Inner Peace



Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.      10-17

ABSTRACT:  Inner peace is defined, and methods of achieving it are listed.

KEY WORDS:  inner peace, peacefulness, equanimity, peace, tranquility

Inner peace sounds to many of us like a highly desirable and much needed but unattainable dream in our over-busy world.  People vary, though, in their conception of “inner peace.”  At first glance, many think of it as the absence of concern or inner conflict, which is conceived vaguely as restful or peaceful and is imagined to be relief from the usual concerns and negative feelings of daily life.  This relief is in itself worthwhile, if only as a surcease of unwanted negative feelings.  On the other hand, inner peace for some is additionally a general, positive feeling state and not simply a neutral state.  Relief from negative feelings and the creation of a positive feeling state, then, are two different enterprises, and we will explore both.  Calmness, stillness, serenity, and tranquility can all be seen as aspects of inner peace.  To feel calm and to feel still are more associated with a neutral state, while feeling tranquil or serene or having equanimity have more of a positive feeling implication.

The peaceful, positive state is an amorphous kind of feeling, without specific focus on something to feel positively about, yet it can be cultivated and sustained for at least brief periods of time.  It can have thought contents (one’s last meal, one’s next medical appointment, etc.), but one does not have negative feelings about whatever the content is, and one is therefore internally peaceful.  If one “has” inner peace (feels inner peace a significant proportion of the time), one can think about issues that are usually negative, such as problems, but not have negative feelings in response to them.  (It may even be possible for an adept to feel negative feelings (anger, resentment) in the sense of having the neurons firing that normally transmit negative feelings but not feel them as negative, though this is a skill attained by few.)  

For most of us, the mental contents responsible for not having inner peace are fear and other unresolved concerns involving negative feeling states, such as worry about a future event or possibility or unresolved anger at something that has happened already.  As long as fear or unresolved concerns involving negative feeling states are present in consciousness, one will not have inner peace.  (It is assumed here that the negative feeling one has in response to a possible undesirable outcome is sometimes fear but for many concerns in modern-day life is not fear but an anticipatory appreciation for the non-fear discomfort that one wishes to avoid.  Anticipating having car problems, one feels a little bit of the frustration that one would feel if the car problems were to occur, but this is not fear per se.)

Fear is a very important emotion for human beings, since it cues us to become aware of dangers in the environment.  We are wired to be aware of and respond to fear, and as long as we feel current fear, we will not experience inner peace.  Many fears are appropriate and necessary for our continued survival and bodily integrity, and these deserve our attention until they appropriately cease when they are no longer relevant.  Fears that are not resolved or not resolvable can turn into anxiety (an ongoing negative feeling of mental disturbance about a potential danger or problem in the future).  Fears of physical events (being mauled by a bear that one can see) are usually more resolvable than those regarding mental events or events that may or may not happen (fear of being mauled by a bear that one may or may not encounter during a walk in the woods; fear of not being invited to a party that one wishes very much to attend).

In human life, we constantly become aware of concerns through our sensory system and our interpretation of sensory information, and we cannot (and should not) stop this flow of information.  Inner peace, then, if it is possible, must come from how we handle that information.  We will explore methods of doing this and also identify attitudes that support handling that information in ways that lead to inner peace.

If inner peace is the inverse of inner disturbance, then perhaps less inner disturbance would equal a greater degree of inner peace.  Inner peace may not have to be conceived of as an either-or issue, but rather one of degree.  It would be desirable to have more inner peace (a greater degree of inner peace, or inner peace more of the time) rather than less.

In order to have inner peace, one must truly want it.  Many people voice the desire for less stress and for inner peace when they are actually dealing with negative feelings and concerns by being as busy and stressed as they are (as a distraction, a way of working off guilt, etc.).  They are unlikely to let go of their stress easily.  Others fear that they will be bored if internally peaceful and therefore will not sincerely seek that peace.  To have inner peace would also set one apart from one’s friends and family, since one would be more calm, less likely to join in anger games or games of “ain’t it awful,” and perhaps more understanding and compassionate toward others.  Many would be afraid of the teasing or rejection that might occur from others who are suspicious of or envious of one’s inner peace.  For many it is a long road to finally be willing to accept and live with inner peace. 


Some aspects of coping that make inner peace more likely for us are having good self-esteem, taking good care of ourselves, and cultivating a positive rather than a negative general attitude toward life.

