How to Permanently Increase Your Happiness

There is only one way to live a consistently happy life, and that is to learn to enjoy the moments between moments. Real life is the quiet Thursday afternoon before the super fun weekend you’ve planned.

The happiest people find pleasure in very basic and not-traditionally-pleasurable things.

If you rely on specific moments and outcomes to drive your sense of fulfillment in life, you will be disappointed 90% of the time. You will more easily spiral into bad moods, pessimism, and boredom. It’s simple math, as the bulk of life does not consist of major events, but of more mundane, everyday life stuff.

My TV screen is 75 inches. It’s huge, especially compared to my first TV. In high school, I had an ugly baby blue CRT TV with one input, and the screen was only 13 inches! But thinking back, I enjoyed that little TV more than I’ve enjoyed my current monster TV. Why? Having a massive TV is normal to me now and as is having a TV in general. But back when I was younger, having my own TV (even a tiny ugly one) was cool, novel, and so much fun!

Here’s a look at possible thought processes for each situation…

13″ TV (Young Stephen): “Wow! I have my own TV! This is so cool. I can play video games on this all day!”

75″ TV (Jaded, Old Stephen): “There aren’t any good shows on anymore. It would be cool to have a projector with a 100″ or bigger screen.”

Young Stephen was thankful to have any TV. Jaded old Stephen got used to having a TV, took it for granted, and started looking for better entertainment and bigger screen sizes to satisfy his craving for more. With the former mindset, you can be happy for life, but with the latter, you will always want more and enjoy everything less and less.

No matter what milestone you reach or what item you buy, its impact on your life will fade. It’s the nature of the human brain to normalize things, even spectacular things. Winning an Emmy, becoming President, making a lot of money, getting your dream house or car, or upgrading your TV won’t bring you long-term fulfillment because your brain isn’t designed for that.

Material items and accomplishments simply don’t have the ability to fulfill us. It’s not their job to do that either, though we may think so at times. Many of us try to make it work by chaining material purchases or accomplishments together, but a string of upward spikes and subsequent falls is not as pleasant as the stable and enjoyable journey that a better perspective can get you. Even better, the “Young Stephen” perspective is available to you right now!

I’ve had ups and downs in my life like everyone else, and the determining factor of my general sense of well being has never been the actual ups and downs. Sure, I’ll experience a temporary mood spike or drop when something good or bad happens, respectively, but that spike or drop will inevitably slide back very close to my baseline level of contentment, and that level is what interests me.

What if instead of chasing temporary spikes, we sought to increase our baseline level of contentment?

If we can figure out how to increase our baseline level of contentment, it will mean higher highs and higher lows, but most importantly, it will mean a better life experience in the moments between moments, the quieter times and less eventful days.

A side benefit of increasing your baseline level of content? We will better enjoy the blessings that we have.

The way to find greater pleasure in material things, accomplishments, and relationships is to not rely too heavily on them for fulfillment.

If you put too much pressure on someone at work, they burn out. If you overload a piece of furniture, it breaks. Any time you overload something, not only will it fail to do its job, but it will often collapse completely under the pressure. Such is the case with relying on the wrong things to make you happy and content with your life. They will buckle under the pressure and you’ll come away feeling empty.

Imagine calling a plumber to your home. Most likely, you’d have specific parameters for what (s)he must do for you to be satisfied, and it probably includes your toilet or sink. But what if you expected your plumber to help you with your taxes? What if you expected your plumber to babysit your kids? You’d be disappointed, not because the plumber did anything wrong, but because you had unrealistic expectations for his or her role in your life.

Within that example is the key to life. We can’t rely on any material things, accomplishments, or even people to make us happy. The key to contentment is 100% internal and up to you. If you find yourself unhappy with your life, look inward first.

I want this to be a practical article, so here are some ideas to increase your baseline level of life contentment and fulfillment instead of chasing empty wins.

