3 Key Steps If You Want To Be Happy

When I ask people what they want most in life, many tell me “I just want to be happy”. This struck me as odd because I would not have given this reply to the question myself. Then I realised why – I am already happy.

My journey to happiness

I started thinking about what changes I had made in my own life that got me to this place.  I wasn’t born a happy person, not that I remember anyway. In fact, in the early years of my adult life, I remember being miserable quite often and making those around me miserable too. Finding happiness was a long, hard journey.

Let me clarify that being happy does not mean that I am never sad. My heart often aches when I see the suffering around me. Some days I’m crabby and irritable, or wallow in a mood.

Being happy simply means that I don’t have to think about being happy any more. It means that there’s no underlying unhappiness bothering me and making me wish my life were different. It allows me to live in the present instead of looking forward to a ‘better’ tomorrow.

Here are the three key steps of my journey to happiness, in case you want to try them out and see if they work for you:

  • Let go
  • Take control
  • Practise gratitude

First step to be happy: Let go

I remember feeling physically lighter the first time I succeeded in really letting go of the things that were making me unhappy. Letting go is not easy but for me this is the key secret of being happy most of the time. There are three areas in which I am learning to let go:

  • Expectations: The single most important step on my journey to happiness was learning to let go of expectations. Expectations – of ourselves and other people – set us up for disappointment, frustration and misery. Freeing yourself and the people you love from the burden of expectations is one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself.
  • Outcomes: Besides releasing expectations of people, learning to go with the flow by detaching from desired outcomes is also useful in achieving a happy medium. As a task-oriented person who pays attention to detail, this was challenging but worthwhile because I’m more able to take life as it comes these days.
  • Possessions: The third thing I learnt to let go of was our need to possess. Thinking that we own things makes us susceptible to the fear of loss, and a life lived in fear is not a happy one. My aim now is to be able to store all my essential worldly possessions in just one suitcase.

Second step: Take control

This sounds like a contradiction of the first step, which is letting go. The difference is that we can let go of the things we cannot control, while taking charge of the things we can. Here are four main areas I worked on that added up to an overall feeling of joy, or at least long-term contentment.

  • Relationships: The younger me was rather difficult to get along with, which obviously made nobody happy including myself. I had to work on being kind and speaking gently. Thanks to good mentors, I learnt to praise instead of criticise. Today I am grateful for strong and easy relationships with friends and family.

Third step to be happy: Practise gratitude

It is impossible to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. So one of the easiest ways to be happy is to be grateful. While letting go and taking control involve work and time, being grateful can happen in the space of a single thought. Here are three ways to practise gratitude:

  • Journal: Probably the second best thing I did on my path to happiness was to start a gratitude journal. Write down five things you are grateful for each day, either at the end of the day or first thing the next morning. You can repeat points, since you’ll be grateful for your biggest blessings on many days.
  • Carpe diem: An attitude that helped me to be grateful everyday was living like you’ll die tomorrow. Thinking like this helps you to make the most of each day realising this could be your last chance, and then the happy days start piling up in a virtuous circle – you’re happy to be living, and your way of living makes you happy.
  • Judge not: As I gained some perspective in life, I came to see that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are illusions. Things will happen in life – accidents, deaths, poor health, separations. You’ll be much happier when you stop judging these things as good or bad, but accept that things just are. Be grateful for the experience and smile because it happened.

“I Want to Be Happy”

Today I am generally happy and grateful. Many of my readers are also happy people though, and I’m glad for your company. You are proof that I’m not living in some fairy tale world of my own.

Still, it’s probably an understatement that not everybody is happy. If you know anyone who might say “I want to be happy”, I would be grateful if you could forward this post to them.

Please share this:

40 replies on “3 Key Steps If You Want To Be Happy”

Simple, honest and so true, thanks for posting this. I am a happy person too, mostly from following your second step taking control. I decided a long time ago I was a free spirit and struggled with the rigidity of employment so started on the road to becoming an entrepreneur. Eventually this solved my finance worries and recently by writing about my journey from a teenage homeless hostel to successful entrepreneur its has helped me let go of the past too. Thanks again 🙂

Great post and sage advice. It is amazing how many people claim to want to be happy, however are not willing to make the changes to realize t he joy which resides within each of us.

@ Barbara,

Plain ole letting go is what I’ve been learning to do forever! And it’s still hard. Yet it makes so much difference.

