Very few people would claim that they don’t at least try to achieve happiness. But most would also say that sustained happiness eludes them.

Yes, it was easy to be happy the first few months of that awesome, head-over-heels-in-love relationship. Or that day your first child was born. Or when you got the promotion at work.

But day after day? Month after month? Year after year? Most people think that that is impossible. That inherent in the nature of humans is the inability to feel good most of the time.

Feeling good inside

We need to drive down on two words in that last sentence: feel good. That phrase could encompass many things. Feeling good after two margaritas. Feeling good after you win a big tennis match. And yes, feeling good after getting the promotion. But none of those bring sustained good feelings.

Feeling good most of the time is how I would describe happiness. And not feeling good in the excitement sense of “I got an A+ on my AP Physics final exam! I feel awesome!”

I mean the feeling of peace inside. [Check out this article I wrote on Thich Nhat Hanh’s assertion that happiness is about inner peace, not excitement.]

The obstacle to happiness

This is where things get interesting. Because here is the big obstacle to happiness: People lead their lives pursuing endeavors they believe will make them feel good most of the time. But it doesn’t work. Anything we pursue in the external world — job promotions, relationships, home renovation, food, drink, etc. — CANNOT bring sustained happiness.

The Buddhists would tell you that that is because all of those things spring from desire and desire lies at the core of suffering. For our purposes, let’s just stick with: Pursuing those things doesn’t work.

I hope it’s clear now why this is so important: Just about everybody out there focuses their life on pursuing an end (happiness) in a way that is impossible to achieve.

Before getting to how we should respond to this, let’s tackle some who may have an opposing view. Some, especially here in America, may hold the position of:

“My life is not about pursuing happiness/feeling good/feeling peaceful. I want my life to be about achieving big things. Becoming powerful and leaving my legacy in the form of my name on buildings. If that means feeling uptight and lousy most of the time, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.”


“I want to squeeze every last cool experience I can out of life. Visit exciting places. Drink the best wines. Eat the best food. Have sex with as many people as possible…Feeling peaceful inside doesn’t interest me.”

Fair enough. But if either of those life paths appeals to you, recognize that both emanate from the ego. Your true, conscious self doesn’t care one bit about having your name sculpted onto a university medical building, nor does it need wine, women and song.

And by the way, we can be peaceful/happy AND work hard in the world, to the point of having buildings named after us and drink Romanee Conti, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and pay $20 million to hitch a ride to the International Space Station.

The caveat is that we need to achieve the peace part first. Because those cool things will not bring sustained happiness.

Fine, what do we do with this information?

The first thing to take away from all this is critical: Just being aware of it. Take stock of how you live your life and if your actions center mostly on satisfying external desires (most of us do this), at least acknowledge that reality.

By doing so, you can at least give yourself a choice — keep pursuing something that doesn’t work OR try something that does work. Which leads us to…

The obvious $64,000 question: If pursuing wine, women and fame won’t make us happy, what will? Any of you who have been reading my articles have a good idea of what I’m about to say.

What can make us happy

The short answer is that instead of looking to the external world to help us feel good inside, we simplify things and go inside to help us feel better inside.

How do we do that? First, we need to know why we look outside ourselves for happiness in the first place: Because we don’t feel good inside.

Mickey Singer would ask us, “How are you doing in there? Not too great, right?”

Why we don’t feel good inside

And the reason we’re not doing well “in there” is we’ve held onto a bunch of psychic baggage that sits inside us. Every day. All day. That stuff is made up of things we experienced that we held onto instead of letting it go when it happened.

Example: Your dad was an abusive jerk and your parents’ marriage was a hot mess. Those myriad, troubling experiences that reality wrought on your childhood stayed inside you and led you to decide to never marry or have kids. That’s what I mean by psychic baggage.

We need to let go

So the first thing we need to do to help us feel good inside is to let go of that emotional baggage.

When it gets stirred — a good guy you’ve been seeing asks you to move in with him — you don’t push it down and resist it as you usually do:

“No way! I’m outta here. I’m not going down that route.”

Instead, you let it come up. You relax with it as best you can. And then let it go.

And we keep doing this every day. Clearing out our insides of all the emotional baggage that has plagued and tormented us our entire lives.

We need to get quiet

The second thing we do is get quiet inside. Why? Because the quieter it is, the easier it is to let go of the baggage.

How do we get quiet? For the umpteenth time, we meditate, practice mindfulness and do anything else that enhances inner quietude.

So those are the two main ways we go directly inside to help us feel better inside — get quiet and let go.

The takeaway

What do we do with this information? We reorient our lives in a way that emphasizes getting quiet and letting go.

Which doesn’t mean you need to move to a monastery and meditate eight hours a day. You still do your job, workout at the gym, drink margaritas…

But you put your inner work at the top of your priority list.

It’s the only path to sustained happiness.