1. Good Self-Esteem

The emotional responses that we have to ourselves play a large role in determining our quality of life.  If we feel positively about ourselves and our actions in the world, we will be happier and therefore more successful.  We will also, then, feel better in general and be better able to deal with the fears and inner concerns that prevent us from feeling inner peace.  Feeling bad about ourselves can burden us with doubt, shame, guilt, and endless self-criticism.  In seeking and maintaining good self-esteem, it is important to (1) reject the self-serving negative views that others have of us; (2) determine for ourselves how we feel about ourselves; (3) base our feelings about ourselves in a realistic view of ourselves and life; (4) respect ourselves; (5) accept ourselves as we are; (6) love ourselves (treat ourselves in a loving way); (7) reject unrealistic standards for ourselves and adopt more realistic and humane standards and expectations; (8) treat ourselves well; (9) seek relationships with those who can respect, accept, and love us; and (9) do all we can to make good outcomes for ourselves in life, which makes our associations to ourselves more positive.  (For more detail see my book, “How To Feel Good About Yourself: 12 Key Steps To Positive Self-Esteem,” 2003.)

2. Taking Good Care of Ourselves

Any actions that reduce our reasons for being concerned will make inner peace more possible.  Keeping ourselves in good health (getting needed healthcare, preventing future health problems, exercising, a good diet, a healthy weight, adequate sleep) will presumably reduce future pain and worry about health problems as well as maximizing our capacities to cope.  In that same sense, making good decisions about one’s career, friends, and mate choice should reduce future concerns.

Since how we feel about ourselves as adults can be changed in a positive direction by doing good things for ourselves (and therefore building more positive emotional associations to ourselves), it is important to take good care of ourselves—treating ourselves well; respecting, accepting, and loving ourselves; and standing up against mistreatment by others.  Practice consciously doing one nice thing for yourself on purpose every day, and note how it improves your life (and your inner peace)!

Dealing with life’s demands successfully also lowers fear and concern.  Thus, we make inner peace more possible by (1) ensuring through work that we will have enough survival materials (food, clothing, shelter, etc.); (2) minimizing conflicts with others, by being considerate, using empathy to understand others’ concerns, and refraining from harming others; (3) establishing and maintaining some positive relationships with others, which helps us to stay sane and balanced as well as providing some positive emotion in our lives (love, affection, appreciation, etc.); and (4) staying out of trouble with respect to the rules and laws of society.  Each of these activities takes focus, learning, persistence, and some ability to delay gratification, so these qualities should be cultivated as part of the “cost of doing business” in this life.

In general, having accurate information about oneself and one’s environment will act to minimize fears and concerns by enabling us to avoid problems and succeed in life.  (Accurate information may also make us less able to ignore or repress fear and concern, however, thus taking away our ability to engage in some of the less healthy methods of dealing with fears and concerns.)  Just being confident in our knowledge about what we face goes a long way toward lowering our concern level.

3. A Positive Attitude

Having a positive attitude helps us to feel better in general, and therefore it tends to reduce our discomforts in life, which makes it more possible to feel inner peace.  Having a positive attitude toward things in general includes looking for the good in things, people, and experiences; expecting positive outcomes; and choosing the positive view when it is equally reasonable to be positive or negative.  In every moment of your life, look for the good and positive aspects, and enjoy them.  This does not mean to ignore important information coming to us through the negatives (someone is mean to us, we are dangerously close to a precipice), since we need to safeguard ourselves and to learn from our fear and negative experiences.  However, there is benefit (and no harm) in focusing on and living in a positive state whenever possible.  No existential or religious “brownie points” are gained by suffering or by focusing on the negative, and there is no magic that will bring us positive things simply because we have suffered in the past.  Looking for the good both helps us to feel positive for more of the minutes of our lives and makes us nicer to be around for others (which inclines them to be more positive toward us as well).

It helps us to be more successful in life if we expect positive outcomes, as long as these expectations are not unrealistic.  We make positive outcomes more possible by assessing situations realistically, choosing routes to our goals that are likely to be successful, and doing our best in working toward our goals.  If we do these things, we have good reason to expect positive outcomes.  On the other hand, trying to make something happen solely by taking a positive attitude, hoping, or expecting others to magically help out is not productive.  We earn most of the positives that we gain and achieve in life. 

Choose the positive when the positive and the negative are equally reasonable.  This is the “glass half empty” or “glass half full” choice.  There is no harm in taking the positive option as long as we do not deny helpful negative information that is in the fear or concern.


There are a number of ways of dealing with fear so as to minimize its inappropriate disturbance of our minds.  (Remember that we need to have fear disturb our minds at some times and to some degree, in order to take advantage of its warning information.)  Some of these methods are more emotionally healthy and some not so healthy.

Taking Action Even When Afraid

4. In circumstances when fear might keep one from needed immediate action, a quick review of one’s motives may help prepare one to act.  Going into battle is certainly unnerving for many combatants, and fear could cause them to remain frozen, but reviewing why they are going into battle should uncover the good reasons for doing so (assuming there are good reasons in those circumstances).  Most commonly, defending one’s loved ones, home, and country are primary motives and are sufficient to move a person to actually move into battle.  Other motives can come into play as well for some, such as loyalty to one’s comrades and not wanting to be embarrassed in front of them for not going into battle.  Each of us must determine for himself or herself which motives are sufficient.  Identifying one’s sufficient reasons for acting even though afraid will not usually result in inner peace, but it can reduce our degree of inner disturbance.

