What can I do to be happy? Here’s 3 easy steps!

The Non-Action List Approach

“What can I do to be happy?” I hear you say.  You’re not alone.  I’ve said it myself.

You are probably expecting a list of the top 10 things you can ‘do’ to be happy.  And, I could give you a list, but I’m not going to and let me explain why.

Why?  Because anything I give you to do, like socialise more, join a club, take up an activity might work in the short term but it won’t necessarily bring you lasting happiness.

It will be brief and when complete you will be left with once again feeling empty or unfulfilled and possibly at the end of it all – exhausted.

The incessant preoccupation of the mind with ‘what can I do to be happy?’ is similar to other unhelpful and unhealthy thinking processes that we have like ‘I should’.

It is a misconception to think that these types of running records in our head will be motivating.  In fact, they have the reverse affect (it does for me) in that it feeds the mind to criticize you further for what you should have done, but didn’t, or should be doing but aren’t.

I’m not completely discounting these things either, don’t get me wrong, being connected with others, achieving, acquiring, striving, being active etc can be great and healthy for us, but if you want to be happy generally and maintain a sustained level of happiness, contentment or peace it will never come from the external i.e. anything outside of you i.e. other people, your social status or material things to name but a few.

There are lists of things that we have running through our minds that we think that once we obtain or achieve will bring us happiness, but again I emphasise that it will be short-lived and temporary.

We have been conditioned to think that once I have this, get this, do this all will be well – I will be ok when……(fill in the blanks).

But how many times have you actually achieved this or that and within minutes, a day, a week, a month you are back where you started, looking for the next thing to bring you happiness or fulfil you.

It will never be enough and that’s because we are going about it the wrong way.


You will never be able to do enough to feel whole – because you already are whole, you’ve just forgotten you are.

There is nothing wrong with having things, achieving, acquiring and we can have or do these things, but we need to know that our happiness cannot be dependent or reliant on that thing or person etc because if we lose that thing, that person, where are we then?

If our happiness is dependent on the external, then we will ultimately, like clockwork, feel a lack of joy or happiness again.  Unhappiness and suffering are a given, unless we realise and recognise where happiness really lies and that is within.

If you are feeling a sense of doom and gloom or disheartened, please don’t.  This realisation is wonderful and means that you are in a position to actually feel happy and feel a sustained happiness.  For me, this knowledge (or rather knowing) was a relief because I could finally let go of the pushing and force that ruled my life.

Some years ago, after many years of continual trying, achieving, relationships that came and went, buying houses, selling houses, ending up with something, ending up with nothing, going on holidays, making good money, making less money etc, I experienced a period of great emotional pain and suffering.

I felt extremely unhappy, disappointed and empty and I felt a lack of fulfilment and a sense of meaninglessness.  I literally hit the metaphoric wall.  I was physically and mentally exhausted.

I remember thinking ‘I can’t do this anymore’.

What ‘this’ was that I couldn’t do anymore I couldn’t exactly say except that there had to be another way than how I had been ‘doing’ it.  Because, whatever ways I had tried just weren’t working or would work for a period of time and then I would be smack bang right back where I had started.

I knew I had to do something differently but I also knew that I was very tired and so the thought of doing more to fix me, fix my situation was mentally abhorrent to me and quite honestly physically probably impossible – I was spent.

So, where did that leave me?

Well, it led me to realise that it was my head, or rather my thinking that was depriving me of a state of happiness and that I had to literally stop.  I had to stop trying to fix me and my situation and I had to start to become aware of my thoughts.

Once you realise the source of unhappiness or suffering you can actually do something about it.  It’s not about what you have or don’t have, where you are or where you are not, it’s about how you think or rather thinking.  The source of happiness is the place of no-mind.  I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here – that might require another article.

Suffice to say, I had to stop trying to work out where I was going wrong.  I had to stop trying to analyse why.  Doing more was not going to change anything.  I was never going to find any happiness there – ever!  That I knew to be the truth.  I’d been doing that for 30 years, so yes, I knew that to be true.  And so, I got off the wheel.

The fact that mentally and physically I felt unable to pursue my usual approach of doing more to fix the situation, pushing myself probably actually worked in my favour.  Plus, I actually didn’t want to, but first I had to get over the hurdle of the expectations of others and my conditioning that I couldn’t stop doing and give myself permission to stop.  I was like a dog chasing its tail. 

So, what can I do to be happyy?

So, I’m going to share with you what I did and if you are inclined, please give it a go.

I’m giving you steps because we are conditioned to want this so we can do things properly, but, as with my approach to most things these days, go with ease.  Just be gentle with it and don’t force.  Go with the flow.

Let go and focus on ease – take the path of least resistance.

The idea is to reduce our thinking.  Most of us over-think particularly about what is wrong in our lives or what we are not doing or should be doing to fix or improve it or ourselves.  This leads to suffering and unhappiness.


Step 1:  Give yourself permission to stop!

It is unlikely that anyone will ever give you permission to stop.  Again, we are conditioned to do, do and do more.  This is applauded in society.  But, at what expense.  So, give yourself permission to stop.

A little side note – stopping can scare us.  We fear that we will never do again or never want to do again.  But, you will.  You will naturally begin to want to do but it will come from a place of peace and true desire rather than pushing, forcing or from where ‘should’ resides.

Step 2: What can I appreciate in this moment or what can I appreciate right now?

Say to yourself “what can I appreciate in this moment?”.  It might be the gentle breeze, the sunshine, the rain.  The warmth of the sun on your skin or hearing a bird sing.  Appreciate the food in your belly or the warmth of your bed.  There is always something we can appreciate.

