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How To Find What Makes You Happy: 7 Practical Tips

How To Find What Makes You Happy: 7 Practical Tips

Happiness is B.S.

This seems like an odd way to kick off an article about the keys to happiness, but bear with me for a little bit.

How do you find what makes you happy? 

That’s easy, just go turn on Netflix right now. Grab a chocolate bar from your pantry. Meet your friends at a bar and have a few drinks.

From a neurological standpoint, these activities release the same neurochemicals that are tied to our level of happiness.

Finding happiness is not a complicated problem to solve. There’s an infinite number of ways to feel happier that are probably 20-30 feet from you.

When most of us say that we want to be happier, that’s not what we really mean.

I’m guessing that you’re here not because you’re looking to find happiness, but because you’re looking to find meaning.

You want to be at peace with who you are. You want to feel proud of the person you’re becoming. You want to feel good about the path that you’re on.

None of these things are associated with happiness. In fact, the actions that lead to these feelings cause stress, anxiety, and discomfort to rise to the surface.

So this isn’t going to be a feel-good article that talks about happiness like it’s some blissful journey that feels motivating and empowering.

Instead, we’re gonna get real about how to find what makes you happy and dive into the practical steps that will move you towards meaning.

These steps won’t be fun, they will be painful. But that’s the whole point — you’re only gonna find inner peace and contentment through pain.

So without further ado, let’s talk about the true path to find what makes you happy in life.


The Paradox Of Finding What Makes You Happy

In a world that constantly promotes the pursuit of happiness as the ultimate goal, it can feel disheartening when you’re struggling to attain it. 

The cliché advice to “follow your passion” or “find your bliss” often falls short, leaving us questioning if true happiness is simply a myth. 

But what if the path to meaning and happiness lies in embracing the very emotions we tend to avoid?

Recent research has uncovered a fascinating paradox: individuals who report high levels of stress, discomfort, and anxiety are more likely to experience a deep sense of happiness and fulfillment. 

In a 2013 national survey, adults were asked to rate the degree to which they agreed with the following statement:

“Taking all things together, I feel like my life is meaningful.”

Surprisingly, most of the people who strongly agreed with this statement also reported high levels of stress in their lives. 

Those who faced significant stressors, such as a demanding workload, personal setbacks, or significant life changes, reported higher levels of happiness than those who lived seemingly stress-free lives.

This unexpected link challenges the assumption that happiness is the thing we should be chasing. 

Do you really want a meaningful life? You better be ready to run towards the stress, discomfort, and anxiety that you’re wired to run away from.

In navigating stressful situations, you gain self-confidence, and this confidence pushes you towards new levels of growth.

Now does that mean you should seek out unnecessary hardship? Of course not, but you should realize that stress and discomfort are not enemies of happiness.

The emotions you’re seeing as obstacles to happiness are actually the most direct path to it.


pencil on paper


How To Find What Makes You Happy (7 Tips)

We’re already discussed the link between finding what makes you happy and embracing stress and discomfort.

But how do you apply this principle into your life? What mindsets do you need to adopt? What do you need to be focusing on every day? 

Those are the questions that we’ll cover next in this unconventional guide about how to find what makes you happy.


#1: Have No Interest In How Happy You Are

One of the first mindset shifts that will help you find happiness is to stop focusing on how happy you are on a daily basis.

If you want to live a meaningful life, one where you’re constantly growing and achieving your goals, then happiness should not sit at the top of your priority list.

So if you’re waking up every day and asking yourself, “Am I happy or not?”, then you’re looking at life wrong

The kinds of questions you should be asking are: 

  • Am I respected by the people around me?
  • Am I achieving things in my life?
  • Do I possess self-confidence?
  • Am I surrounded by the right type of people?
  • Am I making progress towards my goals every day?

By focusing on these indicators of your life, you’ll end up being happier without actually analyzing whether you’re happy or not. 

Because here’s the truth — whether you wake up happy or unhappy, you still have the same stuff to do. You still have goals to chase. You still have tasks that need to get done. You still have obligations that you need to fulfill.

With that in mind, where’s the importance of how you feel?

It’s irrelevant! Most of the time, you’re not gonna wake up happy to do the things you’re supposed to do in life.

That doesn’t change the fact that you need to move forward. So stop looking for reasons to be happy, and start looking for opportunities to embrace short-term pain in favor of personal growth.


#2: Do Hard Things Every Day

A meaningful life does not come from constant ease or comfort. It comes from perseverance, grit, and the courage to face the tough stuff head on.

This goes back to the paradox we were talking about earlier — what makes you restless in the present, leads to contentment in the future.

Going to the gym is an incredibly stressful process. When you’re putting on your gym clothes, your mind is trying to talk you out of it. When you get to the gym, you’re putting your mind and body under extreme stress. 

Yet, every research study concludes that exercise is one of the best things you can to increase your life satisfaction.

