There's a difference between things that bring us passing joy and pleasure, and things that bring us true, sustainable happiness.
But we often confuse one for the other, making our happiness and fulfillment in life dependent on external factors that wax and wane.
Here are four places to stop looking for happiness — at least the enduring kind.
1. Your body
Your body is an amazing wonder of nature — it lets you breathe, move, eat, drink, dance, make love, write and create.
It's also in a constant state of change. Every single moment some cells are dying and others are being born. Your muscles are growing weaker or stronger depending on your activity level. You're burning through your energy stores or replenishing them through rest and sleep. The inner beauty of your soul shines through in different ways at different ages. Your body today is different than it was yesterday, and it will be different again tomorrow.
So don't depend on it looking or acting a certain way for you to feel whole, worthy and happy. Otherwise you're setting yourself up for an inevitable fall.
2. The future
We often see our happiness as a destination in the future. I'll be happy when I'm more successful. When I'm wealthier. When I'm thinner. When I'm loved. When I'm more confident and adored by the world.
If we can't pause to be present in this moment and appreciate all of the good things already in our lives, we won't develop the skills of gratitude and mindfulness that will enable us to enjoy our future success.
Also, by putting our happiness on hold until the future, we're robbing ourselves of precious days, like today, that we'll never get back. We're blinding ourselves to all of the goodness, abundance and beauty already around us by focusing on what we don't have, instead of what we do.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the happier we are now and the more pleasure we take in the simple joys of today, the more likely we are to create a bright and satisfying future — because success doesn't bring happiness; happiness brings success.
3. Other people
We can try to exert influence on other people, guide them, support them and directly ask things of them, but ultimately, we have no control over them at all.
When you invest your happiness in the opinions and behavior of other people, it's like you're handing over the remote control to your feelings to someone else and saying, "Here you go. You can decide how joyful or miserable I'm going to feel today."
We don't need other people to make us feel whole. But if we feel our wholeness and worth from within, we have more love and energy to extend outward to other people. When we fill our cup with self-love and unconditional acceptance, our cup overflows and benefits all those around us.
4. External events
The same way we can't control other people, external events don't always unfold as we'd hoped.
When the weather is bad, the bus is late, you're stuck in traffic and queues, you don't get offered the dream job, the cafe runs out of your favorite salad roll, you fumble your way through a speech, or your project crashes and burns, instead of getting irritated and giving away your happiness and inner peace, learn to surrender to the situation.
Accept that the moment has happened, and let it gently wash over you like water off a duck's back, not leaving a dirty residue on your soul.
Surrendering doesn't mean resigning yourself to the same situation forever — if it's something that's ongoing, you can accept the present moment as it is, while making practical plans to get yourself out or make changes in your life.
In fact, the more you surrender to the way things have unfolded in the present moment, the more energy you free up to spend on the things you can control. Things like your dominant thoughts, your attitude, your behavior, your values, and how you live your life. This is where your true power lies.
Ultimately, sustainable happiness comes from within — from the relationship we have with ourselves, and the quality and nature of our thoughts and actions. If you're looking to improve your external life, look inward.