There are two basic ways that people can lead their lives, one of which almost everybody does and another that very few do. The former leads to a life of frustration while the latter offers the only path to a life of peace and contentment.

Bold assertions? Absolutely. An accurate assessment? Yes. Let’s get this party started.

Looking outside for happiness

Life path number one involves looking out to the world to do and get things we think will make us feel happy inside. Let’s call this the external world strategy.

How this strategy operates will sound familiar because most people live this way. In order to make ourselves feel good inside we:

-Go out for a great meal, smoke a Cuban cigar, drink a fancy bottle of wine, etc…

-Search for the perfect boyfriend/girlfriend.

-Word hard in order to make enough money to buy a beautiful house, a fancy car and go on exotic vacations.

The examples are endless, but you get the drift. It’s all about looking outside yourself to make your insides feel good. The problem? It doesn’t work.

The dream boyfriend turns into a nightmare

It can for a while. You finally get that boyfriend and you’re hitting on all cylinders for a while…Then he starts putting you down or pressing some other of your inner buttons and eventually it’s, “Jeez, my life was way better when I was single.”

Or you get all excited about that new car that smells great and has a bunch of cool features…Then a few weeks later you notice that you drove around town doing errands for a few hours and didn’t even think once about how cool your car is.

The goal is good

The goal with this strategy is a good one: We want to feel good inside. But it’s thoroughly ineffective. We all know this. How many people do you know who are constantly in search of the next cool thing, the next great relationship, etc., that experience sustained peace and fulfillment in their lives?

So what does work?

Fine, so if this ‘looking out to the world to make us happy’ strategy doesn’t work, what does?

I’ll answer that question by asking another: If the goal is to feel good inside, why not just go directly to working on our insides? Why bother dealing with the uncertain, frustrating nature of the external world when we can just bypass that and go straight to working on our insides?

So there’s the answer. The only life strategy that works is one that focuses our energies on getting our inner houses in order. Because as Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently wrote:

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

And as I’ve written many times, most of that inner work centers on letting go of our egoic selves, aka the baggage we’ve accumulated and held onto since we were kids and into adulthood.

How to do this? When one of our egoic buttons is pushed we: 1. Notice the feeling; 2. immediately relax inside; 3. Lean away and just watch the feeling. We don’t engage with it or tangle with it or resist it. We just watch it…and then let it go.

What else can we do to aid in this process of letting go? Therapy helps us to better understand the nature and origin of our egoic baggage. Meditating regularly and practicing mindfulness will also enhance the letting go process.

If you’re good inside you don’t need the outside

The long and the short of this is that when we do that inner work, which is the work of a lifetime, we ultimately end up at a place where we don’t need the external world to make us happy. We don’t need the mansion, the marriage, the high-profile job…Not that we won’t get those things. We just won’t need them to feel good inside.

Because when we clear away the baggage, the energy that was trapped releases so that it can flow up. The result is that we feel really good for no reason other than we’re able to be present in our moments enjoying, as Joseph Campbell called it, the experience of being alive.

The takeaway

Fine, so most people look out to the world for their happiness and it doesn’t work. What can we do about that?

I have two things I would love anybody reading this to do.

First, ask yourself two questions:

Question 1: Do you mostly look to the outside world to make yourself happy inside?

Question 2: If you answered ‘yes,’ is this approach working for you in your quest for peace and happiness?

Second, if you answered ‘yes’ to question 1 and ‘no’ to question 2, then at least consider making the paradigm shift from looking outside for your answers to looking within. How would one go about effectuating that shift? As I said earlier, there’s therapy, meditation, mindfulness and a whole host of other techniques and practices out there for diving inside and letting go of our baggage.

The bottom line on all of this? If looking out to the world for your happiness isn’t working, why not try something else? Common sense dictates giving the inside out strategy a concerted effort.

I’ll leave you with this: Imagine a life where your happiness didn’t depend on what the outside world was or wasn’t giving you.

Let that sink in…