You Can Be Happier If You Don't Miss This One Thing

All of us want to be happy.  We want our children to be happy.  Happiness and its pursuit are not only considered undeniable rights by most Americans, but have become the subject of many academic studies and organizations.

Many of us think that having more money, more possessions, more experiences, more popularity – more of everything – will make us happy.  So we pamper and treat ourselves.  We compete with others.  And we give our kids "everything we never had."

Of course a lack of money for basic necessities is awful and insecure.  Poverty adds stress and fear to every day.  But studies show that people who win the lottery or inherit money are no happier than everyone else.

That's because happiness is an emotion.  It's based on people, experiences, and things, and it's triggered externally.  So if people, experiences, and things let us down or prove unsatisfactory, our happiness can be compromised or destroyed.  At some point we've all been in that situation.

What are we missing?

winning the jackpot

Here's the secret ingredient.

Joy is deeper and more stable than any emotion.  It's a choice that comes from within.

Do you want a life of joy and contentment instead of a life of dissatisfaction, comparison, and the feeling that something is missing?  Do you want to experience joy even when you encounter life's difficulties?  Attitude is everything.

So how can we develop an attitude of joy?

6 steps to more joy

1.  Decide to be joyful.

When gloomy, negative thoughts push their way in, stop them and rewind.  You get to decide what you think about.  You can choose to think about things that are positive and worthy. 


Does this sound too simple?  It isn't.  It requires vigilance and discipline.  But you can choose to follow a downward mental spiral or trigger an upward spiral.

Of course, I realize that true depression is not a matter of choice.  Someone who suffers from depression may need medications and/or counseling to begin to recover from an illness that has nothing to do with a "bad attitude."

But many of us (me too) have a longstanding habit of complaining.  Whenever something doesn't work out the way we expected it to, we express our dissatisfaction with an imperfect world that dares to inflict itself upon us!  The longer we go on about how awful our circumstances are, the angrier and less happy we become.

When we practice being disgruntled, we get really good at it (ask me how I know).  This negative spiral makes it nearly impossible to notice when good things occur, so the world starts to look pretty bleak.

This is the situation that needs to be reversed.  With practice, we can become better at focusing on the positive.

If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.

Carlos Santana

2.  Do something kind.

Our actions have a boomerang effect.  Shout at someone or treat them rudely, and they or someone else will do the same to you.  Smile and act pleasantly instead, and you'll get a similar response – even from a stranger.

Our behavior is like a mirror or an echo.  What we give is what we get.

But there are even more benefits to being kind.  Studies show that when we're kind to others (even in small ways) we become happier.  This is because being generous and helpful gives us a sense of purpose and self-worth that mere pleasure-seeking doesn't provide.

Kindness comes more easily when we're in a good mood and things are going well.  It's more of a challenge when we're tired, hurried, or the person in front of us isn't behaving well.  But that's when being kind can have the most powerful impact.  It's unexpected, so it injects a noticeable grace to the encounter.

Related article:  We Need Grace

3.  Forgive.

In 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, he was asked whether he resented his captors.

"I have no bitterness," he said.  "I have no resentment.  Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies."

Mandela wasn't a medical doctor, but he intuitively realized that holding a grudge is bad for your health.  In fact, studies show it can increase blood pressure, lower immune response, interfere with sleep, and bring on anxiety and depression.

Anyone who's ever felt mistreated (probably most of us) knows that it can be hard to forgive.  But Dr. Karen Swartz, director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at Johns Hopkins, says that forgiveness isn't about excusing bad behavior or mistreatment.  Instead, it's "a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not."

Truly a divine behavior, forgiveness frees us from burdens of anger, distrust, and even hate that will definitely ruin our happiness.

4.  Spend time in nature.

A growing body of scientific research indicates that time spent in nature:

  • relieves anxiety and depression
  • boosts the immune system
  • improves social bonding
  • inspires creativity

But we live in a world that is becoming increasingly mechanized.  Especially in the U.S., we can spend entire days inside or in our vehicles.  We exercise in gyms, and when we do go outside, we're often still immersed in our screens or focused on our playlists or a podcast.  We're not really experiencing the outdoors.

Now, even in the city there are birds, squirrels, trees, flowers, and the sky.  If you can, get away from crowds of people and the sounds of vehicles, and take the opportunity to be quiet.  Breathe deeply, watch, listen, smell, and feel.  Push your thoughts and to-do lists away and simply enjoy what you're experiencing.  Give yourself the chance to feel wonder.

Related article:  Make the New Year Merry and Bright

the joy of creativity

5.  Get creative.

When everything we buy is mass-produced, we become merely passive consumers.  We're removed from the process of how things are made, how they work, the people who make them, and the raw materials and energy that go into their production.  We distance ourselves from the real world, and miss out on so much that we take for granted.*

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

We lose something when we stop creating.  At the very least we lose independence and self-reliance, but it's possible there's even more at stake.  When we imagine something, and then make it a reality, we're doing something distinctly human.  We need that sense of purpose.

What else does making something do for us?

  • It slows us down in a hurried world.
  • It teaches patience, perseverance, and delayed gratification.
  • It keeps us active instead of passive, productive rather than pointless.
  • It helps us focus on the process as well as the results.
  • It reminds us that we're capable – that we can learn, practice, and gain skill.
  • It helps us appreciate that something can be useful and beautiful even if it isn't perfect.

Whether you sew, embroider, knit, crochet, draw, paint, write, cook, bake, make music, build with wood, plant a garden, produce a play, or something else, crafting something brings pride and satisfaction.  Those feelings are a pretty good foundation for joy.

6.  Practice gratitude.

The habit of seeing and appreciating the good things in your life shouldn’t be limited to times when life feels easy and blessed.  It doesn't take much effort to feel gratitude in such a situation.

The habit becomes important when life isn't going so well.  All of us are going to deal with difficulties now and then, and that's when we need the faith and hope developed by a gratitude practice.  Without the ability to see something valuable in the middle of unhappiness, we would give up.  We would stop trying to accomplish anything worthwhile, because what would be the point?

A gratitude practice changes your perspective.  Thankfulness enables you to keep bringing your best to the world.

Related article:  What Is Gratitude and Why Does It Matter?


  1. Thanks for your articles, Karen. They are inspirational, educational and give me ideas to consider as I work on living an intentional life.


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