Focus on the Miracles of Life

You exist. Do you realize how incredible that is? Sure, there are 7+ billion of us, but in the scope of literally unlimited potential people existing, you are a one of a limited number of conscious minds in a human body. All living people are special and rare, because we actually exist when infinite numbers of people don’t.

Your body is a marvel. The human body pumps blood to transport micro and macronutrients to organs to accomplish specific biological tasks, and the way it all works together to keep you alive is miraculous. Your senses that allow you to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell are absurd in a good way. The ability of the human eye is ridiculous. The biological gifts we inherit at birth are amazing, and that’s before you consider the special skills that we can develop through practice.

Technology is ludicrous. I wrote this in Seattle, and you’re probably reading it in another state or country very far away. Televisions let us view events as they happen in other parts of the world, thousands of miles away. Modern construction practices gives us comfortable, safe shelters.

RAPID FIRE: Running water. Modern plumbing. Fire/heat on demand for cooking. Air conditioning. Machines that wash things for us. Microwaves. Indoor lighting. Food variety and availability.

All of this stuff is mind-blowing until the moment you see it as normal and expected and take it for granted. One of the main complaints of the new generation of kids is their sense of entitlement—they’ve grown up with so many nice things that their expectations go through the roof. It wasn’t until recently that you could give yourself an instant brain reward with a cell phone on demand. That’s addictive. That easy, instant, free reward also distorts the reality of life.

The Lesson: Don’t let yourself forget how amazing modern life is, and you’ll have a much better time living in it.

A surefire way to increase your baseline contentment is to remind yourself to be thankful for the basics. These “basics” are often overlooked because they’re common and for many, always there since birth, but they happen to be some of the most incredible facets of life. Focus on how nice it is to shower on demand, wash your clothes automatically, have clean drinking water, and sleep in a warm bed. The more you focus on the basic miracles of modern life, the more thankful and happier you’ll be in general.

True happiness is found in the most basic things like clothing, shelter, clean water and food, and love. If you look beyond those, you will never find a suitable replacement. Instead you’ll experience sharp rises and drops in happiness as your brain gets excited initially and then realizes that a 75″ TV, while nice, won’t actually move the needle.

Anchoring your thankfulness in the basic blessings of life protects you against discontentment creep. Discontentment creep is how you start out loving a 13″ TV and end up unimpressed or even discontent with a 75″ TV.

As life improves, your expectations can rise to the same or even greater extent as the improvement. Instant rags-to-riches stories are rife with these expectation explosions—a sudden increase of wealth can cause an uncontrolled explosion of expectations that no amount of money can possibly satisfy. This has been observed countless times in lottery winners, movie stars, musicians, and athletes. They become less happy because money distracts them from the basics. They assume they need more and more “stuff” to achieve that “next level” happiness. But they should think twice, because the happiest people on earth are those who have very little and spend much of their time doing “nothing” (meditating).

It’s no coincidence that monks like Matthieu Ricard, called the “Happiest Man on Earth” by many, are much happier than the average person. Their favorite hobby is to sit down and meditate. It doesn’t get any more basic than focusing on breathing in and out. Our breath is the most basic and autonomous activity that sustains our life. And it seems that focusing on that basic gift and miracle of breathing helps the brain to understand that we don’t actually need much to live and be well.

Rich, Happy People

So far, reading this might make one think that having money is a great way to become depressed. And well, that does happen a lot. But it only happens when people let money distract them into a wild goose chase, or as Solomon says, “a chasing after the wind.”

There are a number of rich people who remain oddly frugal in some ways. It sounds crazy when two of the three richest men alive use coupons to buy already-cheap food, but not when you consider what we’ve covered here. They aren’t crazy, they’ve kept themselves grounded in the greatness of life’s most basic miracles, and not trying to purchase happiness.

“My life couldn’t be happier,” [Warren Buffet] explained at his annual shareholder’s meeting in 2014. “In fact, it’d be worse if I had six or eight houses. So, I have everything I need to have, and I don’t need any more.”

