How to Find Inner Peace: 7 Steps to Achieving Inner Happiness in Everyday Life
So often life feels chaotic. There are things to do, people to see, work to be done, to-do lists to be tackled. There’s global conflict and global warming. There’s information and misinformation, competing voices, different points of view all looking for our attention.
There are obligations and demands, relationships to nourish, finances to manage, bills to pay, social media feeds to scroll, and new series on Netflix to watch. Finding a sense of well being in the modern world can be tough!.
With all this going on — worlds within worlds demanding our attention — it can sometimes feel like it’s impossible to find those few moments you need, to spend time where you can simply sit back, relax, and be still. Understandably, finding peace is something many have been searching for throughout their lives. It may even be ingrained in humanity’s DNA, as it sits at the core of some of the world’s major religions.
It might not be possible to achieve global peace in our lifetime or end conflict or live without any demands placed upon us. But, regardless of it all, there is an opportunity to find and cultivate inner peace and happiness, which comes from within. You could argue that to reach the impossible of global harmony, first, we each must find inner peace.
This article will provide an overview of inner peace, with some practices you apply, inspired by wisdom across the ages, with sprinkles of psychological research. Yes, life often feels chaotic. But it’s always possible to find calm within the storm. Here’s how.
What is inner peace?
As touched upon, inner peace refers to a sense of stillness and restfulness that comes from within. One definition is freedom from disturbance, or tranquility (sidenote: tranquility is a beautiful word that “sounds” like its meaning).
Using this definition, inner peace, then, is a form of inner tranquility that isn’t moved by disturbances. When looking towards spiritual traditions, disturbances are often “movements” of the mind — the kind of intrusive thoughts or difficult emotions we often see in our daily life.
A huge focus of religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism is to work with practices that cultivate inner peace. In particular, the Buddha’s core teaching is that suffering is caused by attachment, either through aversion or craving.
Inner peace, then, is attained through the practice of non-attachment. Non-attachment is a quality of awareness, the backdrop to the constant movement of the mind and the body. It can be the core of a resilient person and a positive psychology, an can lead to a more positive outcome and a better life.
Psychologist Rick Hanson, whose book Neurodharma brings together research from neuroscience and ancient wisdom, told Greater Good Magazine:
“The Buddha pointed toward what is ‘unconditioned’ — not subject to arising and passing away, and therefore a more reliable basis for lasting happiness and inner peace. As one example, the field of awareness is effectively unconditioned; experiences change, but awareness is stable.”
Often, we think of peace as the absence of war. This is mirrored by inner peace. How often are we at war with ourselves? How often does the self-critic cause disharmony for our internal landscape? Inner peace is a process of emotional balance and equanimity, a way of finding inner stability in the face of constant change.
Is happiness more important than psychological or spiritual calm?
There’s a reason inner peace is ingrained in religious or philosophical wisdom. Its nature is difficult to comprehend with the intellect alone. Attaining inner peace isn’t only an intellectual exercise, but an embodied practice.
When it comes to happiness, most of us are caught in what Russ Harris calls the happiness trap. “Here is the happiness trap in a nutshell,” he writes in his book of the same name. “To find happiness, we try to avoid or get rid of bad feelings, but the harder we try, the more bad feelings we create.”
This might appear confusing at first glance, but let it sink in. Our striving for happiness can lead to suffering at the same time, ironically causing us to move further away from happiness.
How to define happiness?
There’s also the issue that happiness has so many different interpretations, and often focuses on a temporary, fleeting state related to what’s going on in our lives at that moment. Harris offers a fuller description of two different meanings of happiness:
“The common meaning of the word is ‘feeling good.’ In other words, feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification. We all enjoy those feelings, so it’s no surprise we chase them. However, like all human emotions, feelings of happiness don’t last. A life spent in pursuit of those good feelings is, in the long term, deeply unsatisfying.
“The other far-less-common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full, and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeting feeling — it is a profound sense of a life well lived.”
Such a life will not only involve pleasurable feelings but uncomfortable ones, such as anger and sadness. When considering whether happiness is more important than peace, it pays to consider both definitions.
The Buddhist definition of happiness tends to describe a quality of inner peace, because it involves freedom from suffering and the sense of serenity that comes from acceptance and compassion towards all fleeting phenomena. Those fleeting, transitory phenomena include happiness, hence the counterintuitive nature of finding inner peace.
Another way of looking at it is like this. If you have been able to find a way to practice acceptance and reach a point of inner peace, you’ll more than likely find a sense of happiness or contentment that springs from that sense of inner peace, and avoid the kind of everyday stressors that can keep positive thoughts at bay.
