Think about the last time you were happy. I mean really happy. Euphoric even. What happened?

Perhaps more importantly, how long ago was it?

As a coach, I regularly discuss happiness with my clients and why it has seemingly become so elusive. It’s as if happiness is something always beyond our reach, and just when we allow ourselves to feel it, the world is quick to remind us of all the bad. We’re surrounded by these hard reminders in just about every aspect of our lives, and the media certainly doesn’t help with its 24/7 news cycle. It’s little surprise that with so much bad regularly shared, we default into mad, sad and scared because, quite frankly, it’s easier.

But who said life was easy?

You have the chance to choose to be happy, to choose to see the good. And you have the power to make this change when you choose to be intentional in how you think and feel about the world.

Let me explain. Our brains are hardwired with four primary emotions: fear (scared), anger (mad), sadness (sad) and joy (glad). But of those four, fear, anger and sadness are our defaults. This is because they are part of our defense and survival mechanism, the fight, flight or freeze brain. They are our protectors and don’t care if you are happy or successful; they just want you to be here tomorrow.

So, if you want to lead a joyful life, you have to shift from habit to intention – from doing your survival defaults to choosing to find the joy in the moments.

Here are three tips I share with my clients to help make the intentional move toward choosing to be happy.

1. Focus on what works before you focus on what doesn’t work. Take a moment to notice five things that are going right. You’ll likely notice your brain will want to start by focusing on what’s not working. Don’t get stuck on this list, but instead try to refocus on the good things that are happening. Do this once every day and work your way up to doing it several times a day. This doesn’t mean you don’t and won’t notice what’s not working. It just means that you’re intentional about seeing and celebrating what’s working (i.e. the good). Remember: in the same moment you notice the tough, challenging and aggravating things about life, you could also notice the amazing, wonderful and terrific things. They are there; you have to learn how to choose to look for them on purpose.

2. Notice and change your negative self-talk. If you had friends speak to you the way you speak to yourself, you would end the friendship in a minute. Most of what we say to ourselves is critical and negative. Notice your self-talk. Start to shut down the negative talk and add some compliments, care and applause. Start to say things like, “nice job with that report,” or, “I love how confident I feel today.” If all you ever hear is negative, how can you be equipped to show up happy?

3. Ask why. When you find yourself feeling mad, sad or scared, ask yourself why. Sometimes, it’s an unfounded reality, one you’ve created for yourself that doesn’t truly exist. Keep asking yourself why until you have an answer. This mindfulness practice forces you to intentionally choose to respond vs. react to any event in life because you’re getting to the root of why you feel the way you do. From that place, you can see things differently. Remember: change first requires understanding. 

We have to work hard to search through all the aggravations, frustrations and difficulties life sends us to find the joy.

Be mindful. Be aware. Be intentional.

The world will never stop sending challenging events. That’s life. And it’s not the events or people in life that are responsible for making you happy. It’s how you respond to them, instead of react to them, that is the key to achieving happiness. Start by changing your perspective to see life as possibilities to manage instead of problems to solve. This way, you’ll see the plus instead of just the minus. And in this shift, you’ll discover how to be happy.