How to Start Creating Internal Happiness

Michelle Wax, Founder of American Happiness Project

March 2021

Michelle Wax Article

Many of us grow up looking for happiness outside of ourselves. After all, we’re often taught that once we reach a certain level of success or achievement, then we’ll be happy.

If we get good grades in school, get a good job, get married, get the house we want, get the promotion we want, and on and on and on…THEN we’ll be happy.

There is such focus on accumulating all of these things outside of ourselves, that we’re never taught how to create our own happiness internally.

Have you ever reached a point in your life where you thought you’d be super happy?

Maybe it was reaching a certain number in your bank account, or getting a promotion, or buying your dream home…

But what happened a few days (or hours) later?

You likely went back to feeling roughly the same as before reaching that goal or achievement.

The problem with looking for happiness externally – whether that be in another person, a job, material item, or a circumstance – is that it leaves happiness outside of our control.

When you place happiness on external factors, you allow other people and circumstances to dictate your happiness for you. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be in control of my happiness levels than leaving it up to others.

A major theme we found when filming the American Happiness documentary across 50 states is that long-term happiness is internal, no outside person or circumstance can bring in lasting happiness to you long term. Happiness is within your control, you just have to start creating it.

So….how do you start creating that internal happiness?

For long-term happiness, it’s important to become self-aware of the emotions you’d like to feel on a daily basis and start to shift your thoughts, beliefs, and actions in the direction of those emotions.

This is how you begin a shift from allowing other people and things to dictate your happiness to creating it internally.

Often with any achievement or goal we’re striving for, we’re not craving that actual achievement but instead the feeling we believe that achievement will create for us.

But there are many ways to create positive emotions, and I’ve included a simple exercise below to get you started. All you need is two pieces of paper and a pen!

Let’s get started.

1. At the top of the first piece of paper write: “What emotions do I want to experience on a daily basis?”

Then, write down 5–10 emotions you’d love to experience daily.

Don’t filter these or stop yourself from writing anything down, let this be an unfiltered experience. If you’d like to look at a list of positive emotions for inspiration, feel free to check out this link.

2. On the second sheet of paper, draw a line down the center of the page.

On the top of the left-hand side write the question:

What activities, people, content, and thoughts create these emotions in my life?

Another way to look at this would be…when was the last time you felt those emotions, and what were you doing/not doing?

Then, answer the question. List out what people, content, activities, and anything else you can think of that currently create that emotion or have in the past.

On the right-hand side of the line, write down:

What activities, people, content, and thoughts drain or inhibit these emotions in my life?

Then, answer the question. List out what people, content, activities, and anything else you can think of that currently inhibit that emotion or have in the past.

Once you’ve become self-aware of these two areas, start to shift.

What can you start to incorporate more of into your daily life to bring in these positive emotions?

What can you start to eliminate or limit time/interaction with to alleviate the activities, content, and people that are inhibiting the positive emotions?

Once you’ve completed this exercise, let us know how it went!

Send Michelle a note at and share what actions you’re taking to bring in more positive emotions daily and create internal happiness.

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