Happiness: We crave it and we seek it, but it’s difficult to achieve, hold onto, or even define.

When their therapy begins, many of my clients express frustration or despair about the topic of happiness. Happiness feels too far out of reach. They’re experiencing stress, lack of satisfaction, and various forms of anxiety and depression.

The time I spend with them allows us to explore what happiness means and what steps to take to be able to feel it and enjoy it as a regular part of life.

Where do we start? Sometimes happiness is simply a temporary absence of pain. Happiness can also mean enjoyment, contentment, confidence, safety, peace, or connection.

What steps do we take to find happiness? For any form of happiness that you crave there are three obstacles that get in the way for many people. Addressing these obstacles will bring the happiness that you want. Start with a willingness to change your mindset, your actions, and your surroundings.

1. Stop telling yourself that you shouldn’t be happy.

The first obstacle may be hard to notice in yourself at first. It is simple, yet powerful.

Unhappy people tend to feel stuck. This “stuck” experience tends to come from giving ourselves mixed messages about what we “should” do, think or feel.

You desire happiness. You may also be telling yourself that you shouldn’t feel happiness – and doing so at numerous points throughout your day. This contradictory message makes you feel stuck. Why would you do something like this?

There are many common misconceptions about happiness. We hold it to an impossible standard, thinking that it should be pure, permanent, or otherwise perfect.

You may judge external events (such as a kind gesture from someone else) as being superficial or insignificant. You may reject an internal moment of happiness because you fear it won’t be lasting or because you don’t have “proof” for “why” you feel it. As such, you’re in a lose-lose situation.

Happiness exists in each of these moments. The difficult part isn’t creating it; the challenge is allowing yourself to feel it.

So, challenge yourself. Let in some external moments and enjoy the internal moments that are a glimpse of happiness. Allow the happiness in, even though the moment is not permanent or perfect. Let a smile happen!

Say this to yourself:

“I am allowed to feel happy.”

Say it a few times. How does it feel?

2. Commit to the journey of giving up worry.

If happiness required worrying less, would you break the worry habit?

Worry is a sneaky obstacle because it convinces you that it is useful. You may be addicted to because of how tempting it is to try to predict or prevent something in the future. However, worry not only takes your out of the present moment, it pollutes your view of the moment. This takes away your power to act or think clearly.

Imagine what would be there instead if you were willing to give up worry. Would you be unsafe? Would you be unprepared?

Create a list of all of the reasons that you do need to worry. Spend some time on it. Let worry have a chance to argue its side.

Now, are these things true? Are the potential benefits of worry worth the distress that it causes?Does imagining every negative outcome help you handle future situations?

Create a list of why you don’t need to or want to worry. Include ideas for ways to confidently prepare, to feel care and compassion, or to be a responsible person that do not involve worry.

The way to more happiness involves redirecting the effort spent on worry. This involves letting go of some of the effort and illusion of control, because it doesn’t help. The relief that comes with this practice offers exponential amounts of moments of happiness.

Read more about worry here: Planning vs. Worrying

3. Stop settling for less than a full life.

Feeling stuck, unhappy, restless, anxious or depressed is often connected to playing it safe, limiting life experiences and letting doubt or negativity make choices for you.

It’s ok to want more in your life. Stop settling for less when it comes to living a genuine life and an overall positive life experience.

Unhappiness can become comfortable in its own way because it is familiar to you. It may seem like it would take a huge amount of energy to do something new in your life, but it will just be redirecting energy that you’re already expending being unhappy.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Try something new, even if you don’t end up liking it. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect in order for it to bring happiness, right? Learning to listen for your interests will guide you to what makes you happy. Trying things even before you know if you’ll like them gives your brain the clue that you want to discover things that you like!

Return to something healthy that has brought you happiness in the past. It may spark new ideas  and at the very least it is teaching you to value your time spent on something that is purely for pleasure.

Talk to friends that make you feel better, not worse. Venting with friends has it’s place, but sometimes other people can pull you into their own negativity, and that’s not what you need right now. Have a few genuine conversations about your life that are constructive, where you seek to challenge yourself to see things in a new way and try a new approach to a situation.

Seek professional help. The “stuck,” anxious and depressive feelings win if you limit yourself from receiving help. Rather than viewing a sign of weakness, consider it as your most powerful tool to jumpstart and streamline the process of experiencing happiness.

Here’s the bottom line:

Being happy requires allowing yourself to feel happiness, giving up worry, and building a full life step-by-step. Allow small moments of happiness to come from the world around you or your internal world of feelings. Practice planning without worry and to let go of some of the desire to control. Create a full life by you choosing who to spend your time with and who to receive help from or offer help to. By following this three step plan, allow yourself to feel happiness and continuously create it throughout your day to day life.