Our Mistaken Ideas About What Makes Us Happy

By Leo Babauta

Most of us are operating on mistaken ideas about what gives us happiness — and these errors are costly.

Think about how you normally spend your days — and then think about whether that’s making you happy. Now think about the cost to your health and long-term happiness.

Let’s give a few examples, so you can see what I mean:

OK, if you’re on board with all of that — then you might be asking, “So, what does lead to happiness?”

There are two places to look: outwardly and inwardly.

Outward Happiness Activities

All of the activities listed above can actually give you happiness — eating a handful of blueberries, for example, gives me much more happiness than a large fast food meal. Doing some work, or watching a beautiful movie, or reading an inspirational social media post online … these can all lead to some happiness.

The most important thing is the way that the activity is done — with full appreciation, and without needing more and more and more. If you can approach anything this way, then the outward activity can lead to happiness.

That said, there are a few outward activities that I notice lead me to more happiness than most activities:

This isn’t a complete list, but hopefully you can see that these are happiness-related activities. Some activites can lead to greater happiness — if we fully allow them to. If we do them like we do most things, rushing through them without much appreciation, then they won’t have a big effect.

Inward Happiness Activities

In the list above, of outward happiness activities, you might notice something — many of them are related to some inward experience. And that’s the most important thing — the real happiness comes from what’s happening inwardly.

Here are some inward activities you’ll notice from the list above:

Again, this isn’t a complete list. The idea is to show you the inward activities that are happening with any outward activity, that lead to greater happiness.

There are lots of other inward activities that don’t often lead to greater happiness: judgment, complaining, needing more and more, hating, seeing the faults, hiding yourself or shutting yourself off from the world. Not that these are bad things — they’re human, and we all do them, and they’re a part of the beautiful experience of living. But you might notice that when you’re doing them, they don’t fulfill you as much as other inward activities.

From that, you might consciously practice the inward activities that lead to greater fulfilment, meaning, love. How would you like to practice?