Happiness Isn't Sustainable — But These 3 Things Will Make You Content Forever

Happiness isn't sustainable 24/7, but peace and contentment definitely are.

Beautiful caucasian young woman with curly hair and eyeglasses sitting on bed and looking away while drinking coffee in morning simona pilolla 2 | Shutterstock

The North Star of your life matters a lot.

Initially, Happiness was my North Star in life. However, I soon realized that happiness was never sustainable.

It was a fleeting feeling.

It was never possible for me to be happy for long periods of time. Because highs were always balanced by lows.

I then moved on to a different North Star: Contentedness. 

Many people might use the terms 'content' and 'happy' interchangeably, but I think they differ a lot. You can be content and peaceful for sustainably long periods of time. And in fact, you can be content and peaceful even when you’re not happy.


Simply put, you cannot be happy forever because sadness and misery are unremovable parts of life. However, you can be peaceful and content forever because frustration and restlessness can be removed from your life permanently.

In this article, I want to discuss three nuanced factors that are important for a delightfully content life.

RELATED: What 95% Of People Don’t Understand About Happiness

Here are the 3 factors necessary for a forever content life:

1. Rewiring your subconscious for optimism

Your subconscious has much more influence on how you interpret the world than you think. You can appreciate that by understanding the checker shadow illusion given below.


This is an optical illusion published by Edward H. Adelson, professor of vision science at MIT in 1995:

Photo: Edward H. Adelson | Wikimedia 

Check out the image on the left. Which of the tiles — A or B — seems darker to you?

If you’re like most people, you will perceive tile A to be darker and tile B to be lighter. However, if you then check out the image on the right, you will realize that in reality, they’re both the same shade of grey — as they’re both the same shade as the connecting bars.


What’s happening?

You see, your brain perceives tile B to be brighter because it’s in the shadow of the cylinder. Things that lie within a shadow of something appear darker than they really are, and hence, your (subconscious) brain makes a correction in the opposite direction — and due to that correction, your mind assumes tile B is brighter than it actually is.

From this illusion, you can conclude that your conscious mind never receives raw data from the sense organs.

When you receive information through your sense organs, it is first translated and processed by your subconscious brain circuits before it’s passed on to your conscious brain. And in that process, your subconscious brain circuits alter the data.


So you end up perceiving what your subconscious brain assumes that data means — not what it actually is.

Simply put, the chain of custody in relation to data isn’t: Data → Sense organs → Conscious mind.

It’s Data → Sense organs → Subconscious mind → Conscious mind.

That’s insight number one. 

Being aware of this insight, you can easily understand how important it is to wire your subconscious for optimism.

Whenever any situation presents itself, if your subconscious brain is wired for pessimism, you will feel defeated. Everything will appear messed up. Not only will your brain exaggerate the cons, it will actually hide the pros of any situation — because that’s how your subconscious brain will process the data.


On the other hand, if your subconscious brain is wired for optimism, your brain will actually alter the data and minimize or even hide the cons. And it will put a spotlight on the pros.

That’s why, a subconscious wired for optimism is essential for a delightfully content life.

But wait, there’s another insight to be discussed.

We’ve already talked about why this illusion happens. Your conscious mind knows why this illusion is happening. Now go back and look at the image on the left once again. Does tile B appear lighter than tile A or do they appear the same?

If you’re like most people, even after your conscious brain is made aware of what’s happening, you will still perceive tile B to be lighter.


This shows us that the subconscious interpretations of data can easily overpower your conscious interpretations.

That’s insight number two. And this nuance is very important.

Because it helps us conclude that if your subconscious mind is wired for pessimism, it can easily overpower your attempts at conscious optimism. The reason I’m discussing this nuance is to help you not lose hope and stay patient with the process of rewiring.

If your subconscious brain is wired for pessimism, and you’re inspired to make a change — you’re going to have to make conscious attempts to be optimistic. You’re going to have to look for the good in any situation — even when the bad is shoved in your face.


