Happy Is As Happy Does: Make Your Own Joy in Life

“Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.” ~Benjamin Disraeli

I used to get paralyzed with fear in the face of any load of work.

Suffering from crippling depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and severely low self-esteem, I’d find so many thoughts battling me, making it hard to take action:

  • What’s the point of starting if you know you won’t finish?
  • You’re just going to waste your time putting in all that effort when you get rejected at the end.
  • Think about how much time that’s going to take! What if it’s all for naught? How stupid will you feel?!

I know many people who don’t suffer from depression and, yet, still struggle with those same thoughts. It drives them to procrastination and anxiety, and may even keep them from achieving any of their dreams!

I have changed a lot since those voices ruled my headspace, and have since learned this:

The key to a happy life is taking responsibility to make it.

I started taking action to turn my life around only after being admitted to a program for suicidal adults in 2005. It took that for me to realize that what I was doing just wasn’t working and that I could never go on living the way that I was.

Using a blend of exercise and cognitive therapy, I pulled myself out of that black hole and started making my own life.

I began to realize that happiness isn’t served to you; it’s earned. It’s created.

I am now a personal trainer and wellness coach, and I come across this paralyzed mentality in many new clients.

When I hear people complain about their lives as they are, then refuse to take action to change it, I understand where it comes from.

It’s frightening leaving the comfort of misery.

Dwelling in it seems almost luxurious. It feels like something. Though it hurts, you feel alive!

But is that what you want your life to be like? Rolling around in your own misery, perhaps diving deeper into it every day?

The fear of failure can keep you unhappy for the rest of your life.

If you want your life to change, realize that:

  • No one will do it for you.
  • You will have to make sacrifices.
  • You will have to start taking action to behave differently, and create that reality.

So many people wait and wait for happiness to come to them.

You might get lucky. It might just fall in your lap. But that type of happiness is fleeting.

For most, earning happiness creates a deeper understanding and recognition of joy, and is much more likely to last since you know how hard you worked for it.

When you take action, you are telling yourself that your life is worth fighting for.

You are strengthening your confidence and proving to yourself that you are not helpless. You are taking responsibility for your life.

So how do you take that first step? How do you go from doing nothing to fighting for your life?

It’s true what they say: The first step is always the hardest.

So let’s break it down into mini-steps so that it isn’t so overwhelming.

Go in knowing that this will take work.

If you go in knowing this—and accepting it—the work won’t paralyze you.

Assure yourself that your happiness is worth it.

Everything worth having in life takes work.

Commit yourself to change, and to the fact that this work takes priority, just as happiness will once you’ve found it.

Identify what makes you unhappy.

Sit down with a pen and paper (or just open up Word),and start jotting down what you’re unhappy with in your life.

Be specific.  The more detailed you are, the easier it will be to take the next step.

Visit all aspects of your life: relationships, work, health, free time, etc.

This can be an enlightening experience. How many areas of your life are you unhappy with? Are there more than you thought, or fewer? How does that feel?

Why do these things make you unhappy?

This is when we identify exactly why those areas of your life leave you lacking.

Write down anything that comes to mind and be honest. The only person that should see this is you.

Don’t judge yourself on what starts to appear on that page.

This step is necessary to creating change: You must know why you are unhappy in the first place to take steps in the other direction.

It is only when you allow yourself to be completely honest that you can discover what needs to change.

What would make you happy, and why?

This is the fun part!

If you could create anything in your life right now that would allow you to be happy, what would it be?

Start looking at the reasons you are unhappy, and brainstorm actions you can take to address them.

For instance, if your job makes you unhappy because the hours require you to be away from your family more than you’d like, how can you turn that around?

  • Could you talk to your boss about working fewer hours?
  • If that’s not a possibility, what can you do to cut down on out-of-work emails, calls, or any other business?
  • Still stumped? If you can’t find a way to put in fewer hours, how can you enrich the time you do get to spend with your family?
  • Or, would you consider looking for/creating another job that would give you more flexibility?