@ Hilary,

You’re welcome dear, and thank you for your kind words too!

@ Liara,

Happiness is indeed a decision. Wise words indeed that illusions start falling away once we decide they’re not important and stop paying them attention.

@ Albert,

Thanks for your comment. I suspect you’ve let go of more than I ever have! Love reading your posts on detachment and non-attachment.

@ Chris,

Scanning my body is something I remember to do, because whenever I do (which is not often enough) I notice lots of tense muscles especially in my shoulders and back. Thanks for this reminder.

@ Mark,

You’re right that people aren’t willing to change, and yet want different results. Those changes I wrote about took me years, so we’re not talking about easy fixes here. Yet it’s so worth it to, as you say, “realise the joy which resides within”… beautiful phrasing.

[…] 3 Keys steps if you want to be happy – JoyfulDays – Daphne speaks about the things that keep you happy in life. […]

Thanks for this. One of the most important forms of letting go for me has been noticing ways that I’m tensing up and relaxing them. When I’m sitting down I’ve made it a habit to scan over my body once in a while and notice where I might be tightening up, and just being aware of that has had great effects.

[…] Daphne Lim, another blogger that I read recently posted, “Expectations — of ourselves and other people — set us up for disappointment, frustration and misery. Freeing yourself and the people you love from the burden of expectations is one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself.” […]

Hi Daphne .. thanks very much for those really kind words .. I’m sure you’re right .. my brain is right on just going .. lots of thoughts for the future and I learn as I go – I’m certain you’ve said wise words to me.

I really appreciate those thoughts ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

I agree with others on how excellent this is Daphne. I too see how others are seeking happiness always state that is what they want, yet those who have it, know how to keep it and don’t feel they want it, since it is just there for them. Love the guide, great stuff!

@ Stephen,

Thanks so much for your support. I’m flattered that you’ve bookmarked this to read the links, and I appreciate the tweet very much!

@ Mike,

You’re very kind, and I’m grateful for your encouragement. Isn’t it interesting how so many people seem to want happiness? Guess it shows us that many people around us aren’t very happy, despite appearances to the contrary. Thanks for dropping by!

Daphne, simply outstanding!

I want to read all your linked articles but it will take forever. Nonetheless I have bookmarked this and intend to do it.

Thanks for sharing this. You have created an incredibly content-dense article. I’m tweeting this one.

Hi Daphne
I like this post a lot. 🙂
I understand what you meant that you are not born happy. I think happiness is a choice.
Keep doing the good work, happiness is a one at at a time kind of thing.
Thanks for sharing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

@ Vincent,

Thanks for your comment. You’re right that the trick is to balance gratitude for what we have now, while setting lofty goals at the same time. This balance, when achieved, is a wonderful way to live – both for now and the future at the same time.

@ Jodi,

Believe me, letting go was a huge struggle for me. This is why I can write about it with such detail now… 🙂 You’re so sweet to think I am evolved… you should see me when I’m being very unevolved, which is quite often. Love what you said about accepting everything as just IS. This is the secret to much joy and peace. Thank you!

@ Giovanna,

I’m so glad you like this! From someone who has achieved so much in her life and is obviously happy now, I value your comment a lot. Thank you!

Hi Daphne,
Your advice here is so succinct–I just love it! I especially love what you have to say about letting go. I love how you broke that down into categories. They all make so much sense. I think you are very evolved to be at the point of letting go of your Self as far as your self-importance, needs, wants, etc. We do put so much weight on those things; the more we can accept everything as it IS, the happier and more at peace we will be. Love this! Thank you!

Hi Daphne,

Being grateful with what we have now is definitely one way we can make ourselves happier. Sometimes we can set lofty goals and dread about our present scenario and we need to overcome this feeling by trying to strive for the better and in the same time being grateful of what we have in the present. Nice article. 🙂


Hi Daphne .. I just love the way you have so simply, yet so succinctly, set out your steps .. I really need to follow them all through – I’m working towards them, or including them as I look after others.

I have so many thoughts and ideas for the future and while I wait to implement my future life – I learn from the adversity of others, or meeting others in their family challenges .. and if I can give them support and positive strength – which makes them feel better, as do my mother, my uncle and it spins off to me: I’m lucky to have found this route.

