The Four Keys To Happiness

Post written by Warren. Follow him on Twitter.

Unlock your happiness today, not tomorrow.

Unlock your happiness today, not tomorrow.


It’s supposedly what we’re all striving for.  Also, it is what this blog is all about.

Americans are so focused on it that one of our founding principles is the “inalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness.  Oftentimes it seems that happiness is just out of reach, however.  We think that with just a little more money, just a little more free time, or just a few more fancy toys, we’ll finally reach the happiness we’ve wanted for so long.

When you really take time to examine happiness from the perspective of those who have actually attained it, you may be surprised to find that many of the things you think are required really aren’t all that important.

Money? Sure, it can make things easier, but desiring more and more often gets in the way of true happiness.

Material possessions? They can certainly bring joy to your life, but they also come with great responsibilities that may outweigh their benefits.

So much of what is required for real happiness comes from within us, rather than from external sources. It makes sense when you think about it.  Happiness is a feeling, not a tangible material object. Our feelings are dictated by our mood, perspective, and attitude.  Therefore, taking control of those things has far more potential to create happiness than having all the money and “stuff” in the world.

Key #1: Gratitude

“Gratitude” has become a bit of a buzzword as of late.  It seems that everyone from Oprah to your kids’ schoolteacher is talking about keeping journals of the things that make you grateful or cultivating an “attitude of gratitude.”  These ideas may seem a bit trite, but the fact of the matter is that they really do seem to have a very positive effect on a person’s overall happiness.

The key here is to learn to truly become grateful for what you have.  Rather than always comparing your situation to everyone else’s, you are able to recognize the blessings that you have in your own life.  Some people take this idea to extremes, being grateful for the lessons they’ve learned from severe illnesses or surviving a natural disaster.  While this can be a wonderfully enlightened outlook on life, simply being appreciative of a roof over our heads and enough food to eat is a great place to start.

Being grateful for what you have doesn’t mean that you can’t desire more or strive for more. In fact, you probably ought to include the ability to continually work to better your situation as one of the items in your gratitude journal.  If you don’t already keep this kind of diary, it’s a great exercise and helps you to automatically begin to focus on the positive aspects of your life.  Simply spend a few minutes each day or evening writing a list of those things for which you are particularly grateful that day.  If you make a point not to repeat items, you will find that after a few weeks, you have a lot to be grateful for in your life!

Key #2: Letting Go

When you are consciously pursuing happiness, you will discover that you probably need to change your old thinking patterns from time to time.  This can be an extremely difficult thing to do.  Not only do our patterns make us feel safe, but in many cases, they have been hard-wired into our brains after years of working in a certain way.  Changing our automatic thinking can be uncomfortable at first, but the payoff is huge.

One of the most powerful ways to change your thinking, as well as to allow yourself to truly be happy, is to let go of old emotional baggage. Obviously, this is much easier said than done.  For some people, taking such a huge step may actually require counseling.  For others, though, it is a matter of making your happiness a priority.

In order to do this, you may need to let go of old grudges, excuse previous slights, and possibly even extend forgiveness to yourself.  You might start by making a list of those things that have been bothering you for a while.  For example, maybe your mother-in-law offended you at your wedding or your own mother wasn’t as affectionate with you as you would have liked when you were a child.  Your list can also include things you’ve done that you regret.

Once you’ve made this list, take time to go through and forgive yourself or the other person for each item.  Some of them will be harder than others, and when you get stuck, ask yourself if holding on to that old pain is really more important than creating true happiness for yourself in the present.

Key #3: Reacting to the World

It has been said that while we cannot control the world around us, we can control how we react to it. This idea, when really accepted, can have a huge impact on your personal happiness.  Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements, sums it up by saying, “Don’t take anything personally.” What this idea tries to convey is that others make their own decisions based on how they perceive reality; and you really don’t have any control over that.  If you focus on your own perceptions instead of theirs, you create a much happier existence for yourself.

The Four Agreements also talks about the idea of not making assumptions.  How many times in your life have you experienced unnecessary drama or pain because someone (even you) has made an inaccurate assumption?  Rather than assuming you know what someone is saying or their motivation for certain actions, take the time to ask a few questions and to relay what you think you are hearing back to the person.  Of course, this also means that you should try to communicate your thoughts and ideas as clearly as possible to try and avoid misunderstandings on the other end.