If you crave happiness or fleeting pleasure, it’s unlikely you’ll feel peaceful, because you’ll be at war with all the things getting in the way of happiness.
“Wisdom comes with the ability to be still. Just look and just listen. No more is needed. Being still, looking, and listening activates the non-conceptual intelligence within you. Let stillness direct your words and actions.”— ECKHART TOLLE
Why is it important to find peace in everyday life?
Have you ever noticed how the wisest, most purposeful insights or epiphanies tend to surface in stillness, or quiet? The inner-critic can be loud and intrusive, adding to the chaos. But the voice of wisdom carries with it a sense of serenity and stillness, it’s the non-conceptual intelligence Tolle talks about above. Finding inner peace is important because it connects you to yourself, to nature, and to others in a profound way.
From a place of inner peace, life is lived with an open heart, and negative thoughts or a preoccupation with material things tends to fade into the background. You become less reactive and more confident in your decision-making. You have more access to love and compassion. Your ego weighs you down less and less. You may even be more likely to experience creative outbursts and flow state when operating from a place of stillness and inner peace.
Constant chaos and reactivity keep you stuck in old thought patterns and behavioral loops. It’s in stillness that you can spot these patterns and make different choices. It’s in stillness you can make sense and organize the multitude of moving parts, to create clarity and a sense of direction.
How can I find inner peace and lasting happiness?
Bringing all of this together, what are the practical steps that allow you to find a deliberate state of inner peace and lasting happiness? The pursuit of happiness is one of humanity’s perennial struggles, and it will take dedication and persistence.
But it is possible, and the below steps will help you get started on a path that leads you to greater fulfillment and lasting happiness:
1. Accept the “pursuit” is a paradox
As Russ Harris notes, striving for happiness causes suffering. This is similar to what philosopher Alan Watts termed the backward law, that the desire for a positive experience is a negative experience. The same principle works with finding inner peace and lasting happiness. If you try desperately to find it, you are less likely to. So what’s the solution?
This is where spiritual practices come into play. I personally find one of the best ways to avoid the pursuit is to work on acceptance. Why?
On a deeper level, when motivated to strive for happiness, we’re resisting our present circumstances for a future point “where we’ll be happy.” Acceptance is the first stage in peace. It’s offering a truce with the part of yourself that is always fighting the present moment.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use your will to change situations. But it helps to work with the opposites, the more you accept the “lows,” the more likely you are to experience greater ease and, in turn, more pleasurable experiences.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation
We’ve touched upon Buddhism as a source of inspiration for how to find more inner peace. We’ve explored the importance of awareness and being the observer in creating distance from the “contents” of mind, and consciousness itself. It’s one thing to talk about and conceptualize this practice, it’s another to experience it directly.
By far one of the best routes is mindfulness meditation. By taking 10 or 20 minutes per day to sit in silence and focus on the breath, you’re training the mind to become still, and inviting space for inner peace. Meditation was a game-changer for me because it allowed me the direct experience of the inner stillness that is always there.
Over time, having cultivated a meditation practice that leads to inner peace, whether it is a guided meditation or something you do on your own, those same qualities will begin to reach out further and further into your life. Remember, true peace is outside of the ups and downs of thoughts, feelings, or emotions. Through meditation, you learn to anchor into stillness whilst experiencing all of those ever-changing phenomena.
3. Take inventory of mental “noise pollution”
I use the term noise literally and metaphorically. Although thoughts are in the mind, they can be loud. Noise pollution is a way I describe competing thoughts, beliefs, and “data” from both the external and the internal.
When experiencing stillness and inner peace, there’s a sense of clarity and emptiness — picture the mind as a lake with crystal clear water. Mental noise is like adding pollution to that lake. It muddies the water and creates constant ripples. Constant stimulation doesn’t allow for the water to settle and purify.
Sources of mental noise might be watching TV, talking with other people, being in busy places, scrolling the news, or social media. Although these may be ingrained habits that don’t seem too harmful, they all contribute to internal noise.
You’d be amazed how easily other people’s opinions or input affect your internal landscape. Conversations might circle in your consciousness from days, weeks, months, or even years. The fear-mongering headline you read this morning might stick in your mind, joined by FOMO from browsing Instagram and seeing that old school friend enjoying a vacation on a sun-kissed beach.
To access deeper wisdom, mental noise pollution has to be managed. That includes taking an inventory of what “pollutes” your mental landscape the most and making sure you take time away from those sources to clear your mind. To find inner peace, you have to let go, as best you can, of the things that create inner chaos.