But — as insight number two helps us conclude — your initial attempts at optimism will probably fail. When that happens, I want you to remember that your attempts at optimism are failing not because optimism doesn’t work, but only because your subconscious pessimism is overpowering it.

I want you to not lose hope and stick to the process. Because surely, with enough attempts and patience, your subconscious will begin to get rewired, and then optimism will become second nature to you.

RELATED: If You're Serious About Changing Your Life, Stop Doing These 20 Things

2. Chasing internal validation and waiting for external validation to follow 

People have an oversimplified perspective on validation. Some people only chase external validation, while some think it’s only internal validation that matters.


And I believe that both are wrong in a way. Let me elaborate.

The problem with chasing only external validation:

When people only chase external validation, they end up doing things that might make them look good in front of others. This inevitably leads to actions rooted in inauthenticity.

Because you’re not doing what you want to do — you’re doing what people want you to do.

This inauthenticity makes one more and more disconnected from themselves. A vacuum is created in their psyche — and they end up chasing more external validation in an attempt to fill that void in their lives.

And that leads to more inauthenticity. It’s a vicious circle.


Obviously, it’s much better to chase internal validation than external — because then you live for yourself.

The problem with chasing only internal validation and thinking external validation doesn’t matter:

That said, it’s foolish to think that external validation doesn’t matter — because it does.

We’re social beings. We’re an interdependent society. We’re wired to make friends because having more external validation was a survival advantage for our ancestors.

In fact, oxytocin, the hormone that is released through the act of sexual and even non-sexual touch, is hormonal proof that we crave external validation.

When we chase only internal validation and pretend to not care about any external validation, that robs us of contentment in life because we’re going against our deepest instinctual needs of being accepted by others.


The nuanced approach: Chasing internal validation and waiting for external validation to follow.

The sentence above is very important and it’s essential that you understand it properly. So let’s do a breakdown:

  1. Chase internal validation — and not external validation. This is essential to help you live an authentic life.
  2. But don’t dismiss external validation’s importance. Because as we discussed above, external validation is also highly essential to the human condition.
  3. That said, external validation must never be chased directly, it must follow internal validation. When you chase internal validation and work on yourself in the ways you want to, people will appreciate it and external validation will ensue. Trust that it will.
  4. However, remember that external validation will follow after a lag period. After chasing and achieving internal validation, external validation will ensue — but there will be a lag period. Knowing this is important so that you don’t end up ditching internal validation and go back to chasing external validation again.

This nuanced mental model allows you to bag in both kinds of validation with a process you can trust.

RELATED: 48 Realistic Laws Of Happiness To Manifest A Truly Content Life


3. Regaining control over your life — from both internal and external agents 

Over the years, I’ve realized that it’s impossible to be content in life if you don’t feel like you retain control over your life. And that’s why, it’s important to regain control from internal and external agents.

Regaining control from external agents:

First, you could have lost some or a lot of control over your life to other people.


Here are some important skills you may need to counter this:

  • Work ethic and patience: Many people have bartered a lot of the control they have over their own life to their bosses in exchange for a salary. Of course, the situation is different for everyone. Some might be okay with this, and some not. If you’re not okay with this, you need to develop the work ethic and the patience to work on a side hustle so that you can resume control a few years down the road.
  • Proving yourself: My father used to try to control my life a lot. Of course, he wanted the best for me. But I still didn’t like being controlled. However, the situation is different now. In the last few years, I’ve done pretty well as a digital writer — having exceeded the expectations he had of me. And hence, he doesn’t try to control me anymore. I proved myself — and he knows I’ll take care of myself.
  • Courage to confront: Sometimes, you may feel that a close person in your life — like a parent or spouse — may be trying to manipulate you. When you feel like that, you have to develop the courage to confront them and lay out your feelings.
  • Courage to leave: Oftentimes, the person doing the manipulation is immune to confrontation as well. And at such times, some people may have to make the tough decision to leave. It’s not easy. But it might be necessary to resume complete control. 