This is also when you discover if the things that you think would make you happy really would.

Sometimes, just writing out the scenarios that you believe would add joy to your life is enough to realize that some don’t thrill you as much as you thought they would.

You may write one resolution down and, upon looking at it, realize that in truth, it wouldn’t solve anything!  And that’s okay.

This is the point of brainstorming. We want to cover all our bases so that we can address the fears of wasted effort, rejection, and failure.

If the resolutions scare and excite you, however, don’t shy away from them!

These feelings are a sign that you’re onto something worth doing.

That fear is healthy; your brain is only comfortable with what it knows, even if that is unhappiness.

In order to create a joyous life, you must stretch your comfort zone and take action for yourself.

The happiest people aren’t born that way; they fought hard for it. Being able to experience both sides of the spectrum makes us more grateful for that happiness when we find it.

Photo by jk+too

About Amy Clover

Amy Clover is a personal trainer, wellness coach, and blogger at Strong Inside Out, a blog devoted to empowering you through fitness and positive action to overcome life’s obstacles.

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  • Daniel

    thank you, I have read many self-help books and articles, but I like how you simply describe the most important things.. because, isn’t everything that is the most important simple in the end?

    congratulations on this talent to express it so accurately.

  • Jen

    I agree completely with this article. Having gone through a rough year, I learned that writing down what you want to change and how you want to change it is the best first step. From there you realize it can only get better if you do whatever it takes to make those changes.

  • Gloria

    Isn’t it funny when you know what to do to improve “things” but you just can’t get around to doing these things to get out of that black hole.  I need to start soon.

  • nectar

    I love the simplicity of your article and will be journalling the answers to these questions tonight as I really think these are the key questions. Thank you, warm wishes 🙂

  • K10pellow

    Amy…This article is just what I needed. I have fought severe anxiety and depression for some time and have recently weaned off medication as I felt like I was always in a fog and lacking emotions. I am being patient with myself as I am finding that I am now overwhelmed bya flood of  emotions and thoughts and this is paralyzing me. I very unhappy and cry a lot and what bothers me most is that I really don’t have a lot in my life to be so unhappy about. My lack of action, making things happen, and even changing my perception is a definite problem. I know these things to be true, but I still find myself so resistant to change, I find it easier to wallow in my pain and suffering, but for the sake of my family and my own happiness I am going to reread your post over and over, and get out that pen and paper, and take 1 small step after another. Thank You.

  • Hamrickcrew

    What a great article. Thank you for the tips. I plan on retreading the article to my husband. We both seem a little stuck!

  • Daniel, thank YOU for leaving such a thoughtful comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Very true, Jen. It’s like a release putting your troubles down on paper.  It gets them out of your head where you can see them and realize they’re not as powerful as you may have once thought.

    Congratulations to you for overcoming that rough year!

  • It is my pleasure. I love hearing that this article is inspiring you and others to take action!

  • My fiancé and I read to each other as well!  I hope it helps to un-“stuck” you both.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that one is never stuck; you may just have to think of the unconventional way around your obstacles. 🙂

    Please feel free to reach out again if you need more specific advice!

  • That is exactly what I wrote my upcoming book about, Gloria!  It’s amazing how powerful and terrifying that first step can be.

    But once you take it, the scariest part is over.  Start today.  Don’t wait.

    The worst fear for me is waiting my whole life… to live my life.  I remind myself of this every time I feel like procrastinating.

    If you need further help, please reach out!

  • I’m so glad you came across this article!

    I think we are all inherently resistant to change as human beings.  It’s scary, it takes work to make it go our way, and nothing is guaranteed.  But the possibilities are endless.  You can make your life better just by trying to do so!

    You will overcome this.  Just stay with it.

    Kudos to you for deciding to take action! If you need any help, feel free to reach out!

