Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Happiness Comes From Within

You have all the answers right now

Fotolia_98380766_XS copy
Source: Fotolia_98380766_XS copy

When you read the words, “peace of mind,” what do you think of?

After decades working as a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and studying what brings human beings real happiness, I know the words “peace of mind” can mean different things to different people.

For some, peace of mind comes from receiving other’s approval. These people believe that if everyone loves and thinks highly of them, they will be happy. Others equate peace of mind with possessing material things such as cars, expensive clothes, or a fabulous house. While some are convinced that landing a high-power job, earning a college degree, finding one’s soul mate, having healthy children, or… as you know, the list can go on forever.

The one common thread that weaves all of the above examples together is they rely on external circumstances. In other words, peace of mind in these instances comes from the outside. But if that were the case, why are there countless stories, past and present, of people who have reached whatever external goal they’ve set for themselves but still find themselves miserable. Think of the celebrities who seem to have reached the peak of their success, yet they find themselves unhappy and become alcoholics, drug addicts, or even take their own lives.

What if I were to tell you that everything you’re looking for, all that you need to live a truly wonderful life filled with peace and joy, you have access to, right here and right now…would you believe me?

I know this is true because I’ve seen it in my own life as well as those I work with in my private practice. To achieve this kind of peace of mind requires a simple understanding of how your mind works.

When we’re born, our minds were free from judgment about good or bad. We were blank slates that reacted to our immediate needs such as hunger or a need to sleep. By about the age of two and a half, our minds became more aware of our surroundings. We interpreted our experiences in the form of likes and dislikes. When we interpreted something as pleasant, we told ourselves, “I want more of that.” When we found an experience unpleasant, we said, “I don't want that,” and we did our best to push it away.

I call these “egoic thoughts.” They are how you view the world. Think of egoic thoughts as you would when you put on a pair of sunglasses. Suddenly, the color of the lenses influences everything you see. In the case of egoic thoughts, they are lenses that cause us to suffer. When I say “suffer,” I’m not referring to what you experience when you burn your hand on a hot stove. Rather, I’m describing a mental state that is generated by desires and fears: Desires for money, a soul mate, wisdom, self-confidence, or being an enlightened being. And fears of losing any of the preceding if you have it, or never acquiring what you want if you don’t.

Egoic thoughts create suffering because they attempt to control or change whatever is occurring right now, rather than accepting circumstances as they are in the present. Egoic thoughts are an endless stream of mental commentary that labels experiences as good or bad, making us want more of certain things and less of others.

The key is to identify the egoic thoughts for what they are; they are simply patterns developed from a young age. Reminding yourself of this as they arise throughout the day will diminish their ability to cause suffering. Keep in mind that even positive experiences create suffering because we want more of them or we fear them coming to an end.

With enough practice, you’ll be able to experience true peace of mind regardless of your thoughts. You’ll disarm your egoic thoughts of their ability to want more or less of whatever desire or fear arises. Rather than rely on external circumstances to bring about happiness, peace of mind will come from within.

Click here for more information on Robert Puff, Ph.D.

More from Robert Puff Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today