By not owning other people’s misunderstandings or even their negative words or actions, you are able to free up a great amount of time and energy in your own life. When you take responsibility for how you act and react in the world, you give yourself much more of an opportunity for real happiness.

Key #4: Being Present

Each of the ideas I’ve presented so far really has something to do with this one.  Being present means recognizing what is happening in a moment and allowing yourself to be a part of it.  After all, you’re not living this life in order to be a spectator, right?  While you may have taken the above advice and let go of much of your old baggage, you may also recognize that you have a tendency to always look to the future.  When you’re constantly focused on what you will have and what you want to have, it becomes harder to recognize and appreciate what you do have.

Part of being present includes being an active participant in your interpersonal relationships.  Humans have a need to connect with one another, but with such hectic lives, many of us find ourselves doing so in a perfunctory way.  When you sit down to speak with someone, for example, do you give him or her your full attention, or are you sending a text message, composing an email, or making a grocery list in your mind at the same time?

“Would you keep a chive on your tooth just because you
enjoyed last night’s potato?”
-From the television show Boston Common-

In order to be present, put away these other distractions, even if it’s only for a few minutes.  Look the person in the eye if you’re face-to-face, and make sure to occasionally summarize what he or she is saying to ensure you’re comprehending fully.  Really contemplate what is being said to you, rather than just waiting for “your turn” to speak in the conversation.  These are “active listening” techniques that will help you develop your relationships while making a conscious effort to be present.

The suggestions outlined in this post offer an interesting paradox because each of them is both incredibly complex and strikingly simple at the same time.  If you were able to implement just these four ideas on a daily basis, I have no doubt that you would see an almost immediate improvement in your level of happiness.

Take a few days to let them sink in and start trying them out.


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Posted on October 16, 2009

Happy Comments

21 Responses to “The Four Keys To Happiness”
  1. I liked key number 4 the best. Living in the present moment is the best way to be happy. You’re not dwelling on the good times of the past, regretting that those days are over. And you’re not stuck dreaming about a time that may or may not come.

    Instead you’re enjoying today.

    Thanks for this post.
    .-= Jonathan Frei´s last blog ..5k Run: Weakness Accomplishes Nothing =-.

  2. Heya Dayne!

    I totally agree, I think the biggest and best way to be truly happy is to be present as much as possible and accept the past and not dwell on it. Why waste the time we have which could be happy times by being miserable about the past or future.

    Always when someone mentions happiness it reminds me of The Pursuit of Happiness movie with Will Smith :) Really like that one!

    Have a great weekend!
    .-= Diggy –´s last blog ..12 Favorite posts on UpgradeReality =-.

  3. Hi Dayne, great post! You’ve got four very essential items here. I think that even if people haven’t cultivated a practice of being present in their lives yet, incorporating gratitude and letting go both take one toward more peace of mind and less chaos. I’ve been thinking a lot about these two things this week, and how they are so basic yet do so much if we practice them.

    .-= Miche | Serenity Hacker´s last blog ..How to Get From Boredom to Intuition =-.

  4. GREAT post. These are all so, so important when it comes to happiness. So glad you wrote this!
    .-= Positively Present´s last blog ..celebrating awesome bosses =-.

  5. Kaushik says:

    If one is more important than the others then in my experience letting go is the most effective. It makes us feel much better, and letting go is very natural and easy–we’ve just forgotten how to do it. Letting go includes letting go of thoughts and beliefs, which is presence.

    Thanks for the pointers!
    .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Positive Thinking =-.

  6. Hey Dayne,
    Great things to mull over this weekend and implement in the new week.
    I happen to be reading The Four Agreements right now and I sure have been giving the Letting Go portion alot of thought. As I looked closer at my own actions, I realized the things I was hanging onto had little to no relevance in the light of day. They had become barnacles and I was happy to host.
    So much easier to just lay it down…
    Have a great weekend,
    .-= Jill MacGregor´s last blog ..Romper Bomper Stomper Boo =-.