4. Establish a stillness practice
Mindfulness meditation is an incredible practice for inviting more inner peace. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the only option. Just in the same way you take inventory of the “stimulants” that create a sense of inner chaos or noise, it pays to explore the times in life when you feel completely at ease, completely peaceful, completely still. Then, from that place, build a stillness practice.
For example, you might find that walking in nature is one way you feel inner peace. Or you might feel that same sense of contentment whilst sipping your morning coffee and reading a book. You may even find that certain practices that seem more active — such as dance or exercise — also cause you to feel peaceful.
Whatever it is, gain clarity on what practices allow for you to experience inner peace, and integrate them into a self-care routine. Make it a priority to incorporate stillness into your life. This leads us onto…
5. Commit to a sacred morning routine
The way you spend the early hours of your morning has a domino effect on the rest of the day. If you wake up without giving yourself enough time, instantly check your phone for emails or social media updates, eat a quick breakfast, and rush out the door, you’re priming yourself to be hyper-active from the get-go. It can make you a victim of our busy modern life, and that victim mentality can begin to propagate and grow.
Instead, find more inner peace by starting with a sacred morning routine. Make a ritual out of an uninterrupted hour, for time to yourself, or time in silence. Brew yourself a coffee, meditate, journal… None of these are groundbreaking suggestions, but that’s because they are tried and tested, and encourage you to start the day with purpose.
A morning routine that invites silence and stillness will get you prepared for anything the day throws at you. And by making it a daily commitment, you’re more likely to develop a stronger sense of inner peace over time.
6. Get comfortable with silence
In 2014, a study was carried out to explore people’s relationship with taking time to self-reflect. Initial studies showed a high percentage of people struggled to sit with their thoughts, reporting high levels of boredom, and a preference for listening to music, browsing their phones, or reading, rather than be confronted with their inner world.
Then, the researchers added another element — they gave people a device that gave them an electric shock. A shocking 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women chose to shock themselves, rather than simply sit in silence. The moral of the study is that, when we aren’t used to sitting in silence, it can be uncomfortable enough to inflict pain.
This discomfort is reflected in the way we relate, too. How many of us find uncomfortable silences difficult to deal with? A lot of the time, becoming quiet enough to connect with your truest, deepest self can feel similar to an uncomfortable silence. But stick with it.
Remember all those paradoxes? The path to inner peace might begin with discomfort. It can feel unusual to be face to face with your own thoughts. But it’s only through becoming more comfortable with silence and stillness that inner peace can be found.
7. Welcome the present as if it were a choice
Let’s return to the symbol of peace. What comes to mind? Qualities such as surrender and letting go are synonymous with peace. A visceral metaphor might be the white flag on a battlefield, a call to stop fighting, put down arms, and call a truce. When it comes to finding inner peace, the symbols come from within, but they’re similar.
If you truly wish for inner peace, there has to be an element of radical acceptance of what is, in this very moment. Why? Because craving for things to be different is a way of fighting the present moment. If you’re always fighting the present moment, how can you ever feel peaceful? Yet inner peace is only ever found in the present moment!
Practically speaking, this doesn’t mean resignation or apathy if your present moment is undesirable. But it does mean surrendering to what is, taking necessary action, and welcoming the situation “as if you’d chosen it,” as Eckhart Tolle says.
It pays to remember the quality of inner peace is not the absence of emotions, both “good” and “bad.” Inner peace isn’t only accessible when everything in our external environment is just right. You can feel sadness, or anger, or disappointment, and still feel a sense of inner peace when you stop fighting and battling what is.
Some questions to ask yourself might be: what am I currently fighting in my life, that is causing me to be in a state of disharmony? What do I fear will happen if I accept my current situation? How do I contribute to my own lack of inner peace?
When you accept things just as they are, then they can change. And that includes all the barriers preventing you from peace and lasting happiness. As Gandhi said: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” Yes, life often feels chaotic and out of control. And it might not be possible to change the world, but in changing ourselves, we can influence the world to change in the right way.
Peace is the way. Unfortunately, the way we’re encouraged and taught to pursue happiness is, as Russ Harris notes, a trap. Unlearning these unfruitful approaches, and choosing long-term fulfillment over short-term pleasure, is a way to move towards a more meaningful and peaceful life.
World peace begins with inner peace. And by applying ancient wisdom and practical techniques, inner peace is possible for anyone and everyone. Not only is it possible, but it’s your birthright.