  • Lynne miller

    i would like to find someone to work with me in this way.  i have a hard time defining what makes me unhappy, and what i would like to change. i can’t even say what i want. i feel dead to my own feelings. i am disabled and on social security, so money is a problem, but if you know of anyone in the oakland, ca. area who could work with me, i’d love to hear about them. also, i’d like to hear about your book – has it been published yet, when and where can i find it? thank you.

  • Teresamaria

    Thank you for remind me from where i came from.2 years ago i too suffered from depression,i did not care if i lived or not.I started taking all sorts of pills all washed down with alcohol for better effects! Passing out was my aim.Totally unhappy with my life!Today my life is pretty much with the same problems,but i started changing the only thing i could,me.It is an amazing journey,i started doing things for me.It will be a year soon that i drunk and took anti depressnts,sleeping pills,mood stabelisers and anxiety pills.I do not put pressure on myself,take one day at the time,patient with my changes and i am beg to love myself.Pretty cool,hein?!Thank you for your message i feel truly blessed that rather than feeling sorry for my life,i am here,writing to you.

  • Christine

    Fantastic post Amy!  I really needed to hear this, thank you for your inspiration.

  • Hey Lynne!

    I am launching my book within the next couple weeks! I’m really excited as the premise is completely in line with what I call for here, and it’s actually a workbook so I think you’re really going to enjoy it!

    Unfortunately, I do not know of anyone in the Oakland area, but I would be happy to answer any personal questions you have if you would like to email them to me!

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Oh, I’ve been there, too.  Congratulations on overcoming those negative tendencies! What an amazing accomplishment!

    I feel blessed to have connected with you.  Thank you.

  • Thank you for sharing, Christine! I’m so happy you liked it!

  • Stefanie

    Are you sure you don’t know me?  Because this is what I am working with right now.  I have been unhappy for a very long time.  (I am well beyond your age, btw, and have struggle with similar issues for most of my life).  But now, with the help of my lovely therapist, I feel as if I am standing on the edge of something and wanting to jump in to see if there is anything there, but I am terrified and can’t seem to move in ANY direction.  Your post has given me a step to take and even though I don’t know what is on the other side of the edge, it is a least comforting to know there are others like me and it worked out well for them.  I look forward to your next post.  Thank you.

  • Hi Amy,

    “The key to a happy life is taking responsibility to make it.”

    I love this line. It is very simple but oh so powerful 🙂

    For some people this may initially seem scary but it is also wonderful. It is scary because if we are unhappy than we have to look at ourselves…. but it is wonderful because we can change it.

    I remember when I was in college (about 10 years ago), I initially struggled to make friends and transition to college life. For the first year, I put a lot of the blame on “the college” and “the city”.

    Looking back on it, of course that sounds ridiculous, but at the time I really believed. it. I don’t exactly know why but during my 2nd year in college something clicked and I realized that I needed to do the changing.

    That lesson has stuck with me to this day.

    Good post, I enjoyed it 🙂

  • Thank you for allowing yourself to be so open, honest and vulnerable in your comment, Stefanie.

    I know how you feel.  OH, do I know how you feel!

    Just know that this edge that you are standing on CAN be the edge of something magnificent if you let it be!  I have heard from many others that have written to me through my site, and I can tell you that working through it is scary, no lie.  But coming out the other side is worth it.


    Don’t forget why you’re doing this: you deserve to be happy just as much as everyone else does!  Fight for that!

  • I felt the same way when I was in college, Izzy!

    Isn’t it amazing, that realization that we have the power to change if we take responsibility for our own happiness?

    Scary, especially if you’re in a lower state, but enlightening!

    Thank you for commenting!

  • Maria

    Hi Amy. My God, you made me cry… I still struggle with anxiety, depression… but I’m doing better now! I know I have to change. I hope I’ll find strength with your book, already bought it. I know if I don’t do something, no one else will do it for me.
    Thank you for your posts, blogs, and for being you.

  • Maria,  thank you so much for sharing this with me.  I am honored that you bought my book and are using it to make extraordinary changes in your life! Please let me know how it goes!