  7. Anita says:

    Great post! Years ago I began writing down seven things that I was grateful/thankful for each day. This made me wake up each day with a positive attitude because I was looking forward to identifying what my seven things were going to be for that day. I think this works because your focus is shifted from what is wrong or hurting you in your life, to what’s positive. The Four Agreements is one of my favorite books. Thanks for putting this article together. I’ll be sure to re-tweet it. Take care, A.
    .-= Anita´s last blog ..Say YES to Life =-.

  8. Dayne this was an outstanding article. I really enjoyed it and I think you have identified four very important factors. Very well done and thanks!
    .-= Stephen – Rat Race Trap´s last blog ..Helping Others While Helping Yourself =-.

  9. Hi Dayne,
    Dwelling on the past is fine for those on their deathbeds, remembering better times, but for the rest of us living in the present is essential. If you’re, enjoying the moment you’re in now, appreciate it, if not, then think how you can make the moment better.
    .-= Gordie Rogers – Lifestyle Design 4U´s last blog ..Is There Anything That’s Unforgivable? Part 1. =-.

  10. Excellent article!
    Letting Go can be a difficult task. However I have found that techniques such as Emotional Freedom Technique, Yoga-Pranayam and writing down our thoughts and feelings on paper can help a lot in letting go past baggage. Thanks again.

  11. Srinivas Rao says:

    Awesome ideas. I think they are simple and to the point, yet putting them into practice takes consistent effort. It’s amazing how much you really do have to be grateful for when you think about it. I live in California, so all I have to do is take a 5 min drive to see massive amounts of abundance and beauty everywhere.
    .-= Srinivas Rao´s last blog ..How often do you decide not to brush your teeth? =-.

  12. hey Dayne!!

    i usually get a lil put off by posts that are titled “the X this to getting guaranteed Y” but this post was really on point.

    your site all-round actually. full raw magic undiluted glory from the heart.

    i really like points 2 and 3. and 4. all of ‘em really :)

    you had any experience with the sedona method? you’d digg it.

    just wrote a similar article to what you said in 3 and 4. couldn’t agree more.

    seems like we write about really similar things.

    keep well and in touch mate
    alex – unleash reality
    .-= alex – unleash reality´s last blog ..You Are Not The Enemy: A Festival in the Desert & Becoming Superhuman =-.

  13. Tristan Lee says:

    I liked these keys. I would like to add one myself which is accepting or giving love to negative emotions (it kind of crosses with letting go).

    Much of the times we are unhappy is because we let our negative emotions consume us. The reason we fall into depression is because we never fully accept them.

    If someone just broke up with you, and you can’t accept this, then you’ll remain unhappy.

    But if you send love to this emotion and say, “Hey this is a great thing! It teaches me a lesson for what I should and shouldn’t do later on and makes me a stronger person!”

    If you really mean it when you say this, then it will help you become happier because their isn’t a discord in emotions. They are right on top of each other mixing with each other, instead of pulling away from each other (or, at least that’s how I visualize it).

    Anyway, thanks for this post and keep up the good work!
    .-= Tristan Lee´s last blog ..How to Use Sensory Symbols to Your Advantage =-.

  14. Hi Dayne. Amazing advice. I love your point 4: Being present. You’re absolutely right, when we talk with someone we are just waiting for our turn to speak :). I’m working on developing the habit of being present but, as you stated above, it’s more complex than it appears. But its benefits are well worth the effort.

    Thanks Dayne for sharing this.

    See you soon :)

  15. Osvaldo D. Santos says:

    Hello Dayne,

    Thank you for this article. It is nice to read something useful before sleep.

    I agree that we are all just looking for happiness and is a reason I enjoy most Will Smith, Bruce Willis or Alec Baldwin’s movies.

    I appreciate your efforts to better the humankind.

    The best wishes of fulfilness.

  16. Great post Dayne! I would like to hear you go in to more detail in each topic in their own articles (though I do know that you talk about these thing frequently) This blog is always a treat to read.
    .-= Justin-´s last blog ..Best of My First 100 Posts =-.

  17. Letting go is surely the hardest for me. Thinking too much keeps nasty thoughts from being let go. Re-running the scenarios over and over again until your mood is changed causes total unhappiness and wastes too much energy.

    Great reflection post, Dayne!
    .-= The Tango Notebook´s last blog ..Tangoholics Anonymous: How I Balance My Tango Addiction =-.

  18. This actually answered the problem, thank you!

  19. I like your way of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon.

  20. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

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