However to put everything in perspective Paul Maurice Martin has put his happiness very clearly – he is happy to be alive, and all else is ‘irrelevant’ …. if more angry people or really depressed people could see life this way .. as so valuable .. perhaps they’d be happier.

We can learn from his comments: “Being happy simply means that I don’t have to think about being happy any more.”

“I don’t think about it either. I’m honestly in too much pain and with too severe limitations to be truly happy and yet – this is the critical part – I am no longer unhappy about being unhappy.”

Thanks Daphne – great insight and so well expressed .. I’ll be back to look at the links ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

@ Jus Growing,

“Am I the person I want to be?” is probably the best question I can ask myself right now. You have much wisdom indeed. I can remember a time when I didn’t like myself, and now I do – on most days at least! What great perspective in your comment.

@ Tess,

You’re not with me all the way… you were probably LEADING the way! Your life is one that sometimes I wish I had lived – many children at a young age, working hard on a farm and later starting my own business… maybe I did that in a different life or parallel universe so I don’t feel like I’m really missing out. I do know I admire you greatly for what you have achieved.

@ Jannie,

Aw, you’re too sweet. I hope YOU go viral… that will show the world something worth seeing! Oh, but then your crabbiness will be right out there too… I’m sure you’re a sweetheart even when you’re being crabby though. Some people just are so cute when they’re angry and I bet you’re one of them!

@ Stacey,

If you ever get tired of your husband, send him my way! Seriously, you have a great life partner in him, to be able to say those words when you most need to hear them. I have someone like that too, so we’re both blessed. About those photos… what a revelation. At least you’ll have the joy of becoming happy again and this time really appreciating it, much more than before when it was subconscious.

@ Paul,

I am always humbled and grateful to see your comments, because I know it takes you much more effort to write it than it takes most people. Thank you, just for commenting. And thank you even more for the honesty and wisdom in your sharing. “I am no long unhappy about being unhappy” holds a deeper and darker truth than most of us, myself included, could even begin to understand. Yet through it all you manage to reach out to others like you did today with this comment. If it was ten times longer, I would still have hung on to every word because you speak from such a special place, and it would still not be long enough for me.

@ Hilary,

You’re probably happier than you realise because right now you’re doing the things that matter with the people that matter. Even though you don’t think about these things much, maybe one day in hindsight you’ll realise how this period in your life changed you and made you not just a better but a happier person. I sincerely believe that – you’re just too busy to see it now! So don’t feel obliged to do anything in the way of ‘personal development’ – sometimes life offers all the opportunities we need without us having to go look for it elsewhere. Bless you, my dear.

These are such important insights. As a severely disabled person in widespread intractable pain in my 16th year of declining health from a rare incurable illness, I hope you don’t mind my offering what may strike your readers as an unusual take on one particular thing you’ve said – but I think it really has relevance for people in more normal life circumstances. You say:

“Being happy simply means that I don’t have to think about being happy any more.”

I don’t think about it either. I’m honestly in too much pain and with too severe limitations to be truly happy and yet – this is the critical part – I am no longer unhappy about being unhappy.

Being unhappy because one has troubles greatly adds to them. In my kind of situation, it would be enough to sink me. For people facing less adversity, not resenting the fact that one has some troubles in life greatly alleviates suffering.

Hope this makes sense and was not too long!

Recently I woke up, turned to my husband and said, “I’m in a crappy mood today.” He replied, “You don’t have to be happy everyday.”


That said, if I had heard the response to the question you posed to the group my heart would have sank (sunk? I’m not great with grammar!)

I think it is a different journey for everyone. It’s funny, recently, upon the urging of a coach, I pulled out some old photos of me – 6 yrs old, 18 yrs, and today. I could see the happiness in 2 pictures and saw it very much missing in the other. It hit home based on life’s events and “re-learning” has been quite an adventure.

Thanks for sharing your process.

Wow, what a powerful super-honest article! I hope it goes viral – it should.

A real list of Things We Can Actually Do. I can certainly relate to the “just one suitcase” desire. And living like I’ll die tomorrow… really makes me put what’s important into perspective.

(P.S. don’t tell anyone but I get crabby sometimes too.) 🙂

Great post. Recently I heard something that was also quite insightful… ‘happiness’ is such a subjective feeling, and one that can come or go depending on a range of things as you have outlined in this post. I think a better question to be asking ourselves is “am I the person I want to be?” and make that our goal instead of “happiness” – because what is happiness if it’s not defined? Define who it is you want to be, make that your goal and define the steps you need to take to achieve that goal… then tell me if you still feel like you need to ask youself if you are ‘happy’. 🙂

Hi Daphne. I love the picture you’ve chosen. If that isn’t letting go, then I don’t know what is. “Expectations” are an incredible hindrance to happiness and it takes a lot of practice to let go of THAT.

