Life is so fascinating. There’s always something to learn and do, and there’s unfinished business, a situation to resolve, a habit to break, a relationship to start or improve, something to see in new and different ways. It’s part of feeling alive.

Or is it? Does thinking about challenges or a relationship issues turn your mind to thoughts of lack? To feeling stuck, unhappy, stacking one negative on top of another? If so, your thoughts may be scaring you into waiting, for this or that to happen, before you can ever be happy?

Your happiness is not something to take lightly. It’s also not a goal. It’s the way. Happiness is a critical way of thinking about your life and relationships.

If you’re in a relationship, each of you is wired to be happy. It’s need, like oxygen, your health depends on it at every level. Each of you are also fully equipped to create happiness, meaning each also have 100% responsibility for their own happiness. Your relationship depends on a happiness mindset.

When you were an infant or small child, it was healthy to look for, even take desperate action to ensure you got the love you needed. Love in early childhood is a survival issue. Babies do not survive without a welcoming human touch, however imperfect.

Since that time, however, this universe has been inviting you to stretch out of the comfort zones, to accept getting love from another may still be a wonderful thing you want, but it’s not a need. The only person who’s love and caring touch, compassionate you absolutely need to be happy, to ‘save you” if you will, is your own.

Study after study reveals the one trait happy persons have in common is that they make a conscious choice to be happy. Happiness is a choice you make. It’s a lifestyle. It also does not depend on the other or something outside of you.

Putting on a happiness mindset does not mean you ignore issues; it means you remain responsibly in touch with your emotions, taking a compassionate not judging approach, and express them in ways that treat self and the other with dignity.

Happiness is a way of thinking. In a relationship, you can only make another person happy to the extent he or she knows, and chooses, to bring enough happiness to make improving the relationship between you possible.

Wanting the person you love to want to make you happy is a good thing, however, saying hurtful things, etc., is a set up for a sense of failure, needless suffering, for both.

Happiness is an intention, a mindset you cultivate, and consciously put on as needed, one that sends a clear message to your brain and body — activating certain neurotransmitters and release molecules of emotion accordingly — that, though your life may not be just the way you want at present, you can handle it, all is well.

In other words, your happiness mindset tells your mind-body that all is well, that you’re going to be fine regardless because you are in charge of your happiness, which in turn links you to other inner resources. Life does not always run smoothly, and accepting your happiness does not depend on any thing outside of you is at the heart of keeping your life in balance.

All is well means, yes, you do have time for all you need to do today. You’re prepared to do your best and leave the rest, as the saying goes. What you cannot omit is your happiness, and knowing how to think in ways that protect your happiness disallows confusion or loss of hope, etc., to set in.

Here are 12 ways to protect your happiness in your personal life and relationships:

1. Let go of a negative focus on lack.

Focus instead on what you want, most yearn to manifest, how you want to show up, the kind of relationships you want to create.

2. Optimize your thoughts.

You are with your thoughts 24/7. Make good use of your time with an awareness of your thoughts. Choose thoughts that optimize, energize, manifest your dreams.

3. Let go of gloomy thoughts.

Stop talking negativity and lack when you describe yourself or others. Make requests and give assurance instead, and do so in a light hearted way that inspires confidence, hope and belief.

4. Eliminate criticism from your life.

Set an intention to eliminate criticism. Make your life and relationships, home and play criticism free. Announce your intention to those close to you. Ask them to join you. Replace criticism with requests, and words that inspire belief, hope, appreciation and teamwork. (If your partner refuses to work with you, that’s a subject for a different discussion …seek therapy.)

5. End a habit of scaring yourself into doing what’s needed.

Stop scaring yourself with the words you say or think. Every decision is important, but not life changing. Every one you love, including yourself, is quite resilient. More than you can imagine. You always have a choice, in this moment, and the next.

6. See the past as a vital source of knowledge to create a brighter future.

Past hurts or wounds do not shape you and your life. What shapes your life are the words you speak, at any moment, how you respond, interpret, think, feel about yourself and past in relation to your present choices.

7. Avoid taking what others do personally.

Your personal happiness depends on breaking your habit of taking what others say or do personally. Your relational happiness depends on it too. It may “feel” right, however it’s costly. The hurtful things others say or do, now or in the past, is always and mostly about them, what wounds they need to heal, and so on. The only thing that is all about you is your response, so choose thoughtfully.

8. See yourself and life in terms of energy.

You are energy. You need energy to live, and to create your self, life and future. Life is energy. Everything you put in your body, or produce by your actions and reactions, is energy. Food, liquids, thoughts, emotions, behaviors. However there are two polarizing types of energy, either: love or fear, nourishing or toxic, life-enriching or life-draining. What type of energy do you want to express and create by your life choices, knowing you always have a choice at any moment?

9. Develop a compassionate friendship with yourself.

Be loving toward yourself, especially your shadow side or negative habits. It’s easier to make positive changes and replace them with optimal choices when you relate to yourself as you would to a friend, with compassion. As you would with a friend, first understand the reason you had to form these habits (which seemed like a good one at the time). You always have a choice to pause and breathe, take a few long, deep and slow breaths, and with a smile, call forth an “all is well” state of mind and body. It’s how your mind and body are designed to work together to support you to make positive change.

10. See “no contact” as a necessity in rare cases only.

Avoid the practice of “no contact” with family members (except if proven dangerous). Avoidance, in actuality, also increases anxiety, for example, lowers your tolerance for discomfort, prevents you from building resilience, which in turn protects you from addictions. Life is not designed to be conflict free. In this reality show world, the practice of “no contact” is spreading like disease. Seek individual and joint therapy together instead. Also keep in mind that, in many cases, those accused of narcissism may instead be a victim of narcissist’s plans to discredit and isolate their partner. Narcissists are masters of disguise, blame shifting to hide, make another the bad guy.

11. Regard challenges with others as top notch schools, training grounds.

Let go of habitual thoughts and reactions you have to difficult people. The traits you do not like in others can be your best teachers, i.e., something you need to know or heal inside yourself. Difficult people are everywhere, and conflict is one of two ways that we form strong relationships with others. You need to know how to not make another’s problems your own is critical to your happiness, and how to feel good about yourself and life — regardless what another person said or did in the past, or present. To your body, that means know how to self-activate your body’s relaxation response. Like a protective parent, your body-mind or subconscious will only stop automatically triggering certain old defensive strategies once you have convince yourself, and thus your subconscious, that you are totally capable of handling any difficult emotions.

12. View life as ongoing opportunities to grow and learn.

Life is a learning journey, thus, always about you discovering what amazing resources you have inside to activate a calming response, whenever triggered. Being present to what is going on inside you, feeling uncomfortable feelings, getting to know what they’re telling you about what’s important to you, or what action to take, is what loving yourself and choosing happiness is all about. This builds your confidence, a sense of yourself as capable of creating happiness, an authentic connection to life around you, open to stretching your capacity to give and receive love from others and yourself.