The end of the year is often a harbinger of reflection and of taking stock of our last trip around the sun. Countless lists are published measuring the highs and lows of the year, from movies and books to news stories and events. An article that recently caught my attention outlined "99 good news stories" from the past year that you may have overlooked in your news feed. It's an uplifting read, and it got me thinking about happiness, optimism, and intent.

The pursuit of happiness is ingrained in our culture -- it may even be woven into our DNA. We all dream of things that would make us happy, like a fulfilling career, robust health, a life of purpose, a supportive circle of family and friends, opportunities for travel and beautiful experiences -- as well as time to enjoy them. There is nothing wrong with aspirations and ambition. A life of positive intention drives you to pursue your most cherished dreams and make them a reality.

However, if all these grand, external achievements were suddenly taken away, could you still be happy? Could you still view the future with a sense of optimism? Could you look into your heart and believe that the best in life is yet to come?

Positive change or "eureka" moments often arise during a time of crisis. When life feels like it is spinning out of control, you tend to pay attention. Anyone who has realized a dream and seen it snatched away by a twist of fate or by their own doing knows very well that this can be a devastatingly difficult turn on the journey of life. Some recover from the lows but others never do. One thing seems clear: that living through anguish and defeat forces people to make choices. 

While no one wants to endure hardships, you can use difficult times to find a way to be happy -- and get a clear realization of what's truly important in life, for you. It's critically important during difficult times, to challenge your perspective. Have your beliefs allowed you to acquire a positive view of the world and your place in it? Or are they rooted in negative thought patterns that hold you back from genuine happiness? If the latter is true for you, you're not alone. It's not an easy task to redefine your outlook on life. But if you fail to pause and reflect on your beliefs at regular intervals, you can lose perspective and peace of mind.

Dr. John Izzo, author of The Five Thieves of Happiness is a leadership expert and happiness researcher who has done some profound soul-searching of his own. This introspection ultimately led him to a yearlong sabbatical that included walking the famed Camino de Santiago in Spain. During his journey, Izzo realized five core mindsets or beliefs that can seriously diminish your happiness factor. Drawing on psychological research, spiritual traditions, and personal stories, Izzo affirms that happiness is our birthright, and explores the five "thieves" that we let rob us of our innate sense of contentment.

The Five Thieves:

1. Control: The drive to control others, viewpoints and outcomes.

2. Conceit: Seeing the world as centered around you rather than viewing yourself as part of a bigger landscape.

3. Coveting: Wanting what others have. It's a fool's game to constantly compare yourself to others because somebody will always seem better at something and you'll feel inadequate.

4. Consumption: Accumulation of stuff, which doesn't make us happy.

5. Comfort: Holding on to outdated practices that may have worked in the past.

Are any of these five mental thought patterns robbing you of your happiness? If so, imagine what your life could be like if you changed them.

Finally, a word of advice from the famous Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: "People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now." 

Joy is always found within the present moment because it is the only moment that exists. You can choose to awaken happiness at any time.

Published on: Dec 21, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.