By Tess Rafferty
August 1, 2016

As a personal empowerment coach, part of my mission is to help women introduce joy into their daily lives. But I have a confession to make: I actually resisted happiness for a long time. We all want to be happy—but are we willing to do what it takes?

It’s easy to wait for happiness to “arrive” in your life, to think you’ll be happy once you find a career you’re passionate about, meet the partner of your dreams, have the money to travel the world, get a dog, make six figures a year or like the way you look naked. But the truth is that you have the option to be happy right now, right in this moment. But it took me a long time to realize that for myself.

When I was 26, I was miserable at my “cool” job at a brewery. I was living in paradise (literally, on Paradise Island in The Bahamas) yet I woke up every morning with a stomach ache, not wanting to get out of bed. I had uprooted my life and moved thousands of miles from home for this opportunity, and yet I was far from happy. I had reached a tipping point and knew something had to change.

I had been hearing for years that true happiness starts from within, but I couldn’t really feel into it or imagine it for myself. My life had been geared toward accomplishments and things, and I had no roadmap for this different definition of happiness. I’d read so many articles on how to be happy. Countless numbered lists that told me to meditate, get out in nature, count my blessings, do yoga every day. But I was overwhelmed at what I perceived as a lot of effort to try to get there.

With the help of a coach, I started digging deeper into and practicing mindfulness. I realized that whatever I’d been doing so far wasn’t working and that I really didn’t have anything to lose by giving this whole “happiness from within” thing a try. And that’s when all of my possibilities opened up; that’s when happiness began showing up in my life in the most unexpected places. And if I could do it, you certainly can too.

So what’s the first step to being happy? Accepting that you hold the key to your happiness—which, I know, is a daunting task.

If you’re ready to own your happiness, there’s one thing I’d recommend you start doing right now: Cultivating love and gratitude. No one’s journey is exactly the same, but there’s no one in this world who wouldn’t benefit from operating on a higher frequency of compassion for others, and most importantly — for ourselves. We need to understand that our happiness is up to us and know that we, like everyone else, deserve it.

How do you do this? The moment you wake up, think about something or someone you’re grateful for, and write it down. You can keep a notebook next to your bed, write it in your phone, email it to yourself or have a friend do it with you so you can hold each other accountable. No matter how busy you are, I know you have a few minutes to spare for this exercise—you can even do it lying in bed right before you go to sleep if that works better for you. I also highly recommend Marianne Williamson’s “A Return to Love.” It was an eye-opener for me, and if the word “God” doesn’t agree with you just swap it out with whatever works for your beliefs.

I also recommend this tried-and-true strategy: Fake it until you make it. We tend to think of a smile as a reaction to a happy emotion, when in fact, the opposite is also true. Forcing a smile actually tells your brain you’re happy and can decrease stress. Likewise, pouting and complaining reinforces your negative feelings. Of course, it’s important to let yourself feel sadness or anger, but for life’s daily annoyances I highly suggest you ask yourself whether you might benefit from choosing to feel better instead.

Some other ways to kickstart your happiness? Call that friend who always makes you laugh, watch a funny video, hang out with your dog (or someone else’s). It seems so simple, but how often do you make sure to do at least one thing that makes you smile on a daily basis? When you make happiness a habit, it starts to become your norm.

I promise that you CAN be happy, as long as you stop getting in your own way. Start by choosing happiness—it’s a simple shift that’s guaranteed to change your life for the better.

Tess M. Rafferty is a personal empowerment coach. She lives in New York City.

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