Inner happiness is an inside job; a mindset, an idea, a thought, a decision. It’s a willingness to see things differently. And it requires action, commitment and perseverance. It also requires letting go of grievances, and letting go of grievances requires letting go of the thought system we used to invent them. And it’s in the letting go of grievances where many of us get stuck. We like our grievances; they give us a sense of identity as they invoke feelings of loyalty and confirm beliefs we hold dear from our family and tribal units. And our grievances allow us to play out the past roles we’ve chosen for ourselves – victim, wounded child, manipulator etc. They’re useful, as we can use them to leverage our sense of superiority or inferiority, depending on our mood and most importantly, we can use them as evidence that we are “right” and they/you/it is “wrong”. Unfortunately, despite their many attractive qualities, our grievances do not make us happy. If fact, they keep us stuck in the past reliving events that no longer exist just to re-experience the pain, as apparently, it wasn’t great enough the first time it happened – we like to milk the suffering to maintain our old, familiar identity.

It’s hard to find inner happiness with the attitudes, thoughts and beliefs that support grievances. When a grievance is settled in our favor, we tend to think that this makes us happy. The reality is that the favorable resolution will stroke and sooth the ego, inducing a temporary state of pleasure – but pleasure and happiness are two different things. Pleasure will always pass with the passing of the events or conditions that produced the pleasure whereas happiness is independent of external conditions or props. A strung-out junkie will experience the short-term pleasure of a fix, but knowing that he’s fueling his addiction isn’t likely to create the feelings or thoughts associated with a state of happiness.

Like any habit that dis-empowers or causes pain, letting go of old thought systems that no longer serve us requires a process of identification, release and replacement; it takes a bit of time and some patience, but as a wise person once noted, “nothing changes if nothing changes”. Albert Einstein put it this way “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” The following five steps can be used to leverage your time, attention and energy to create greater inner happiness by utilizing the power of choice:

1. As mentioned above, the first step to greater inner happiness is learning to distinguish the difference between pleasure and happiness. A great deal of our unconscious or addictive behaviors is the result of choosing the temporary relief of pleasure over the more authentically satisfying state of happiness despite knowing that the consequences will lead to an increase in unhappiness. Why is this? As we choose to indulge in the short-term pleasure of the moment, we are also choosing to deny or ignore the aftermath of our decision and its products – but when we bring our awareness to our decision, we can clearly see the how the two paths will unfold and the effects it will have on us, both short and long-term. Consciously looking at the long-term effects now gives us leverage that will motivate us to choose happiness when things get tough or sticky.

For example, when a smoker trying to quit smoking has a craving, unless he has a reason (motivation) to stay strong, chances are very good he’ll revert back to old habits and have a smoke. That’s short-term pleasure which wears off quickly and still leaves us longing for something to make us feel safe, secure and comfortable. The same smoker having the same craving but who has previously decided that he would be happier being a non-smoker because he thought out, or envisioned, all of the nasty consequences of not smoking and all of the benefits of quitting, now has the incentive to tough it out for the duration of the craving. This person is moving themselves towards their goal by making a strong decision in the choice of happiness over pleasure and can now build on the success of such a decision – and will have a much better chance of quitting smoking.

2. The second step is to learn to let go of grievances. By grievances, I mean anything from the past that does not serve your well-being, or inner happiness. A line from A Course in Miracles sums this idea up nicely “Would you rather be right, or be happy?” Holding onto the past is an exercise in futility – it’s over, let it go. You don’t need to be right and you don’t need the drama involved in defending your position. If you struggle to get over resentments, ask yourself what the purpose is of holding onto old offences. Is it making you happy, joyous or peaceful? Or tying you up in knots, full of bitterness and hostility? If holding onto to something that now only exists in your mind isn’t making you happy, try choosing what will make you happy instead.

3. The third step is to ask better questions. This is the art of discernment, or applying insight and learning to think from the outcome back to now. If you don’t know the answers to important life questions, how will you know when you’ve arrived? Get into the habit of continuously asking yourself a series of questions to prompt yourself to growth and expansion. i.e. If you were to enjoy a state of inner happiness that remains unperturbed by outside influences, what kind of person would you have to be? What qualities would you have? What attributes and characteristics would you have? What do have to do, learn or eliminate to be that person? Are the beliefs and assumptions you hold to be true valid for you today? In this difficult situation, what could be of benefit for you? What lesson can you learn? How can you use this to grow stronger? etcetera

If you persistently ask the questions that pertain to an increase in your joy, peace of mind, confidence, prosperity etc. with faith and an expectation of being answered, you will get the answers. Then, of course, you have to take the appropriate action necessary in the process of becoming that person.

4. Look after yourself. Learn to put you and your happiness at the top of your attention list. Take the time to eat nutritiously, drink plenty of water, get some fresh air and exercise daily, have a routine, meditate, get enough sleep and laugh often. And practice saying no to others – someone else’s crisis does not make it urgent for you, unless you choose for it to be urgent. Take a break from the frenetic and frantic pace of all that demands your attention – be still, rest and rejuvenate in silence.

5. Detach and observe. Practice being the observer of your own thoughts, feelings, reactions and habits to get a different perspective of what’s going on. This is an excellent practice if you feel that you’re “overly sensitive” – by removing yourself from the subjective point of view you take on a broader outlook, have greater compassion for all the players and a greater appreciation for the “bigger picture” which releases you from having to take things personally. Recognizing and reminding yourself that you are more than your thoughts, feelings, body or behavior gives us some distance over circumstances that seem to push our buttons.

Achieving greater inner happiness is about making better decisions for you personally – take the time to train your mind by practicing the five basic exercises of distinguishing between pleasure and happiness and choosing happiness over short-term pleasure; letting go of grievances so that your focus and attention is in the now which is the only time one can be effective; asking discerning questions to receive empowering answers; looking after your basics and saying no to others; and by detaching and observing your thoughts and reactions and you’ll be rewarded in all areas of your life as well as experiencing a greater level of inner happiness not dependent on external conditions. Not only will you experience the benefits, but those near and dear to you will be blessed with the overflow as well – a nice bonus for very little effort.

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