What does it mean to be happy? Simply put, happiness is a habitual state of being content, grateful, hopeful, joyful, and upbeat. Being happy does not mean you never have a negative experience, or even feelings of depression at times. It means that overall, your outlook on life is a positive one and any setback is viewed as temporary. 

2018 was not an easy year for me. It started in January with heartbreak followed by some significant life changes that dragged me down to rock bottom. I spent the following twelve months soul-searching and doing some intense inner work. I found that happiness does not happen by accident. It takes some work on your part, and if you put in that work the rewards are more than worth it.

There are five keys that helped catapult me into a life characterized by happiness, hope, and the pursuit of dreams. Here they are:


Self-awareness is your ability to see yourself as separate from your environment. It is having a clear perception of your own personality, strengths, weaknesses, desires and emotions. When you are self-aware, you are conscious (in the moment) of your thoughts and how you feel about what is going on around you. You ability to monitor your inner world will directly impact your level of happiness. When you are aware of your thoughts and emotions as they arise, you will respond consciously and intentionally, rather than react passively.

A great way to practice becoming more self-aware is journaling. Writing will help you to process your thoughts, create some headspace, and decrease feelings of overwhelm. Once you have been journaling for a while, you can look back on your thoughts and begin connecting dots, and recognize your thought patterns which will serve to make you more self-aware. 

Another bonus of self-awareness is that it will help you understand others and have empathy.

Personal Accountability

To be personally accountable means that you believe you are fully responsible for your own actions and decisions, and the consequences of both. It is a mindset which understands that circumstances do not dictate behavior. Whatever it is that you want to do in life, being accountable for your own thoughts and actions is crucial for your success. Blaming others, or less-than-desirable circumstances, will only hold you back. Recognizing this is both empowering and exhilarating. Knowing that there is no one, other than you, who can hold you down means nothing is standing between you and your success.


Cultivating an attitude of gratitude will have an impact on your life that cannot be overstated. It will literally change your life, and for the better. When you are grateful, you are recognizing that there are good things in the world and that you are a recipient of many of them. You can express gratitude for anything from the gift of life itself, to the tasty sandwich you had for lunch.    There are no limits. Being thankful will help you be more compassionate toward others, and even “pay-it-forward” when you have the opportunity to do so, which may inspire others to do the same. You can literally change the world in this way, as well as your own outlook on life.

Keep It Simple

Many times the accumulation of money or material things is touted as pathways to happiness. The truth is that neither of these things will make you happy. If you are not happy before you get those things, you will not be happy after getting them either. Happiness does not come from the outside, it comes from the inside.

The accumulation of stuff often brings more clutter into your life, and more stress. Also, it isn’t only material possessions that can clutter your life. It may be that you have committed to too many outside activities and therefore have no free time. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being active, but if you have taken on so much that you are living in a continual state of stress then it may be time to reevaluate. Oftentimes, less really is more.

Physical Exercise

It may surprise you that this one is on the list. It is easy to focus on the psychological (and even spiritual) aspects of a happy life, but there is no denying the mind-body connection. You are probably familiar with the many physical benefits of exercise, but are you aware that there are other benefits too? Physical exercise stimulates the release of various brain chemicals which leave you feeling happier, less anxious, and relaxed. Some studies have shown that exercise can even treat mild to moderate cases of depression, and promote a sharper memory. Your mind and your body are connected and what affects one will affect the other. A healthier body promotes better mental health. It is a true win/win situation.