How to Find Happiness within Yourself (A 9-Step Plan)

  • By: Ryan Kane
  • Updated: February 21, 2024
  • Time to read: 7 min.

Wondering how to find happiness within yourself? The best way is to treat happiness as a skill that can be learned and refined over time. You’ll make mistakes along the way, but over time, you’ll learn how to experience more joy in each moment. 

I’m not a happiness expert. Just a happiness seeker.

That’s why in this article, I’m leaning on wisdom from some of the most thoughtful writers to have ever lived. 

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I won’t pretend that any of the below approaches to happiness and internal peace will lead to a lightbulb moment that will, all of a sudden, make you happy. 

But I can share from personal experience what resonates most with me. 

With any luck, it’ll resonate with you too. 

Let’s look at some quotes together and reflect.

How to find happiness within yourself

The best way to find happiness from within is to treat happiness not as a fleeting external condition but as an internal skill that can be learned and refined over time.

You’ll learn as you go, you’ll make mistakes along the way. Over time you’ll understand how to experience more joy in each moment. 

There are no quick answers here, unfortunately. But when you pay attention to the attitudes and actions that bring you joy, you can reorient your life around them. When you pay attention to the heavy feelings that sap your happiness, you can release them. 

We all want a single, succinct piece of advice for living a happy life.

If there’s one piece of advice that resonates most with me, it’s this:

Live lightly.

1. Remember to live lightly

The advice to live lightly appears in Aldous Huxley’s book Island.

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

– Aldous Huxley

“Light” and “heavy” are my favorite ways to describe emotions and ways of living, because they aren’t judgmental.

They’re also helpfully broad categories. In moments where it’s hard to identify exactly what emotion you’re feeling, you’re likely still able to notice whether those feelings are light or heavy.

Living lightly is a skill that unlocks so many others. 

If you live lightly, you take yourself less seriously. You worry less. You’re less anxious. You’re more ready to forgive and to let go of heavy emotions from the past. You’re more open to living in the present moment.

Remember to live lightly

If (like me) you often experience an abiding feeling of seriousness, playfulness and living lightly might be just the antidote you need. Here are some more steps to “re-learn” playfulness skills:

How to be more playful

2. Release negativity and expectations

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, happiness is a pretty simple equation: freedom leads to happiness.

You experience freedom when you release negative emotions and all other attachments.

That includes attachments to outcomes, attachments to relationships, and attachments to possessions. This is classic Buddhist philosophy. But whether you’re Buddhist or not, it’s helpful advice. 

So much of our day-to-day heaviness comes from (a) wanting things to be a certain way in the present, (b) worrying about the past or the future, and (c) holding onto negative feelings.

Releasing this heaviness is a skill that can be learned over time.

Release negative emotions to be happy

3. Be aware of your thoughts

“Everybody in the world is seeking happiness—and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions.”

– Dale Carnegie

The more you’re aware of negative emotions and expectations, the better you’re able to choose to release them.

Awareness is a skill unto itself, learned through techniques like meditation.

As you become more aware of the thoughts rolling through your mind and the feelings you’re experiencing, you’ll be better equipped to neutralize them or replace them with positive thoughts. 

As Marcus Aurelius said, “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Inner awareness leads to happiness

4. Be authentic

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

It’s exhausting and draining to force yourself to be something that you’re not.

It’s one reason middle school is so difficult.

Summoning the courage to be true to yourself, regardless of the social consequences, is a skill it takes many of us a lifetime to learn.

Bringing your thoughts, words, and actions into alignment may bring challenges from people who don’t agree with you, but it also reduces your cognitive dissonance and makes life a whole lot simpler.

How being authentic leads to happiness

5. Stop trying to be happy

“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a byproduct of a life well lived.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

Isn’t it strange how the pursuit of happiness can itself become an obstacle to happiness?

Strange, but true. 

An excessive focus on how to be happy can eat into the time you ought to be spending on activities that’d make you happy.

As Edith Wharton said, “If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.”

When I think about those times in my life where happiness has come easiest to me, it isn’t because I’d cracked some kind of code or put the right inspirational quote on my bathroom mirror. It’s because I’d put my full attention into the business of simply living. 

A life of purpose that’s full of fulfilling activities and relationships is what to strive for. As Eleanor Roosevelt says, expect happiness as a byproduct.

Stop trying to be happy

6. Stop overthinking

“I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.”

– Jonathan Safran Foer

Focusing mental energy on “solving” the happiness equation can lead to overthinking. And overthinking is a trap.

When we overthink, it feels like we’re taking action, but we’re really going in circles and leading ourselves towards burnout and frustration.

For me, this comes up often when I’m in a bad mood. 

I start to ask myself why I feel the way I do, and then my thoughts start circling around the possible causes, who’s to blame, and what I could have done differently.

Usually, it’s way better if I just stop thinking and go on a run instead.

As Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, said, “You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.”

When you feel yourself start to overthink, don’t try to solve it by thinking more. Instead, try getting your body moving, or talking to a friend. Taking action is a better tool to shift your energy into a positive place.

Stop overthinking

7. Accept sadness as the price to pay for happiness

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”

—Carl Jung

We’re designed to move towards pleasure and away from pain. It’s simple biology. 

But happiness can’t exist without sadness. Allowing yourself to be open enough to fully experience the highs of life requires being open to deeply feeling the lows of life. 

As author Jonathan Safran Foer said, “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”

Accept Sadness as the Price to Pay for Happiness

8. Focus on gratitude

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”

– Carlos Castaneda

The ability to be content with what you have means you don’t have to strive anymore. This can create the conditions for internal peace.

As Epictetus said, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

The nature of humans seems to be that we always want more: more security, more money, more possessions, more happiness. 

One way to deal with this is to seek those things.

Another way is to seek contentment through gratitude.

While it’s easier said than done, gratitude is perhaps the ultimate human superpower.

Focus on Gratitude

9. Stop putting off happiness until later

“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.”

– Andy Rooney

A trap most of us fall into is that we go through life thinking we’ll be happy after certain milestones or accomplishments.

But once we reach those milestones, the goalposts shift. It’s on to the next thing.

Happiness becomes something that will forever happen “in the future.”

Happiness is a skill we can work on now. It’s not easy, and it’s not quick. But it’s possible. 

Things to start are gratitude, living lightly, being authentic, and becoming aware of your thoughts.

Things to stop are overthinking, trying to be happy, clinging to negative thoughts, holding onto expectations, and putting off happiness until later. 

You’ll learn as you go, you’ll make mistakes along the way. It’ll take time. But with practice, you’ll increase the amount of happiness present in your life.

Stop putting happiness off until later

More articles on happiness skills

For more on happiness skills, check out the following articles: