There have been several books written on the subject of happiness, including several from Tal Ben-Shahar (Happier, Even Happier, and Being Happy) and one from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who wrote Delivering Happiness. All great books if you’re looking for a deep dive into the subject of happiness. But I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama that really nailed it for me:

“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”

That’s the secret to happiness. More specifically, your right actions will lead to increased levels of happiness. What are the right actions? The first one is gratitude. You cannot simultaneously hold emotions such as fear, loathing, jealousy, and hatred while also being grateful. If you are feeling stressed out, anxious, or generally bummed out, the fastest way back to happiness is a deep focus on gratitude. This can be accomplished with 10 to 15 minutes of focused meditation. The focus of the meditation being, “What three things are you truly grateful for?”

But wait, deep thoughts of gratitude are not action, right? And the secret to happiness comes from your own actions, so it’s not enough to think thoughts of gratitude. Instead, actions must be taken. In this case, it is the act of expressing your appreciation to the people for whom you are most grateful. In fact, it’s more important to tell someone how much you appreciate them than to tell them you love them. That’s because love means different things to different people, but appreciation is universal. The act of expressing gratitude to those you love will immediately affect your level of happiness.

A second action that leads to happiness is the act of giving. Recall the classic wisdom, “It is better to give than to receive.” This has been proven by researchers in several experiments and is the subject of several TED Talks. The act of giving immediately changes your physiology, especially when you give to someone who is clearly in need. The selfless act of giving without any expectation of receiving brings out an emotional energy that fills you with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. The act of giving releases a feeling inside of you that you have made a real and significant difference in the life of someone else. You cannot help but feel happy when you have positively affected the life of someone else.

And the third action is one I learned at an early age from my grandmother: simply pretend to be happy and soon you won’t be pretending. This one really surprised me, as I was sure that she was mistaken. How could you simply pretend to feel something that you don’t authentically feel and then it becomes your reality? Then I tried it, and sure enough, it works every time. Even as you read this, if you choose to smile as you read this sentence, notice what happens to you. Keep your smile while you read this sentence too and notice that you almost want to laugh. Now go ahead and chuckle, or if you’re by yourself (or don’t feel self-conscious), then give yourself permission to laugh out loud.

It’s simply not possible to smile and laugh and feel unhappy. Your physical state influences your emotional state and vice versa. If you want to feel happy right this instant, then smile and laugh and notice your happiness levels increase. If you then combine this act with the other two (giving and gratitude), you can maintain your happiness beyond the moment.

Happiness comes from your own actions. Simply put, happiness is a choice. We choose to be happy or we choose not to be happy. If you find yourself in an emotional state that you’d rather not be in, you have the power to change it in an instant. Sustained levels of happiness come from the actions you take. When you give to others and show your gratitude, you will increase your levels of happiness. The more you give and the more you tell people how much you appreciate them, the happier you will be. Fill your days with smiles and laughter and the feeling of happiness will grow inside of you. Eventually, happiness will become your default emotion rather than something you access occasionally.

Life is a choice, and your happiness comes from your own actions. Choose to be happy and choose to take the actions in life that will sustain the level of happiness you seek. This is the secret to happiness, and I encourage you to take actions that will fill you with the happiness and joy you deserve throughout your life.