Joan: When I was a young girl, like many other girls, I dreamed about what my life would be like. College … career … marriage … children … a house … a dog … and a big, loving family surrounding me. That was my dream. While some of it came true, many of my expectations were shattered, and my life didn’t live up to the fairy tale I had imagined.

Q. Dreams can change, though, no? Does it always have to be fairy tale?

Joan: For a while, the revelation that I didn’t have the fairy tale life I had dreamt about had beaten me down. I looked at others with envy, believing that they were living the perfect existence, and I longed for everything I thought I was missing. And, when those things didn’t materialize, I was lost.

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Many of us look to external objects – things we collect and acquire – and outside circumstances to make us feel fulfilled. We assume that those with more material possessions, bigger houses, nicer cars, larger families, etc., have more to be grateful for.

Q. Maybe the idea of having it all can change depending on the person.

Joan: Interestingly, research suggests just that: it’s not how much you have, but how you feel about what you have that makes the difference.

That’s why someone who seems to “have it all” is miserable, while others with very little are full of joy.

Q. So how do you get there? How does one get away from constantly seeking ‘things’ to make them happy?

Joan: As I’ve grown wiser, I’ve learned that ultimately, being happy with what you have is a matter of focusing on the good things, letting go of unrealistic expectations, and making yourself feel joy in the present moment.

Here are a few strategies that I’ve picked up along my journey that can help you live with a more grateful heart:

Focus on your gifts and blessings. Think about all of the great things that you do have, not the things you don’t. There is a wonderful quote that states: “If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of the world.” Place emphasis on those treasures.

Let go of the past. You can’t change the past, so worrying about it does nothing for you except rob your peace today. Learn from your mistakes, vow not to repeat them, and move on.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Envy is poison for happiness. Don’t focus on what others have. Most people show their “A” game and while it may look good on social media, you don’t know what happens in private.

Release yourself from desires for material things. Possessions are just things. A big house or fancy car may be nice for the moment, but eventually the newness wears off and you’re back to being you. What good is the beach house if you’re miserable in it?

Spend time with the people who lift you up. There is nothing worse than being around a person who complains. Negativity sucks the life out of you. Surround yourself with grateful people. Joy is contagious!

Love the little things. Take time for small pleasures. Be mindful and savor life’s treats. A baby’s laugh. A beautiful flower. Playing with children. Listening to music. A funny joke. All of these moments become the snapshots of a full life. Don’t miss them.

Change your attitude. The old adage of the glass being half empty or half full sums up the way you view your life. As Dr. Wayne Dyer stated, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

A happy life is an inside job; nothing “out there” can bring you lasting joy. You determine how you want to view your life. What do you want to see?