surprising sources of happiness

Sometimes, on this journey through life, we find ourselves getting stuck in a rut. Our go-to techniques for problem solving and creating happiness in our lives just don’t seem to work to break through a specific roadblock or navigate out of a tricky situation.

And it’s not actually that the technique isn’t working, it’s that we’ve used it so much that our minds can and do apply it unconsciously. It’s actually too familiar to be powerful.

It’s like when you eat a delicious dessert. The first couple bites are by far the best, bite 10 is nice but nothing special. And if it’s a really big dessert, by bite 75 you don’t get any pleasure from it anymore.

So if you habitually list all the things you’re grateful for whenever you’re unhappy, it’ll work amazingly well the first time, the second…and so on. But if you keep repeating your list, it’ll lose its effectiveness as it becomes rote.

Just like we have to take some time away from eating to appreciate the dessert again, we need to take a break from our pet techniques occasionally in order to rejuvenate them.

So in order to shake things up, it’s often good to try something radically different.

At the very least, this will let us come back to our favorite techniques later with fresh energy.

So I’ve compiled a list of 6 surprising sources of happiness to do just that. They can serve as hats you try on here and there or when you need a boost or, if you like them, permanent fixtures in your lifestyle.

Let’s take a look:


6. Stop Self-Analyzing

There is clearly a time and place for self analysis and self reflection. After all, it’s the only real way to figure out where we are and how to get to where we want, but too much of it is a bad thing that actually prevents us from experiencing happiness.

Constant self-surveillance, asking ourselves “Am I happy now?” Thinking, “oh, I’m feeling x right now, this must mean…” and other thoughts that creep into our minds are self-interrupting acts that preventing us from fully engaging in what’s in front of us.

If we stop to analyze every unexpected flicker of emotion that courses through us, we will remain at the mercy of an external environment that is going to make us feel things whether we want it to or not.

Stay engaged in the moment – you can analyse things later when you’ve purposely made time to do so.


5. Lower Your Expectations

We live in a society of inflated expectations. It all starts with that phrase “you can be anything you want to be,” which is reinforced in various ways throughout our childhoods.

The fact is, even though everyone CAN achieve greatness in some field, we expect way too much from the world.

Most things we try simply do not work. And really that’s for the best because most of us are really bad at things when we’re just starting out.

But when they don’t, we tend to get upset or to give up and say “well THAT doesn’t work” instead of persisting.
And persisting is easy when your morale hasn’t been battered. In fact, we’re able to eliminate most of our negative emotions by lowering our expectations.

This is not at all the same as pessimism. It’s basic laws of probability.

Most single things we try won’t work, but most collections of things we try will. Occasionally you’ll hit a home run on your first try. And if you’ve lowered your expectations, striking out will stop bothering you.

Eben Pagan calls it “short term pessimism, long term optimism”. I call it a great way to increase our happiness.


4. Get Rid Of (Or At Least Turn Off) Your Phone

This wonderful piece of modern technology has changed forever the way we interact with the world – and each other. And not always for the better.

The level of attachment most people have for their phones should be an immediate red flag that Something Is Wrong Here.

The big problem with our phones is that they make unimportant things urgent, interrupting the things that are truly important and ruining our ability focus. They are the ultimate tools for self interruption and distraction.

Not only that, but they put our entire contact lists in control of our time. When we can be reached at any moment and we’re socially obligated to respond, we lose a huge amount of our autonomy.

One thing repeatedly cited as necessary for success in any field is having large blocks of uninterrupted time (1-2 hours).

Our phones prevent this in so many ways it’s frankly appalling. Brendan goes into a lot of detail on this one.

Another way to see the benefit of getting rid of your phone is to consider how it would force you to change your life: More person-to-person interaction, not being at the beck and call of anyone who has demands on your time, looking at the world around us instead of mediating it through a screen.

Try it. After you get over the separation anxiety (another red flag?) you’ll be glad you did.


3. Throw Out Your Goals

“But everyone knows goals are The Key to happiness and fulfillment!”

Okay, I’ll admit they’re useful, but as a part of our tool kits, not as a dogmatic way of approaching the world.
The problem with goals is simple: it’s imposing our preconceptions of what should take place onto situations largely outside of our control.

Goals are great ways to ground and orient ourselves, to give ourselves momentum and direction, but they are a terrible way of handling any individual scenario.

If you have a goal that’s really important to you, you aren’t going to simply forget it. Let yourself respond to the situation you find yourself in now and you’ll experience a lot less friction, frustration, and a lot more happiness.


2. Get Rid Of Your “Stuff”

Stuff is another way we get distracted from what’s really important to us. Everything you own requires you to invest resources into it: the purchase, storage (house space), maintenance (time, energy, money), and a vague mental inventory.