Becoming physically fit is hard. Getting out of your comfort zone is hard. Avoiding procrastination is hard. Facing your fears is hard. Waking up early is hard. 

The fulfillment you’re after lies on the other side of the hard stuff you don’t wanna do. 


man lifting weights


In order to train yourself to attack the hard stuff on a daily basis, here’s a challenge that I recommend you take on for the next 30 days:

  • Every day, count the number of “decisive moments” that you win every day.
  • Decisive moments = doing the right thing even when it’s hard.
  • For each moment you win, give yourself one point.
  • Tally up your points at the end of each day.
  • Try to beat your score from the previous day.

Did you roll out of bed at 6 a.m. even though you felt like hitting snooze? That’s one point.

Did you hit the gym even though you were tired? That’s another point.

Did you power through that task even though you felt like stopping in the middle and watching Netflix? That’s another point.

Each time you win a decisive moment, you’re stepping into the person you’re supposed to be. You’re putting meaning and fulfillment over your desire for comfort and instant gratification.

And that’s the best way to create your own happiness in life.


#3: Think About Your “Greenlights”

When it comes to how to find what makes you happy, you can learn a lot from your past experiences.

Matthew McConaughey talks a lot about something he calls Greenlights, which he defines as internal/external signals that you should continue down the path you’re on.

All of you have had greenlights pop up in your lives. You’ve all had periods of your life where you were prioritizing the right things, pursuing the right goals, and taking the right actions.

If you want to find what makes you happy in life, it’s crucial that you dissect these periods of your life:

  • What did your daily routine look like?
  • What habits were you prioritizing?
  • What goals were you pursuing?
  • What bad habits were you avoiding?
  • Where were you directing most of your time, attention, and energy?

By using these questions to unpack the best periods of your life, you’ll likely come away with insights about what makes you feel most alive. 

Maybe you’ll realize that at your best, you were really focused on hitting the gym and improving your social skills. If that’s the case, then move those things right back to the top of your priority list.

Maybe you’ll discover that waking up early was a constant habit in some of the happiest times of your life. If so, then be sure to prioritize that behavior starting tomorrow morning.

Or maybe, it’ll be a waste of time and you’ll learn nothing. But I have a feeling that if you look hard enough, you’ll find patterns that are invaluable to your happiness and fulfillment.


man trying to find what makes you happy


#4: Find A Path That’s Worth The Struggle

On a long enough timeframe, unhappiness will catch up to you no matter what you do.

You’re gonna lose people you care about. You’re gonna fail and experience setbacks. You’re gonna feel lost and aimless at times.

Even on a daily basis, you’re gonna deal with stress, negativity, and stuff that makes you unhappy in the short-term.

The question you need to ask yourself is this — which life path will make going through all of this worthwhile?

Is it becoming a chef and perfecting your craft until you’re able to open your own restaurant?

Is it starting your own business so that you can attain financial freedom and not have to clock in at a 9-5 ever again?

Is it volunteering your time to help those less fortunate and committing to a life of service?

Spend a day figuring out what the f*ck you were put here to do. Imagine that money was no object, and make a judgment purely based on your values and interests. 

What could you actually see yourself doing forever? If you’re gonna deal with adversity no matter which path you take, then you may as well choose one that aligns with your innermost passions.


#5: Tackle Your Biggest Insecurities

Oftentimes, the best answer to how to find what makes you happy is by looking at what your biggest insecurities are.

All of you have those insecurities that dominate your internal dialogue.

Maybe it’s your lack of social confidence. Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t stand the body you see in the mirror. Maybe it’s your relationship with your children.

Whatever it is, you’ll never find inner peace until you wrestle those insecurities to the ground.

Personally, my goal-setting process revolves around insecurity. When I think about making progress in my life, I don’t think about “What targets do I want to hit over the next six months?”

I focus on the character flaws causing me the most pain. Here’s a question that I ask myself on a monthly basis, “If I had a magic wand and could change one thing about my character, what would it be?”

This approach leads to goals that are more authentic. Instead of focusing on achievement, you’re honing in on the biggest source of discontent in your life.

So if you’re trying to find what makes you happy, think about the insecurities that tear you up on a daily basis.

Give yourself the power of a magic wand and identify what you’d fix instantly if you had the power to. Usually, your answer to this question will reveal exactly where you need to focus your attention. 


woman sitting down


#6: Break Your Routine

You don’t find what makes you happy by being stuck in analysis mode. At some point, you have to get off the couch and try new things.

It’s perfectly fine to have structure in your life. In fact, you need systems and routines in place in order to be successful. But all too often, our habitual nature stops us from taking risks and venturing into the unknown.

The familiar doesn’t scare you because your brain knows the outcome. You know that you won’t experience stress or anxiety if you go home, turn on Netflix, drink some wine, and call it a night.

The unknown is scary because your brain can’t predict the outcome. If you decide to break your routine and go out on Saturday night, your brain will initiate the stress response because there’s variables that it can’t control. 