  • Tinarose29

    Hi Amy what an amazing article. I too suffered from depression and I was suicidal too. I am in the process of healing and I know that one day I will be the happy bunny I used to be. I too would like to become a wellness coach, how do I go about doing that and and what course would I have to take, I’m attaching my email address so you can send info to me, anything will be truly helpful. Thanks for sharing and hope to hear from you soon.

    Christine (

  • Hi Christine! Thank you for reaching out. That’s so amazing to hear that you overcame that struggle, too!

    I’ll email you today, but my wellness coaching is unique in that it focuses around fitness from the inside out.

    Again, so glad to have you here with us!

  • I would call it MINDBLOWING! And I feel that is an understatment.

    Of course, the power is in our actions. We need a constant willingness to learn and to remain humble (which I guess are one and the same)… But I guess I’m preaching to the choir 🙂 

  • Maria

    Oh Amy, I’m sorry to say this, but I had to put down your book, at least for now. When I began reading it, it was like “ok, so I’m doing this!” but when it came to that part about the questions “When did you feel happy?”, etc, I had a bitter answer: I don’t remember! I don’t remember when was the last time I felt happy! 🙁 I was so down, so unhappy, feeling so awful I had to cry. I don’t remember! Is this pityful or what? I know I have to change, but I have no clue of how to begin. I have 3 wonderful kids (2 study in the Univ.), so I can’t simply quit my job, I wish I could.I’m feeling so bad right now 🙁
    Sorry about all these complaints, I was just “saying” them out loud, so somebody could “listen”. Sorry

  • Dear Maria,

    I’m going to send you a personal email, but bottom line: don’t put it down after the first chapter! The workbook is designed to help you through the process of overcoming denial and beginning to take action to rediscover your happiness! You don’t have to quit your job: you might just have to reframe the way you think about it.  More in the email to come, ok? Don’t be unhappy; this is the beginning of something amazing! 🙂

  •  “When you take action, you are telling yourself that your life is worth fighting for.” I really needed this reminder. One of the themes of the year this year seems to be dignity and self-respect. This fits right in. Thanks.

  • Happy to remind you of your awesomeness, Jeff! 🙂

  • camie

    i really did enjoy this article. Felling a lot sad and a little lost in my skin today. Several times a year I have to beat away the blues. I just had back surgery and I am feeling pain, frustration with my limitations. Much improved over pre-surgical days, I am still not where I want to be. Thank you for the tree imagery, I can use this to focus me into my present.

  • Happy to help, Camie. You will get there, but try not to force it. It will come if you take the actions and relax into it. Wishing you the best.

  • Harsh Thakkar

    Thank you Amy for posting such a brilliant blog. Yes I have been into steong turbulent times say because of parents, friends, girlfriend, etc. I had been attempting suicide around three times. I seriously had no one to share my problems. I never indulged in wrong activity like drinking or smoking because of problems. Today I just felt like checking out that does google have solutions to my problems ? I came across your blog. I am gonna follow every step you have mentioned there above. Yes, I was living with a biggest misconception that happiness comes your way, it never does but it can come if we walk towards that way.
    I have been through alot of problems like rejection from family, bullying, been framed, etc. I guess now actually I have got some idea over how to go about.


  • Amy Clover

    I am so happy to hear that my post has helped you, Harsh! Keep moving forward with this awareness, and you’ll take back control from this struggle. 🙂

  • Lauren

    I’ve always been a fan of your blog, but till a heart wrenchingly honest conversation with somebody I’m dating, did the universe allow me to find this article. Definitely what I needed, 4 years after you’ve written it. He’s words: “I’d love to make you happy, but I can’t be responsible for your happiness!”
    I never realized that my unhappiness with myself was starting to show, to the point where he picked it up. And that alarmed me…

    Will try your points, hell! Going to diarize them, and practice everyday.


  • Amy Clover

    Thanks for reading, Lauren. Hope these tips help!