This is somewhat similar to gratitude but in the use of different terminology it is somewhat gentler.  Often times people can be in such a negative thought space that feeling grateful or even thinking about what they can be grateful for engenders further resistance.   But we can appreciate.

Appreciate 3 things. Once you get going you will notice that 3 is really very easy and you will keep going.

You can stop right here or continue with Step 3.  Don’t force.

Step 3:  How do I want to feel?

With this activity, just write down how you want to feel.  Just write unedited.

Don’t focus on how you are going to achieve it or what you have to do to achieve that state, just write how you want to feel.  Getting caught up in how can evoke a sense of gloom or hopelessness and a snowball thought effect along the lines of “well, I’ll never be really happy, this won’t change anything” etc.

So, keep it simple, for example:  I want to feel love, connection, excited……….

You could elaborate on what that might look like e.g. I work with supportive people in a culture that is healthy and inspiring.  But remember this is not really the point of the exercise, as  we don’t want to get caught up in how to make it happen or thinking that this has to happen for us to be happy.

Do this daily for 10 minutes in the morning if you can.

Things Come – The Paradox 

When you are in this state of non-pushing and this place of having let go and the knowing of where happiness or non-suffering lies i.e. within, the things that you want or have wanted actually come to you.  But paradoxically, you find that you don’t need them.

You realise that inside out is the key, not outside in.  That key leads to a sense of abundance in its truest form.

You can appreciate the external and enjoy them, but you know that your happiness does not depend on them and that if they were to go that you would still be ok.

The Thinking Trap – Keep it in Mind

We ‘think’ we have to ‘think’ to gain clarity – the opposite is true.

We ‘think’ we have to work out (think about) how to fix it/ourselves – the opposite is true.

We ‘think’ the more we do, achieve, strive for will make it all better – the opposite is true.

Being aware of our minds and therefore being “mindful” is crucial to our general state of wellbeing.

You might like to refer to my blog about mindfulness too or my Top 5 Best Value For Money Guided Meditations as meditation helps with watching the mind and increases our overall state of wellbeing.

I hope that you have enjoyed this article and it has given you at the very least a different perspective on happiness or being happy.

Your comments or questions are always appreciated.

I wish you happiness and peace.

Thank you, Martine


  • Ian

    I used to have a lot of anxiety, but it has decreased in the past year or so.
    I took prescription medication for over a decade, and it “helped”, but I could never stop taking it.
    I agree on the whole “less is more” angle and simplifying your life; you don’t realize how much you can do without until you have to sometimes.



    • Martine

      I’m glad to hear that Ian. I think our mood or how we feel is not necessarily linked to whether we have or have not either. Certainly I can’t say I felt happier with things than I did without. It came down to my mind and watching the thoughts. Definitely being able to find pleasure in the simple things is great though – after all most of our days are filled with the simple things but we keep looking for bigger and better. Thank you very much for taking the time to comment.

  • John

    Thanks for this very informative post. I used to do meditation almost everyday but then stopped. But now after finding your website and reading this post, I will start again. Meditation is a great way to handle stress and fear in general. The points you gave in the post were excellent!


  • Andrew

    I agree that our happiness, or lack of it, is directly related to what we are thinking. External objects and circumstances can cause us to experience happiness but are only effective short term, while we are thinking happy thoughts about them.
    True and lasting happiness is something that we can choose at all times, however, it may take most of us time to ‘allow’ ourselves to feel happy.
    As you have said, we need to think less, and just relax into our world and know that everything is ok. As we relax, we will experience feelings of peace, contentment, and appreciation for all that we have…. This is when we will feel happiness from inside of ourselves, true happiness, not reliant on external events, circumstances or people.
    Many thanks for sharing 🙂

  • James

    Very interesting, thank you for sharing your story and insight! Definitely, there is some worthy advice here that many people need only open their mind to, rather than always trying to do something and wondering what went wrong when things do. Just as you mentioned the pressures of society, nursing practice can be internal as people are often in the mindset that they have to solve everything actively and take it upon themselves to. Lesson learnt: Relax, take a breather, and analyse your inner situation rather than solely the external influences.

    Great post. 🙂

  • Travis

    Hello Martine and great article about what we can do to be happy individuals. The part that I liked the most about the article is how you pointed out that you have to be happy with yourself starting from the inside (the foundation of being happy) then other things will fall into place. People get so caught up looking at other people lives, and start to question about things they should have done or steps they should have took in order to achieve the same goals and I can identify with that a lot. Yes, it is good to use someone as a reference but it is naive to think you will get the same results, in the same amount of time, the same way someone else has and that’s just not reality. Great article and sorry I typed so much! Blessings!

    • Martine

      I loved that you typed ‘so much’ ?. Yes comparing ourselves with others is a sure way to bring ourselves down. On the surface they may appear as though they have it all, but even for them they can be subjected to what most of us struggle with e.g. not being good enough, not having enough or looking outside for the next bigger or better thing to bring happiness. The goal really has to be about going beyond the mind and being present otherwise we will forever feel dissatisfied and unhappy. Thankyou for taking the time to comment.

  • Frank

    Hi Martine,

    This is an excellent article! I learned a long time ago to focus within myself to achieve a maximally positive approach to life and happiness. For me, that approach centers around helping people. I’m lucky enough to be a physician, so I have been privileged to really make a positive difference in people’s lives. Be happy for all that you have and focus on the what’s really most important- good health, family, and the basic necessities in life. Everything else will come with commitment and dedication.

    • Martine Brooks

      Yes and I think it comes when we are basically just grateful for what we have and paradoxically when we aren’t chasing it and realise we don’t need the external things for our happiness. Thanks very much for your feedback and commenet Frank.

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