Happiness Comes From Within

Sitting in my spare room, looking out onto the garden, a swell of contentment, joy and peace fill my being. I cease typing and drink in the bird song, the rustling of the wind in the trees, the muffled excitement of children playing in gardens. Gratitude for being able to see, hear and live in such an environment enhances the positive feeling.

None of this joy required money, it merely required my attention.

Learning to tune into the joyful moments of everyday life, even when things seem dreadful or miserable, has been a challenge for me. In fact, it continues to be a struggle at times. Having suffered with recurrent depression for many years, I know first-hand what it is like to see only blackness, to feel there is no joy in the world. With conscious effort, kindness and patience, I have learnt to notice the little everyday things which can bring joy (even on literal and psychologically dark days).

Waiting for happiness:

There is a common misconception that happiness will prevail only when we have got or achieved something; a new item of clothing, more money in the bank or that “much-needed holiday”. You only have to type into Internet search engines the word “happiness” to see millions of self-help guides, gurus, therapists and videos telling you how to “find” happiness.

The problem with this view is three-fold; (i) we are searching for happiness outside of ourselves, (ii) whilst we are waiting for X or Y, we are missing the inherent joys available to us in everyday life and (iii) when X or Y happens, the happiness does not last, or does not meet our expectations. We then move onto the next thing to make us happy.

Happiness versus joy:

I use the word “happiness” in my blog post title with caution – there are many connotations attached to this word. Many people equate happiness with pleasure, suggesting happiness comes from attaining things or the euphoric state of seeing your favourite celebrity in your local supermarket, or winning the lottery. But think about your own experience – what happens to that happy, pleasurable feeling when the excitement has subsided? Does it stay with you? Fade? Turn into craving for more?

Mathieu Richard (apparently “happiest man in the world) mentions in his blog “why happiness is NOT pleasure”:

Happiness is often equated with a maximization of pleasure, and some imagine that true happiness would consist of an interrupted succession of pleasurable experiences. This sounds more like a recipe for exhaustion than for genuine happiness.

Rather than expecting constant euphoric positive emotion and pleasure, deeper happiness can be described as joy or contentment. Joy is about seeing the beauty and pleasure in what is already there, cultivating inner contentment that is longer-lasting. It is not dependent on anything materialistic. The only thing “dependent” on whether we feel joy, sorrow, anger or frustration is OUR MINDS. It is well-known in psychology and traditions such as Buddhism that it is not the external circumstances which influence how we feel, but the thoughts we attach and where we focus our attention.

The negativity bias:

If it is as simple as noticing and focusing on the nice things in our day, why are we not all inherently content and joyful? One explanation is that our minds are innately hard-wired to seek the negative, and with good “reason”. Rick Hansen demonstrates in his book “Buddha Brain…” how evolutionarily the brain has changed very little, keeping us alert to potential danger, threat and loss. However – instead of fearing the pursuit of dinosaurs, the “dangers, threat and loss” of modern western society are associated with issues such as wealth and our Facebook social status.

Since Beck’s (1967) theory of emotional disorders, extensive theory and research has consistently evidenced how depression is maintained by a pessimistic negativity bias. When we feel low or depressed, our minds dwell on the negative, failing to see or distorting the potential “positives” that could lift our mood. The great news, according to Hansen’s research, is that the neuroplasticity of the brain means we can rewire our brains to see the positive joys in our everyday experience.

Dwelling in the good:

With effort and patience, we can begin to notice the positive more, and dwell in the joy of everyday rather than wishing for X or Y to happen before we can be happy.

Here is a quick-step guide for developing this mental habit:

  1. Notice the positive experience:

There are many positive experiences that happen in our day-to-day lives that usually we are unaware of, or dismiss quickly; someone smiling at us, walking in the sunshine, remembering something nice a friend did for you.

Begin to notice the things happening right now (or memories) which make you feel good, joyful, happy or content. Really let yourself feel good.

You might notice reluctance to do this – this is normal and ok. Simple notice the thoughts (e.g. “I don’t have time”; “I don’t deserve this”) or feelings (shame, guilt) and return to focusing on the positive experience.

  1. Stay with the experience:


Stay with the experience for between 10-30 seconds. Hansen highlights how we need to stay focused on the positive experience for a particular time to enable it to sink in at a deeper neurological level. If you get distracted, notice this and return to thinking about and feeling the effects of dwelling on the positive experience.


  1. Absorb the experience:

Stay with the experience, allow it to sink in. Just as you would bask in the sunshine after a cold morning, stay bathing in the positive, joyful feelings evoked from attending to the positive experience. You are not trying to cling to the positive experience – this can cause frustration and disappointment. If you notice yourself doing this, try to let go and simply be with the thoughts and feelings.


To end, the poem “The Loveliness if everywhere” encourages us to see the joy and beauty in everything:

the loveliness is everywhere,
even in the ugliest
and most hostile environment.
The loveliness is everywhere,
at the turning of a corner,
in the eyes
and on the lips
of a stranger,
in the emptiest areas,
with no place for hope
and only death
to invite the heart,
The loveliness is everywhere,
it emerges,
it rises in its own reality,
and what we must learn is
how to receive it
into ours.