This is a primal mechanism that’s designed to promote our survival, but it also promotes stagnation.

So if you’re not feeling good about where you’re at, then start looking for ways to break your routine on a daily basis.

  • Go to a different coffee shop than you normally do.
  • Walk around your city and find a restaurant that you’ve never been to.
  • Call a friend that you haven’t spoken to in awhile.
  • Start a conversation with a complete stranger.
  • Take an improv class, salsa dancing class, painting class, or cooking class.

Just stretch your comfort zone and find ways to break the repetitive, mundane nature of your daily routine.

Doing this not only creates a sense of novelty in your life, but these new experiences provide wisdom that illuminate your path to meaning.


car driving towards mountain


#7: Avoid Cheap Dopamine

Cheap dopamine is one of the most common causes of feeling unfulfilled in life.

For those of you unfamiliar with dopamine, it’s the neurochemical that regulates your mood, motivation, and drive. When you do something that’s pleasurable, such as eating tasty food, playing video games, or scrolling Twitter, your brain releases dopamine.

However, the danger of dopamine is that we all have a baseline level for how we feel.

And after that dopamine spike wears off, your mood doesn’t return to this baseline, it drops below it.

Imagine that your typical dopamine baseline level is 72 (this is not a scientific measurement, I’m just throwing a number out there)

If you eat a chocolate chip cookie, your dopamine levels will jump above that baseline number, and then drop below it shortly after.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that it increases to 102 for a couple of minutes, and then drops back down to 68. 

On the surface, this isn’t too harmful. Your dopamine levels only dropped by a couple of points, no big deal right?

Well, think about the way that most of us spend our time — smartphones, streaming services, social media, games, music.  

These activities flood your brain with dopamine, which is then followed by a crash.


social media apps


If you eat the cookie, your dopamine levels drop slightly. But when you follow that up with more instant gratification seeking behavior, your baseline starts to plummet.

Down to 64, then 60, then 52, then 48, then 40, then 36…you see where this is going.

As a result, the reward centers in your brain become desensitized, making it hard to gain pleasure from the mundane behaviors that move your life forward.

That’s why it’s essential to rewire your brain so that it takes less stimulation for you to experience pleasure — you’ve gotta train yourself to avoid cheap dopamine hits. 

Obviously this is gonna take some willpower, so here’s another game that will help you train this muscle on a daily basis.


Acts Of Defiance:

The goal of this game is simple — accumulate as many “acts of defiance” as you can every single day.

Acts of defiance are any instance where you delay gratification. These don’t need to involve heroic displays of willpower, it can as simple as the following:

  • Avoid checking Instagram when you get the urge.
  • Delay eating dinner by 10 minutes if you feel hungry.
  • Avoid the urge to impulsively check email.
  • Pushing through a task instead of turning on Netflix.
  • Turning off Youtube when you feel yourself mindlessly consuming content
  • Avoiding the sweets aisle at the grocery store.

These small acts of defiance train the “no go system” within your brain, which is designed to prevent you from engaging in certain behaviors.

As you start exercising this muscle more often, you’ll get better at choosing long-term satisfaction over short-term pleasure.

And as a result, you’ll have an easier time finding joy in the simple, everyday pleasures of life.


FAQ’s: How To Find What Makes You Happy

We’ve just covered a bunch of practical ways that you can find what makes you happy in life.

But if you still have some questions about what happiness looks like to you, then here’s some answers to FAQ’s around this topic.

What to do if you don’t know what makes you happy?

If you don’t know what makes you happy, start with a bias towards action. Action doesn’t always lead to happiness, but there is no happiness without action. 

Moving forward even when you’re unsure of what’s ahead instills confidence and resilience, while also broadening your perspective on life.

No matter where you’re at right now, taking more action is never going to not help you. It’s through action that you figure out who you are, what you value, and what your definition of happiness is.


How do you know what happy is?

Sometimes, it can be hard to judge whether you’re on the right path.

Several times in my life, I’ve felt lost and unfulfilled even though technically I was making progress towards my goals.

Through self-analysis, I would usually come to the same conclusion — the goals I was pursuing weren’t in line with my biggest insecurities.

So if you’re struggling to figure out what happiness looks like, engage in self-reflection to figure out your biggest demons and insecurities.

If you’re not taking action on those things daily, you’ll end up chasing goals that will never provide the meaning you’re after.

What’s the first step to finding your happiness mojo?

“Most of the time, it’s not so much about what choice we make. Just make a choice and commit to it. Dive in and don’t look back.” ~ Matthew Mcconaughey quote

I can’t think of a better way to summarize the first step to finding your happiness mojo. 

You find what makes you happy in life by acting on the world, and then adjusting course based on the feedback you receive.

So if you’re feeling lost in life, just dive into a pursuit that feels meaningful to you. Start the blog. Take the cooking class. Make that career switch you’ve been looking to make. 

Then you can take a step back and adjust course if you need to.

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