Second, you may feel a lack of control of your life due to situations — things that happen to you.

In such cases, the following psychological approach can help you feel in control:

  • Always retaining the ability to respond: The best example that comes to mind is Arunima Sinha. In her early 20s, Arunima was pushed out of a train by hooligans trying to steal her stuff. As she lay on the parallel railway track, another train ran over her — and she ended up losing one of her legs below the knee. However, she refused to give in. While still being treated at the hospital, she resolved to climb Everest. And in 2013, she became the first female amputee to conquer Everest.

Life’s unpredictable. Bad things can happen to anyone — anytime. In such situations, it’s obvious to feel that you’ve lost control over your life.


That said, if you muster the courage to retain the ability to respond — and choose to determine how you will make the best of the situation — you can gain back control.

Regaining control from internal agents:

Deep down, we’re still wired for survival. And hence, we’re more inclined towards preserving energy by being lazy — and storing energy by eating tons of calorie-dense food.

However, times have changed. We don’t have to survive. We have to thrive. To do that, you must regain control over your survival instincts. This has two sides.

First is abstinence. You should be able to stop yourself from doing certain things.

Here are a few skills that might help:

  • Moderation: If you feel like eating two doughnuts, learn to eat only one. Moderation is actually a pretty good strategy because instead of completely going against your survival instincts, you learn to negotiate with them and find a middle ground.
  • Delaying gratification: If you feel like eating a doughnut now, eat it tomorrow instead. Delaying gratification is again a great strategy because instead of denying gratification altogether, you’re simply delaying it. This allows you to feel more in control. And as this sense of control increases, you can learn to make better choices.
  • Environment design: If you don’t want to eat doughnuts, don’t keep them in your kitchen. Tons of experiments show that your environment influences your actions. Hence, if you want to take better actions — do the one-time job of building a better environment.
  • Quitting cold turkey: There’s a story about Richard Feynman that goes like this. One afternoon, physicist Richard Feynman was doing his work when he felt a pull to have a drink. The craving wasn’t very intense — but still, it was a troubling desire for some alcohol. Richard gave up drinking on the spot. He just didn’t want anything to have that kind of power over him.

The second is taking action. You should be able to mobilize yourself — physically and mentally — to do the things you know you should.

Here are a few psychological approaches that might help:

  • Always keep your word: If you said you’ll do something, and you’re not pissed at yourself for not doing it, you’re not there yet. Always do what you say. If you’re not going to keep the promise you make to yourself, don’t make that promise in the first place.
  • Start with reasonable promises: Give up the ego-tinged instinct of trying to go all-in when you’re not ready. It’s always a good idea to make a rational, reasonable promise that you’re going to keep than an egoistic, unreasonable promise you’re not going to keep.
  • Titrate upwards, slowly: You don’t have to start going to the gym six days a week right at the beginning of your fitness journey. Start with three days a week — and keep that up for a few weeks. Then move on to four days, five days, and six days. Slowly, if needed. The important thing to keep in mind is to always be able to keep your word.

To recap:

  1. The chain of custody in relation to data goes like this: Data → Sense organs → Subconscious mind → Conscious mind. While data is being handled by the subconscious mind, it alters the data — and hence, your conscious mind only receives what your subconscious mind perceives reality to be, not the actual reality. That’s why, it’s important to rewire your subconscious mind to be wired for optimism, not pessimism.
  2. Remember, it’s not either/or when we talk about external validation or internal validation. Both matter equally. That said, the approach you use to bag these matters highly. Chase internal validation — and wait for external validation to follow. Trust that it will. Never chase external validation directly.
  3. Feeling a sense of control over your own life is important to be content. Hence, learn to regain control from internal and external agents.

RELATED: 3 Lessons On Living Better From The Three Happiest Countries In The World


Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.