. We’re here, we’ve got time, so let’s use that time to do something cool.
Viktor Frankl, the author of Mans Search For Meaning, believed that having a purpose is what makes us capable of finding happiness and contentment in any situation. In his own words, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how.'”
He believed that having a purpose precedes finding joy in the present moment.
At the very least, it makes it easier.
But how do we find our purpose?
Well, we don’t.
Just like inner happiness, we create it.
We don’t discover our purpose by seeking our destiny or wrestling with the cruel hands of fate, we build a purpose for ourselves — one that inspires us and gets our blood pumping.
What we have to ask ourselves, then, is what’s a purpose worth pursuing? What purpose is exciting enough to us that we’re willing to bear the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with it?
What purpose are you going to pursue?
Here are some questions to get you thinking about this. I highly recommend journaling through these prompts.
- What is a goal that you envision would be exciting to work toward?
- At the end of your life, what do you want people to say about you?
- What is really important to you in life?
- What kind of person do you want to be?
And remember: you’re not selling your soul. Take-backs are allowed.
The only goal is to find something that you would like to pursue for some time. It’s not necessarily going to be your lifetime pursuit, but something that you can work on and commit to for a while.
We all need something in our lives that is bigger than ourselves — something that makes us feel that we’re making a difference in the universe.
Maybe you’re going to work on writing a book or building a business or helping a charity.
Don’t overthink it. Make a decision.
Step 3. Change Your Physical State
For combating anxiety and depression, physical activity is our single most powerful asset.
This step isn’t quite as philosophical as the first two, but it’s just as important. And you don’t have to take my word for it.
A lot of scientific research proves that our physical state has a direct impact on our mental state. It’s no secret, after all, that if you exercise for just 30 minutes every day, you automatically feel better about pretty much everything.
And what’s 30 minutes of sweaty exercise compared to its long-term health benefits?
I love this comic from the Oatmeal…
But it’s not just exercising that makes us feel happier.
Power posing is another example, made popular by Amy Cuddy. Her research suggests that when people change their posture for even two minutes, they actually feel more confident.
But they don’t just feel more confident. People who spent two minutes in high-power poses like in the image below actually increased their testosterone levels and decreased cortisol.
On the other hand, people who spent two minutes in low-power poses like in the image below decreased testosterone and increased cortisol.
Effectively, high-power posers were more confident while low-power posers were more anxious and insecure.
Here’s her famous TED Talk condensed into just 3 minutes…
So how is your body positioned right now? You might not realize it, but your body posture is constantly sending signals to your brain about what chemicals it should release and how you should feel.
We can hack this by fixing our posture — sitting up straight, taking up room, and physically expressing confidence.
Bioenergetics is another iteration of this concept. It uses physical movement (rather than just postures) to increase energy and decrease anxiety and depression.
Here’s an example of what this looks like…
Also, did you know you shouldn’t be breathing through your mouth?
Breathing through your mouth causes high blood pressure (which increases feelings of anxiety) while breathing through your nose improves oxygen absorption in your lungs and decreases blood pressure.
Laird Hamilton, the world-famous surfer, is a massive advocate of nose breathing. In an interview with Joe Rogan, he also said he thought that almost all anxiety and depression problems would go away if people started “icing” regularly.
(By that, he means getting in an ice bath or take cold showers.)
And he’s not crazy — research on how cold temperatures affect our physiology supports his claim.
My point is that your body has a massive impact on how you feel.
And if you’re not feeling happy, then it’s important to check in with your physical state. How’s your posture? When is the last time you moved around and got some exercise? Are you breathing shallow or deep? Why not go hop in a freezing cold shower and see if that helps?
The more you experiment with this, the more you’re going to find that physical movement really can help you live a happier life, especially if you’re consistent.
Have You Found Happiness?
The fastest way to find happiness is through physical activity — exercising, changing your posture, or dancing around the room.
In the long-term, though, happiness is something you should cultivate by accepting the present moment as it is and creating an exciting purpose for your future.
Because you can live a happier life, a more meaningful life, and a more fun life.
It’ll just take a little bit of work.
But isn’t it worth it?
Mike is the founder of Get Your Gusto Back. He has a passion for traveling, he LOVES to write, and he’s been mentioned in Forbes and Entrepreneur for his expertise as a marketer and personal-development expert. He currently lives in Hawaii with his wife and two-year-old daughter.