@ Megan,

You cheer me up so much whenever I see you here. You’re definitely a happy person! I fully understand when you say that unhappy days are an anomaly. What a blessing to be able to live like this. You have a beautiful and happy day, and week too!

@ Lance,

Thank you for being here. I think you’ve long reached and surpassed where I’m at in terms of happiness, but of course you’re too modest to say so! We are certainly a happy clappy bunch!

@ Middle Way,

What a coincidence, I was just thinking about you while I was away from blogging… Glad that you dropped by, thanks!

@ Kim,

You’re fine where you are – you’ve certainly done many things, especially travel, that would make anyone happy!

@ Tamsin,

You’ve been a pal right from the start, Stumbling my earlier posts and even now continuing to give such wonderful support. People like you make me happy to be blogging! Thank you, dear.

@ Jarelle,

Been trying to read that book all my life – still haven’t finished it! 😉

@ JD,

Thanks for your generous comment. I try not to be too prescriptive with all the ‘you’s, but then the alternative is to be descriptive with too many ‘I’s… guess I’ve yet to find a happy medium.

@ Tom,

You’re obviously one of those happy people who don’t even think about it anymore. You’re so focused on challenging and helping others that happiness becomes a natural by-product.

@ Dani,

You are ‘positively present’ indeed! Your presence here and positive thoughts and words really make my day. Thank you.

@ Amanda,

So right that there’s an ebb and flow… and when we’re living the ebb, it’s important to remember that this is not a bad thing, just part of the cycle to prepare us for the next flow. Plus, the ebb allows us to see things that we don’t see during higher tides.

@ Chrisitne,

I hope you’re much happier now than I remember a few months back?

@ Carla,

Sometimes we don’t have ideal health, that’s true. And life can be unfair in that it’s harder for some people to be happy than others. Still, we can only do our best. You are doing well and are a great example to others. Keep your chin up!

@ Davina,

That picture with his feet sticking out made me want to jump right in with him! It was terribly hard for me to let go of expectations, yet I realise the true weight of that burden because the first time I did, I literally felt lighter!

Knowing what I have control over and what I have to “let go” of has helped me in my quest for happiness. My health is a tricky one because I don’t always have control of it. With that said, doing what I can (diet, activity, etc) has done so much for me despite what is incurable.

“People who are happy don’t say “I want to be happy” because you cannot want something you already have.”

Sooo true!

Hi Daphne – That’s a wonderful thing that you can call yourself happy! I think the thing about happiness that people often don’t realize is that there is an ebb and flow in happiness, meaning that being a generally happy person involves feeling and experiencing lots of different things, but at the end of the day you can still call yourself a happy person.

What a fantastic post on happiness and your personal happiness journey! I really loved reading it and I learned not only a lot about you but about happiness as well. Thanks for sharing this with us. Your insights are awesome!

Well done!

I like your prescriptive approach. You made each guideline real with elaboration.

Letting go is huge. You can’t make room for the joy if you can’t put your bags down 😉

This is a really thoughtful post Daphne – and great because people can use this as a checklist to spur them on. I esp like the way you’ve broken down each of the 3 steps in more detail to help people who want to be happier and might not know where to start. I’ve stumbled the post and bookmarked on Delicious as I think it’s a lovely post to share with others who might not be feeling so great today.

All the best


Hi Daphne,
It is indeed a happy day today! And it is as I’m reading this, and so much of it resonates with me and where I’m at. You have done a wonderful job of showing where that happiness really comes from, and how to get there. Most days…I’m there as well. And it’s a great place to be, especially knowing where I’ve been in the past.

Wonderful post, Daphne!!

I love how succinctly you summed up your journey to happiness. Wow! And I’m right there with you — beneath everything I do is a layer of joy. That doesn’t mean I don’t have days, like you said, that aren’t crabby, lonely, or seem boring and empty. It just means I look at those days and go, “Oh, an anomaly. I love it!”

My favorite part of this post was the line, “You cannot want something you already have.” Brilliant!

Have a beautiful and happy day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *