How to Attain True Happiness


By Dr. Henry Cloud

With the holidays fast approaching I wanted to focus on a topic that I hear about more and more: “More.” There are so many blessings that come with technology today and the ease it provides our life. FaceTime and Skype allow us to be closer to friends and family who life further away. Instagram and Facebook let us see pictures of experiences we weren’t present for. Cell phones let us be one quick dial away from any conversation we desire to have. These are all amazing things, if used properly. However, one of the downsides is that you always see things that seem better than what you have: your friends “prettier” Thanksgiving decorations, a nicer family holiday card, a fancy new Christmas present, a New Year’s party that looks so glamorous… I could go on and on (but for the sake of this article I won’t!). What all of these experiences have in common is the feeling of wanting more. Maybe even feeling like you “need” more to be happy. This is so dangerous, the feeling that if you just had “more” you would be happier.

Both the Bible and scientific research reveal that our outside circumstances have very little to do with our well-being. In The Law of Happiness, I wrote about the scientific research on happiness. For the past several years, the scientific community has done massive research on happiness, well-being, and thriving. Scientists began to ask, “What makes people happy? When people are happy, what causes it?” And they have found some very robust answers – answers that surprise us because they don’t conform with what we naturally think. Actually, the findings are the opposite of how we naturally think. Here is a summary of the research findings on happiness:

Only 10% of our happiness comes from the circumstantial, or external. Our thinking often goes like this: “If I just had more money, or that particular job, or that relationship, or that house, or were married, or were single, or lived in that neighborhood, or could retire, or, or, or – then I would be happy.” But research reveals that circumstances contribute only about 10% to our happiness and well-being! When we do have some change in circumstances, we get a “bump” of only around 10%, and then go right back to our “set point” of who we are as a person. Said another way, we are who we are. Outside circumstances do not change who we are on the inside.

For example, if someone is an unhappy single person and that person gets married, he or she will probably be an unhappy married person – even if that person thought that marriage would make him/her happy. The same is true of landing a particular job, having more money or nicer things. You get a temporary 10% bump in happiness, and then the new-car smell goes away. Or as one woman said, “The new-husband smell goes away.” The honeymoon ends, and you are still you.

The remaining 90% of happiness comes from two places. The first chunk comes from your basic temperament, constitutional makeup, etc. It is a combination of biology and a bunch of other developmental realities. Go into a nursery and observe the newborns: you will see that some of them are already smiling and happy with the world, and others are not so happy. Babies are born with a tendency toward happiness or unhappiness – but that tendency amounts to only part of their future happiness.

The rest of your happiness comes not from circumstances or biology, but from a set of life practices, attitudes, and behaviors. In other words, much of your happiness comes from what you choose to develop on the inside. The real you. The spiritual you that God has created and that you are choosing to develop.

The scientific research affirms what God tells us over and over again: If we pay attention to the inside of us, the invisible us, then the outside will take care of itself. “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” -Matthew 7:17-18, NIV

While circumstances play a role, so much of happiness comes from “the tree,” or said in terms of this article, “our insides.” Developing our tree, our internal life and character, will produce the good fruits of relationships, talents, growing finances, and much more. In order to have the outside life we desire, we must seek God and continually develop as people, investing time and effort to be whole individuals and nourishing the relationships we have with those we care about. Then we will be truly “happy.”

For additional information on this topic or for materials that can help in the process please visit me at or on social media:Facebook & Twitter: @drhenrycloud Instagram: @thedailydrcloud