This post was written by Leo Babauta, originally for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
When I set out to convert my unhappiness with my life into happiness, I had some ideas about how to do it. I was going to get out of debt and lose weight and get a better job and declutter my house and get into shape and become productive and write a book. Here’s how happiness is uncovering what you already have.
Happiness is Uncovering What You Already Have
And I actually did all those things and much more. It was great. They changed my life, and I’m very happy now.
Those things, however, didn’t get me happiness.
What I learned is that I already had all I needed for happiness, but it was buried beneath my insecurities, my discontent with my life, my loathing of my body and myself. I already had it, but it was all covered up.
Happiness is the uncovering of what you already have.
You have all you need for happiness, right now. You don’t need to change anything about yourself, or your life. You just need to see what’s already there.
Let me show you what I found out about myself, and how I became happy.
Changing My Life
When I set out to become happy, I wanted to change my life. I had an ideal life that I wanted to create, and I thought if I created that life, I would be happy.
It’s all a fantasy. We all do it: we fantasize all the time about the ideal partner, the ideal family, the ideal job, home, car, computer, clothes, travel, furniture, TV, and of course, body. If we have these ideal things, this perfect fantasy, we’ll be happy, right?
Well, no. Because first, the fantasy can’t ever come true. We can believe we’re making it come true, but the reality will never match up with the fantasy.
For example, I learned this because while I decluttered and created a minimalist home, it didn’t automatically give me a feeling of contentedness. I needed to learn that separately.
Decluttering, however, did teach me a lot: I learned about why I was holding on to things (fear), and learned that the fears were unfounded. I learned that I could do well even without all that false security, and that I was already strong enough to live life without a lot of unnecessary things.
I still recommend simplifying your life, not because of the fantasy life you think you’ll create, but because you learn about yourself.
When I lost weight, I was still unhappy with my body. It still wasn’t perfect. And let’s be honest: it will never be perfect, in the sense of matching the fantasy of the cover models you see on magazines. I’ll never match up to that fantasy.
But losing weight taught me that I could enjoy eating healthier and exercising. I learned that these weren’t as scary as I thought, and that food is not needed as a crutch for stress, fears, loneliness, boredom and the like.
This was true in every area of my fantasy: I learned that striving for the fantasy didn’t ever work, that I could never get there, that even if I got close, I wouldn’t be happy. But I learned along the way that I didn’t need my old baggage, and that everything I needed for happiness was already in my possession.
What You Need for Happiness
So what does make you happy? What do you need for happiness?
You can strive for happiness in external things all you like: house, job, car, a loving partner, food, drugs, shopping. But these don’t make you happy, at least not for long, and when they don’t give you continual happiness then you have to keep striving for more, and your happiness is always subject to the whim of these external things and people.
You can also find happiness within. You can learn that you have some amazing things inside you, that they are beautiful if you learn to accept them for what they are — and not try to meet up with any fantasy. You can learn that life is always amazing, as it is, without the fantasies. And because the happiness is within, you aren’t subject to losing it because people aren’t in the right mood, or because of external events changing your source of happiness.
This means stripping away the fantasies, one by one. It means looking within, and learning to be OK with what you find.
It’s not an overnight process, but the amazingness is already within you. It’s all around you (and actually within and without are not different things). No fantasies needed.
P.S. If you’d like more ways to let go of the negativity in your life, check out our 30 Day Negativity Detox.