There’s one thing all humans have in common- they want to be happy. This seems to be the goal of a life well lived, an achievement worth working for, something all of us dream about, yet for many, it’s elusive. What is this thing called “happiness”, and how far will folks go to attain it? For what it’s worth, here’s my take on it.

First, many people feel that happiness is unattainable, simply because they’re searching for it in all the wrong places. Secondly, happiness is a state of being that requires work as you deliberately choose positive thoughts, words, and actions and learn to turn pessimistic, self-defeating behaviors into positive, nurturing ones. Thirdly, there is a whole world out there, a support system if you will, of positive, happy people living fulfilling, joyous lives; seek them out and steer clear of cynical souls who delight in misery and negativity. Finally, true and lasting happiness comes from the inside when you discover peace and contentment within yourself, others, and the broken, but frequently beautiful universe around you.

Happiness is an inner state of being that has to do with how you practice virtuous behaviors like acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness and love. Learn to love yourself and appreciate your goodness. Laugh at the irony of life. Seek to change negative into positive, and life can become a poignant, enjoyable ride.

I know all this sounds hard to swallow. But before you dismiss it and surrender to pessimism (which seems to be the status quo these days), remember that happiness is achieved gradually, one step at a time! It’s not a constant, all or nothing state of euphoria and pleasure. Happiness may ebb and flow, but over time you’ll learn to find the positive in every situation and leave the bad behind.

Big events in life- births, weddings, promotions at work- are special, but learn to seek out the smaller daily occurrences that can also elicit joy and contentment. When someone- your boss, a friend, a total stranger- pays you a compliment, accept it graciously and celebrate it with a smile and good cheer toward others. When you discover a parking place in a crowded lot or when someone generously lets you out in traffic, acknowledge it with a friendly wave and become a more courteous driver. Make a habit of “hanging” with positive people; spend time with folks who are interesting and interested in you.

There are health benefits of being happy. People who consider themselves happy report a lower resting heart rate, lower levels of the destructive hormone, cortisol, and lower concentrations of a plasma associated with heart disease. Researchers have found that the personality traits of satisfied, contented people (enthusiasm, optimism) help them avoid or successfully manage illnesses like diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and depression. Happy people also report having more and better sex!