Smart people realize that chasing superlatives can only end in disappointment or even depression due to out-of-control expectations, so they try not to play that game. They recognize that their inner perspective is far more profound for their well being than a Lamborghini can ever be. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with fancy cars and nice things, but that these nicer things are not the golden tickets to well being that they’re portrayed as being, and that they can raise our expectations to dangerous levels.

I will note a very real exception to this, which is that some things are objectively better. For example, if you can afford higher quality food and healthcare, that can make a big difference in your health and life and happiness. So I don’t mean any of this as a blanket statement, but as a warning that large increases in quality of life may have the potentially-devastating effect of increased expectations. And importantly, greater happiness and contentment is free.

For the rest of this year, I’m making it my goal to root my pleasure in the basics. Instead of chasing superlatives, let’s remember what we already have. Let’s learn to love and want what we already have, and everything else will be a bonus.

Practice Enjoying the Process

Everyone wants to look and feel good. But not everyone enjoys going to the gym.

Everyone wants good outcomes, but nobody starts out loving the processes that lead to them.

Every good habit is a process that leads to a beneficial outcome. Some of them, like exercise, have built-in biological rewards such as endorphins that make it possible to enjoy the process with enough repetition. Others, like brushing your teeth, have more subtle rewards (like the feeling of a clean mouth). Yet others, like working, require creative thinking and a proper perspective to enjoy.

It’s a given that good outcomes are satisfying. When you mail something, it’s done and feels good. When you complete a project, it feels good. When you get a raise after working hard, it feels good.

Processes, however, are an acquired taste. They’re like a very fine wine that might taste disgusting at first, but once you acquire the palette for them, you won’t want anything else.

Life itself is a process that begins at birth and ends at death. So in a sense, the blueprint for happiness is always laid out for us—enjoy the process, because the ultimate outcome ends everything. Like death, project outcomes give us satisfaction, but they also terminate the journey we were on, which can lead us feeling empty.

Game of Thrones is one of the highest rated shows of all time going into its 8th and final season, and many of the cast members commented on the emotional nature of the show ending.

“I won’t say their name or their character’s name, but one of the young people on the show wrapped this past season and everybody was a wreck,” he said. “This person had grown up on the show, you know? They were a child and now they were an adult. And then they’re done. It’s like we were witnessing this person saying goodbye to their childhood.”

~ Peter Dinklage (source)

Watching the end of a meaningful process is emotional because it symbolizes human life.

It’s sad even to see a triumphant ending to a process because the value of a positive outcome is often outweighed by the loss of the process.

The process will always be the most valuable part of life and its individual pursuits. First, we must recognize this truth. Second, we must practice it in our lives. Don’t be so eager to reach the top of your mountains. Don’t be so upset if the journey takes longer than expected, for longer journeys are the most rewarding.

As some of you may know, the Lord of the Rings is my favorite movie series. If you get the extended editions of the movies, the whole adventure takes about 12 hours to unfold. It’s grueling, full of danger, and exhausting to even watch what these characters go through at times.


Some people have commented that if the flying eagles could carry Frodo and Sam away from Mount Doom after the ring was destroyed, why couldn’t they simply drop the ring into Mount Doom at the beginning of the story. Regardless of the answer to that question, it illuminates something—the story wouldn’t be interesting or compelling if the evil Sauron could be defeated so easily. That shows that we don’t love the Lord of the Rings movies because of the positive outcome, we love the movies because the journey and the process are beautiful.


Happiness is not found in objects or accomplishments, it’s found in a deep breath, a warm bed, a conversation with loved ones, cleaning your house on a Tuesday, and a thankful mind for all of the above.

Happiness is not found in outcomes, it’s found in adventures, struggles, memories, and the progress we make on our way.

If we can focus on the basic miracles and blessings of life and learn to love the major and minor processes in our lives, we will be significantly happier.

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