How to Find Happiness Within

‘Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.’ ~Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Post written by Leo Babauta.

We’ve talked a bit about seeking happiness in external sources … but what’s the alternative?

Well, the obvious answer is to seek happiness within — but today we’ll look at some ways to do that. In truth, this is what the entire Uncover Your Awesomeness is about, so today we’ll just be doing an overview, and we’ll go into more depth in future articles in October.

So let’s take a look at some internal sources of happiness.

Where Happiness Comes From

It’s worth taking a moment to consider where happiness comes from. Is it from things like having someone love you, or eating a fantastic meal, or having a great body, or relaxing on the beach, or drinking a good cup of coffee?

No, actually. Those things all are phenomena that happen outside of us … and they don’t cause the happiness. They might be correlated with happiness — they happen, and then we are happy at the same time — but it’s not a cause-and-effect relationship. There’s another event that’s happening at the same time.

That event is what happens in our brain between the external event (a good cup of coffee) and our state of happiness.

What is this event? It’s a process. Let’s take a close look:

  1. We drink a cup of good coffee (or read a good book, eat some delicious berries, have good sex, etc.).
  2. We notice the coffee, pay attention to it. If we don’t pay attention, and are reading on the Internet as we drink the coffee, we don’t get the happiness from the coffee.
  3. We appreciate the goodness in the coffee that we noticed. It’s not just the noticing and paying attention — we have to accept it for what it is, and appreciate the good things about it.
  4. This goodness we’ve noticed causes us to be happy about life. We are now happy about the experience of living, about life itself, because this experience is filled with goodness — even if it’s just the goodness of a cup of coffee.

So that’s it: noticing and appreciating the goodness in a cup of coffee causes us to be happy about living. And the more we notice and appreciate about our lives (and ourselves), the happier we are.

‘We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.’ ~Frederick Keonig

Finding It Within

So does this mean that happiness is really about external things, like the cup of coffee or the sex or the love from someone else? No … it’s about the process that happens within. And this process can happen no matter what’s going on outside of us. It can happen even if there are no external stimuli — because there are things inside of us that we can appreciate as well.

Let me emphasize that: all the raw material we need for happiness is inside of us. The good things we can appreciate to be happy — they are always with us, already there. And the tools for turning these raw materials into happiness … they are within us as well. We just need to develop them.

What are the things within us that we can appreciate, that can make us happy? Some examples:

And so on. These (and more) are all internal qualities you might have that you can appreciate, that can make you happy about yourself.

So the happiness process — noticing, appreciating, being happy about living — can be applied to things within us, no matter what’s going on outside. We can learn to notice and appreciate the good things (and the less-than-perfect things as well!) in ourselves, and start to love ourselves.

Appreciating All That’s Around Us

That’s just the start, though. What’s within us is amazing, but so is what’s in everyone else, and life all around us. These might be external things, but the appreciation for them (and the happiness that results) comes from within.

So the key skill is to learn to notice, accept and appreciate everything around us, and everyone we see and interact with.

Look closely at the food you eat, and the coffee, water, tea, or wine you drink … what can you notice? Is there good to be noticed that you can appreciate, that can make you happy to be alive?

What about the room around you? What about the book you’re reading, or the blog post? What about the nature outside? Are there things there that you can notice and appreciate?

Often if we fail to see good in things or people around us (or ourselves), it’s a failure to pay close attention. If the person near you seems rude or uninteresting, you’re not paying close enough attention to the details: are they also funny, or talented, or shy but with hidden secrets? Are they in pain, and in need of compassion? Look closer, and see what you can find.

Once you begin to pay attention, and to look, you’ll find some amazing things. All around us are examples of beauty, creativity, inspiration, triumph, pain, joy, life.

And once you get good at this, you can start to appreciate the “not-so-perfect” things as well. We judge other people’s flaws, and our own flaws, as “bad” … but what if they’re just a part of being human? Then aren’t the “flaws” a celebration of who we are as humans? Aren’t anger and rudeness and mistakes a part of our beauty as human beings?

I’ve been learning to appreciate the “flaws” in my children, for example, as beautiful, as part of the signature of who they are. My little daughter is loud and bold, while my youngest son is quiet(er) but full of motion and adventure. They are different, and those differences are part of what makes each of them wonderful in their own way. If we didn’t have these “flaws”, we wouldn’t be as wonderful.

And this is true, of course, of ourselves. We all have flaws, and we should celebrate them. Notice them, yes, but appreciate them, and use them as reasons to be happy to be alive.

Once we can do this, we can see the wonder in every little thing around us, and inside us. And then we realize that life is a true joy, in every moment, if we simply pay attention and appreciate it.