how to be happy

Brief notes of my journey from depression to consistent happiness.

I’m simplifying the steps here; your journey may take years to accomplish, depending on where you are starting. I don’t mean to imply any of this is easy or can be done quickly.

Unhappiness exists for a reason. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling it. I’m offering liberation, not condemnation. You can only change anything at the pace your nervous system can heal and your brain can rewire. The pace of that change is slow and incremental. It’s still worth doing.

It took me ~25 years to go from a very depressed teenager to a very confident and happy adult. I’m giving you my map so hopefully it will be faster for you! This is my map and the general principles I used–your journey may look different.

No matter who you are or what has happened to you, you deserve happiness, and it is within your hands to achieve it.

Links are to my website Joy Ninja, where I cover these topics in more detail.

Step 1: Identify and resolve impediments to happiness

  1. Do you have unresolved trauma? Do trauma work.
  2. Do you have unfelt grief? Do grief work.
  3. Are you in an awful relationship you can’t seem to leave? Do attachment work.
  4. Are you constantly self-critical or filled with shame & self-loathing? Do trauma work (CPTSD) + learn NVC and practice self-empathy with your inner voice.
  5. Do you believe you can only be acceptable if you become a different, more “normal” person? Look into neurodivergence (autism & ADHD) and unmasking. Find community for whatever way you are weird (non-normative). Tell the internalized self-rejection to fuck off.
  6. Do you have a mental condition that medication would help, but you are refusing to take it? Really look at why you would do that to yourself. It’s OK to need help and get it. It’s OK to be happy. Suffering is not noble or more “real”.

Step 2: Change your beliefs about happiness

  1. Do you believe you can only be happy in the future, once you accomplish your goals? Nope. Only the present actually exists–the future and past are imaginary.
  2. Do you believe you are too “messed up” to be happy? Nope. Happiness is an independent variable to most problems (besides those listed above that directly affect mood).
  3. Do you believe that if you were happy, you’d lose your motivation to do anything? Nope! That’s a big fat capitalist lie.
  4. Do you believe you have lost something that you need to be happy? See #2 above about grief work.
  5. Do you believe that being happy would let the people who hurt you “off the hook”? Really look at the cost of continuing to prove you are “broken”.
  6. Are you waiting to be rescued? Rescue fantasies are an understandable way to cope, but they keep you in bondage.

Adopt these beliefs instead:

  1. My happiness does not prove or disprove anything. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just an emotional state I would prefer to be in more often.
  2. There is nothing between me and happiness except the work it takes to heal my mind, rewire my brain pathways, and let go of the past.

Step 3: Practice being happy anyway

Did you know your mind is capable of self-generating states of happiness?

It is. And if you practice that enough, you will change your “set point” and your mind will default to being happy for no reason. It’s pretty great!

It’s called state shifting. I’ve written an introdution to state-shifting and how it differs from toxic positivity. This is covered in those articles, but I want to be clear that state shifting is never about suppressing emotions. If you have real feelings about something (not just a habitual blah mood), then you need to feel them. If you are confused, read about when to feel your feelings (or not).

Happiness is your birthright.

light from above