Resources you expend on your “stuff” can’t be used elsewhere, like in learning a new skill or developing a relationship. In business this is called “opportunity cost”.

This is rather insidious, because most of us only consider the monetary cost of acquiring an item, not the monumentally larger cost of actually owning it.

So how much stuff should you have? The minimalist mindset works great here: “only as much as necessary,” NOT, “as much as possible.”

I remember a great quote by a chemotherapy patient: “perhaps we only have as much as we can love”. Indeed.


1. Set Yourself An Income LIMIT

I could name the people I personally know with no money worries on one hand. To say that it’s common is to vastly understate its commonness.

One counter-intuitive way to combat this is to set an upper limit on how much money you allow yourself to make – not spend.

This seems crazy at first, but we set limits on other “good” things in our own self-interest, even if we’re not consciously aware of it: food, time spent socializing, pairs of shoes (ok, not everyone) – so why not money too?

Where should you set it? It should be low enough to make you at least a bit uncomfortable at first. We’re deeply ingrained in the “as much as possible” way of living instead of “only what’s necessary” (which doesn’t mean living day-to-day or month-to-month, I’d call peace of mind in case of emergency “necessary”).

I’d consider using the median income in your area as a rough starting point and descending a bit from there (for those of us in developed countries with reasonable income equality).

Setting an income limit on your lifestyle forces you to immediately examine what you truly value doing and having.

It’s strange but true, but if you’re not currently living in line with those things you value, money is unlikely to change that. That’s like saying “I’ll start eating healthy and exercising when I’m thin.” Uh…what?

If you force yourself to think about living on less, hopefully you’ll realize that you’ll basically have no choice but to fill the resulting “space” with the things that make us truly happy anyway: Spending time with family and friends, hobbies, being creative, play, contributing to society etc.

And the other, extremely powerful benefit of doing this is that you can actually free yourself from your financial worries.

If you can’t define what “too much” is, you probably don’t know what “enough” is either. And the fastest way to do that is define it for yourself and check! Nothing is set in stone.


That does it for the strange sources of happiness! Hopefully they sparked some useful ideas that you can begin to apply in your life. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective to create massive change.

Can you think of any others? If so, leave it in the comments below.


Further Reading: The Happiness Model: Why Finding Happiness is NOT the Way

Further Reading: How to Be Happy: The Six Pillars of Happiness

Further Reading: Being Present: How One Moment Can Transform Your Life


AJ Walton Cracking The Happiness CodeAbout Andrew Walton

I sold all my stuff to travel the world in an effort to better understand the human animal and what makes us tick.

Now I help people escape The Hedonist Treadmill and live passionate, creative, fulling lives at Cracking The Happiness Code.

About the author 

Brendan Baker

Brendan Baker is Australia's leading personal development blogger and and helps people build and grow online businesses based on their passions. He has created the Launch Your Life Academy and Your First 1000 Subscribers. Connect with Brendan: Twitter, Facebook, Google+

Brendan Baker is Australia's leading personal development blogger and and helps people build and grow online businesses based on their passions. He has created the Launch Your Life Academy and Your First 1000 Subscribers. Connect with Brendan: Twitter, Facebook, Google+

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your great post. Also, I’ve shared your website in my social networks!|

  2. Don @ BreathOfOptimism says:

    I find that many times when I am not happy, it’s because I am thinking of things from the past or overwhelming things in the future. When I learn to stop looking forward or behind and just focus on the here and now, I am much happier.

  3. Kapil Gupta, M.D. says:

    Hi Brendan,
    I liked this line: “Let yourself respond to the situation you find yourself in now . . .”
    With regard to happiness I will say this: Man is not searching for happiness. He is running away from sadness. He believes that happiness is the opposite of sadness. When, actually, there are only shades of difference between them.
    . . . from The Search for Happiness Leads to Misery

  4. richmiraclefiles says:

    Hi Brendan
    I want to let it be known that the best source of happiness is concealed in spirituality.Not the cloistered variety;but the active ,open ,free one.Thereis no hesitation in confessing the immense contribution of the divine on every day life.
    You would do good to build a core of deep ,spiritual happiness at the centre. The core at the inner most centre is your opinion about the assistance, support, and strength you are continuously receiving from unseen cosmic forces; the infinite Intelligence. Is the infinite Intelligence of God favoring you or not. Are you aware of it or not? Are you making efforts to acknowledge it regularly? The interesting fact is that cosmic Intelligence is favouring you, helping you, aiding you, empowering you at all times.

    1. That’s a great point, Mona.

      For me personally, I haven’t yet mastered the art and understanding of spirituality 🙂

      I know it all exists, yet I need to take the time to understand what it is and how it all works. I even tried meditation for the very first time just a few weeks ago.

      I believe it can be a great source of happiness… I’m glad you understand it so well!


