Deep down, every human wants to be happy. We all want to experience well-being. We all want to feel loved. And we want to celebrate being ourselves. But alas, the human experience is complicated.

Society conditions us to believe happiness is an “if-then” situation. IF you do well in school, go to college, land the right job, fall in love, get married, experience career success, live in a big house, drive an expensive car, have children, lose weight, buy this, do that…then you can be happy.

And what if your version of happiness doesn’t match society’s template? Then what? Do you try to fit in for the sake of acceptance and normalcy? I spent much of my life trying because it seemed less painful, but guess what? It’s not.

To make matters more complicated, sometimes life is entirely overwhelming. There are the usual demands and stressors, but what about the difficult circumstances and heavy periods that make us feel broken? We end up feeling lost, questioning the point of it all. Often, we isolate during these periods (or busy and distract ourselves) and pretend everything is fine. Plus, the bully in our head says we aren’t worthy of joy, well-being, and love. Not yet, at least.

So, what’s an overwhelmed, unhappy human to do?

There isn’t a specific blueprint for well-being and joy because each of us is unique. However, fifteen years of professional experience in nutrition & bodywork fields and small business ownership taught me to value balanced, authentic living over “traditional” templates for happiness. Rising from the ashes of trauma, mental illness, and societal expectations led to an unexpected spiritual awakening…feeling and sensing things I can’t quite explain. But navigating this human experience, waking up as a soul in a body, taught me this:

Happiness isn’t out there somewhere. It’s a state of mind.

Here are some other insights I picked up along the journey:

Each of us has an internal GPS or intuitive knowing.

Call it the voice of God, Source, Spirit, the Universe, higher self, or consciousness, but it’s a loving presence patiently waiting to guide us. The tricky part is quieting the noise. Meditation, mindfulness, sound healing, and spending time in nature helped me calm down and tune in. Affirmations, journaling, and challenging my limiting beliefs quieted my inner bully. Gratitude practices helped me focus on the good. Prioritizing work-life balance, learning how to say no, and boundary setting created time and space for these self-healing habits. Each of these practices is a tool that helped me tap into my guidance system and follow my unique path to joy and well-being.

The dark nights (or days, months, and years) of the soul can shape and teach us. 

The painful periods can become opportunities for healing and catalysts for positive change, provided we shift our perspective and find the lessons. Changing our mindset doesn’t mean life is suddenly rainbows and unicorns. Life will always have its unexpected challenges and uncertainties (hello, global pandemic) that are out of our control. But we can learn to accept what is, control our reactions, and trust that life is happening for us instead of to us. We can evolve from a victim-mindset to genuinely thriving.

We don’t need permission to love and accept who (and where) we are right now.

Humans make mistakes, fall down, and lose their way at times. Offering ourselves grace and loving-kindness is more effective than berating ourselves. It feels better, too. Yes, anxiety still hijacks my mind on occasion. Sometimes fear and ego lead me to say and do the wrong things. We’re all doing the best we can. Loving-kindness allows us to move forward faster instead of staying stuck.

Let’s uncomplicate the pursuit of happiness and well-being. Realize that both elude us as long as we’re chasing the next version of who we think we should be. There is wisdom in slowing down and turning inward. The dark periods are often opportunities in disguise. Resisting what is only delays our healing. Embracing all of our pieces (especially the ones we can’t explain) feels better than hiding our truths. And, loving-kindness is probably the secret ingredient to living an authentic life of joy, well-being, and love. Give yourself permission to experiment with these ideas and see what develops. You may just discover happiness was waiting for you on the inside all along.

Originally published in Change Your Mind-Change Your Life

Contributed by Danielle Ratliff of Joyful Rising

Fifteen years of professional experience in nutrition & bodywork fields and eight years of small business ownership taught Danielle Ratliff to value balanced living over hustle. Rising from the ashes of trauma, mental illnesses, burnout, and societal expectations led to an awakening. Now she empowers overwhelmed humans with guided meditations and articles so they can calm their minds and create aligned, joyful lives. Learn more at www.joyfulrising.com or contact her directly at [email protected]