Seven Steps to Achieving Happiness

Negative emotions, which produce unhappiness, come from our thoughts about life that we take too seriously and repeat over and over again.
10/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Achieving happiness and wisdom is so simple, almost too simple to believe. Yet true happiness seems to elude most. Most dictionaries define happiness like this: "Feeling pleasure, feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, or joy." Aristotle said, "All human beings want 'happiness,' an active, engaged realization of their innate capacities." The Declaration of Independence says that all men should have the right to the "pursuit of happiness."

Where Does Happiness Come From?

It seems to me that happiness, though it might not seem this way, is a natural state of being, or as Aristotle said, "an active, engaged realization of their innate capacities." If the state of happiness is an innate state of being, then why are most people not happy? Babies tend to be happier than adults. Why? Because they have not placed the focus of their consciousness on their thoughts about life. They have not yet developed thought, so they respond to life in a natural way. It is thinking that our thoughts represent reality that is the cause of most unhappiness. Thought, as I have said before, is at best an approximation of reality, and at worst a total distortion.

The life force, which is the creative energy that animates everything, experienced directly, with a minimum of distortion from our thoughts about life, produce what we call happiness. A moment when we bite into a perfectly ripe peach as we experience its taste, being in "The Zone" in sports, experiencing a beautiful place, or the unconditional love of a child, are examples of these moments of happiness. None include a lot of thought. Happiness comes from the direct experience of life as opposed to our thoughts about life.

Realize Emotions Come From Thoughts

Negative emotions, which produce unhappiness, come from our thoughts about life that we take too seriously and repeat over and over again. For example, thoughts like:

• Am I really a good person?
• People are just stupid.
• I am stupid.
• The world is falling apart.
• I have not achieved anything really important.
• People are bad.
• Our parents did not want us.

We think we have emotions because of the events that happen to us, when in fact it is the thoughts about the event that repeat over and over again in our minds. For example, someone who you respect may have said you are stupid, and so you have thought so often about that event that you feel stupid. The emotion stays with you long after you have forgotten about the thoughts that created that emotion. But just knowing the actual source of these emotions comes from our thoughts, which distort the actual reality, helps us let go of these emotions. Remember the main cause of emotion is not the event, but our thoughts about that event.

There is No Substitute For Practice

First, we need a practice to let go of our emotions that acknowledges that our thoughts, which only approximate the original experience, are the source of our emotions. Second, we need a practice to maintain health that helps us let go of thoughts quickly, before they become emotions. These two practices will allow space in our consciousness to experience the "Life Force," which is the only source of happiness.

Here are seven practices that will help you achieve happiness:

1. Realize that your thoughts are only an approximation of reality, not reality itself, and can cause negative emotions or false hopes.

2. Learn to observe and be amused with your thoughts as they arise. Don't take them seriously, and don't repeat them more than once. I always say to myself, "I am not going there" when thoughts start to repeat and create a negative emotion.

3. Don't take other people's thoughts seriously -- they are doing the best they know how, and are presenting only their approximation of reality.

4. Practice slowing your thoughts down to leave space for the "Life Force" to enter your consciousness by meditating, running, walking or any activity that you love and does not involve a lot of thought.

5. Practice letting go of, not repressing, your thoughts before they turn into emotions, and let go of negative emotions by realizing they only come from thought.

6. Remember experiences in your life that were full of joy and happiness, and write them down so you can repeat similar experiences.

7. Immerse yourself in nature -- the trees and oceans are beautiful and will naturally still your thoughts and provide a dose of "The Life Force."

Remember, there is no substitute for practice, so try these practices before you judge them!