  5. Jamie Alexander says:

    I’ve not had a phone for about 4 years, so glad to know I’m not a unique weirdo haha

    Also love the getting rid of stuff thing. I actually have a different take on it that calms my mind. I can have stuff, but I am prepared to walk away from it. So essentially I have my essentials (bank cards and passport), but nothing else matters. For example, if I lost my laptop I could download everything onto a new one and be back in business within a day, or if I lost clothes I could buy new ones. Very liberating.

    1. haha, that’s awesome Jamie!!

      How do you find not having a phone? It must be liberating…

      There definitely is something about the minimalist lifestyle. I love the concept of minimalism however I’m not too great at practicing it… well I’m ok but my fiance makes it harder 😀

      It sounds great… I’d love to give up everything for a year and just go really minimal.

  6. Sean - Fire Your Life says:

    This summer I really over did self-analyzing things. In the past at the right times it has done wonders for me. It’s given me a chance to sit down and think about things. Sometimes it has gotten me closer to my higher power.

    This time it didn’t work. I was in a rotten job and I was very stressed out. I ruminated about the bad stuff and analyzed it to death. Finally in a moment of inspiration I realized I simply needed to give up my job security, my leadership position, and comfort. I needed to find another job.

    I finally did it and I have to say I am really glad I realized I was actually doing more harm than anything by over self-analyzing.

    Thanks for the article and the chance to look back at this summer to learn from it.

    1. Hi Sean,

      Interesting… I’m just going through the recent survey results (I’ll post in the next few days) and one of the biggest things for people becoming more happy is simply quitting or changing their jobs!

      Jobs can be seriously stressful and if you’re in the wrong one it can have long-term harm.

      Congrats on making the move!!


    2. AJ Walton says:

      It’s one thing to have written something theoretical, but to have gone through all that and learning what you did…amazing. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. jamie flexman says:

    I never thought I would hear the name ‘Eben Pagan’ again. Anyway, I think one of the things that bring us down is Facebook. Constantly seeing everyone posting seemingly brilliant things from their own lives makes us doubt the quality of our own, yet it is just a myth.

    Getting away from the internet in general stimulates good feelings and reduces anxiety!

    1. Hehe, for some reason I’ve heard of Eben Pagan a LOT recently!

      I think maybe I’m just more aware to what he is doing these days 🙂

      That’s a really interesting point, Jamie… something worth exploring a little further.

    2. AJ Walton says:

      If memory serves there’s actually research that backs this up^^.

  8. Larry Hochman says:

    “So if you habitually list all the things you’re grateful for whenever you’re unhappy, it’ll work amazingly well the first time, the second…and so on. But if you keep repeating your list, it’ll lose its effectiveness as it becomes rote.”

    You’ve hit on something important here, Brendan. When I do my own nightly gratitudes and show my clients how to do the same, we look for the stuff that didn’t go well, and rather than circumvent it by finding other stuff, we express gratitude for it as it is. There’s always some nugget in the crappy stuff that happens, a lesson learned or the opportunity to let go of something, or better perspective.

    Good stuff, as always. 🙂

    1. AJ wrote this one, Larry, not me 🙂

      I love your example of gratitude… it’s a wonder drug!

    2. AJ Walton says:

      I like your approach to gratitude. That makes a ton of sense to me.

  9. AJ,

    Interesting take on how to be happy. Some of it I agree with wholeheartedly. Other points I am not so sure about (at least for everyone).

    Goals: I agree that you can’t let goals consume you, but at the same time I find having and reaching mini goals can be a source of happiness. I get your point about friction, but I think it is more of how you approach goals than having and setting goals. At least for me.

    Minimalism: I am on the fence with this one. I have done the minimalism thing, living for a year out of a backpack. I certainly agree that acquisition of stuff doesn’t make us feel any better or happier. But it can also be nice to enjoy a few luxuries.

    Pretty much a nice article. I don’t think i have as much “disagreements” as “agreements from a differing viewpoint”


    1. Hi SJ,

      I completely agree with you. I’m a big believer of goals being a key source of purpose and direction and provider of meaning, leading to happiness.

      Interesting perspective though that AJ provides!


      1. AJ Walton says:

        Hey SJ, Brendan,

        Thanks for the replies. I don’t think goals are bad and agree totally with them giving us purpose and direction, but I think defining them can create problems.

        If we really care about something, we don’t have to define it (except perhaps to overcome all the distractions around us), we just do.

        Or to put it another way, goals aren’t the goal. Letting go and just doing things without a defined purpose is incredibly rewarding – like creating music and art.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get your Free Change Your Life Starter Course

Get instant access to the first four modules of my Change Your Life course - packed with over 50 pages of guides, exercises, tools, and templates to help you design and start living your best life.