Methods With Both Positive and Negative Outcomes 

5.  We can try to ignore the fear and continue to function as if it were not there.  This may be effective for minor fears for short periods of time, but it is not advisable to ignore fears that point to significant dangers (going out to walk in the woods at night when one knows that there is a pack of wolves in the area), and ignored fear is more likely to turn into anxiety.

6. We can use the more unconscious defense of repression which may enable us to bury the originating experience so deep that we truly lose awareness of it (such as truly not remembering serious abuse and therefore not feeling the fear of recurrence), but it often results in “collateral damage” to one’s functioning, since remaining only cognitively  unaware may result in fear and fear-like behavior that we cannot understand or account for (being afraid of men, for example, but not knowing why), which handicaps us socially or may restrict the environmental stimuli that we can tolerate.

7. We can try to diminish the awareness of fear by imagining desired but unlikely outcomes to the situation, such as imagining that one will win the lottery as a solution to having no money for food today.  Such fantasies can be comforting momentarily, but relying on them will probably result in one failing to employ other, more realistic methods (and therefore not reducing one’s degree of fear).

8. We can physically get away from the feared possibility, by moving our residence or changing jobs.  This may well work when feasible, but it will restrict our freedom of movement or scope of living somewhat.

9. We can destroy whatever in the environment is disturbing us (e.g., by killing someone or blackmailing the boss into not harassing us any more).  This may seem like the only viable solution in some cases, but such solutions almost always have very serious other consequences for one’s life!

10. We can distract ourselves, trying by changing focus to stop thinking about the fear or concern.  We do this in many familiar ways—watching TV, reading, teasing others, having sex, exercising, going for a drive, or attending to work.  While distraction can be momentarily helpful, it does nothing to address and reduce the source of our fear or anxiety.

 Healthier Methods of Dealing With Fear

11. We can move to reduce fear by imagining likely positive outcomes (that one will succeed in getting a job by doing at least ten job interviews), which will usually stimulate us to pursue a realistic method and use our energies toward succeeding (and therefore reduce our fear).

12. We can take pains to accurately assess the feared possibility.  Our fears are quite often exaggerated because we attribute more danger to the feared object or circumstance than is realistic.  This can be because of past relatively traumatic conditioning (such as being abused as children when we were unable to resist or escape), because of ignorance (fearing a solar eclipse from not knowing better), or because of inaccurate generalization (fearing all women because one woman has hurt us).  We can discipline ourselves not to accept a fear without attempting to objectively assess the matter, and we can use all of the rationality available to us in this effort.  It is true, however, that simply knowing the truth doesn’t always change our feelings (which may require repeated positive experiences that contradict our fear, together with the courage to attempt a different belief, which may feel like a difficult risk to take).

13. We can make realistic plans in regard to the feared object or experience, detailing how we will protect ourselves, including environmental changes (altering the feared object or circumstance, such as fireproofing our house) and contingency plans (what exactly we will do if the feared circumstance comes to pass), such as how to escape the house in a fire or how we will cope if a friend betrays us.  Planning in this way and carrying out preparations can moderate fear considerably.

14. As part of this planning, we can identify and pursue ways that we wish to increase our coping capacities, such as gaining more knowledge, increasing our strength or endurance, or taking a first aid course.

15. We can come to an accurate assessment of our abilities to cope and respond to a feared circumstance.  Fears are reduced if we believe that we can cope with the feared object or circumstance (just as fear is reduced if we believe in our ability to handle the fear itself).  This may require being more objective in our assessments and accepting our positive qualities (abilities to cope).  Masochism, wanting to be in a victim role, and wanting others to take care of us can interfere with the needed objectivity.

16. We can trust ourselves and our resources to be adequate to cope with the fear and the feared circumstance.  This follows the above steps of realistic appraisal of the feared object or circumstance and the realistic appraisal of our own capacities and resources.  It means having confidence in our capacities and resources, even though the fear is still alive.  For some people, trust in God’s ultimate protection and assistance may be part of this.

17.  After doing all we can to make ourselves safer, see things realistically, and increase our coping capacities and resources, we can accept the situation and the possible undesirable outcomes, even though we are still afraid while facing a realistic danger.  If one lives in a dangerous earthquake zone, one can assess the danger, bolt one’s house to the foundation, install a backup electric generator, and plan escape routes out of the area, and after doing all this and feeling that one is as prepared as possible and that one may well survive such an earthquake given one’s preparedness and resources, one can simply accept the remaining risk and view it as “under control,” which usually leads to a reduced level of fear.  It is always possible that the earthquake will be more severe than one has anticipated and that one will be in exactly the wrong place at the time of the earthquake, but risk in life can never be reduced to zero, and if one is to continue to live there, it is as well to accept the possible negative outcomes with relative equanimity (greater inner peace) while maintaining one’s preparedness.


18. In dealing with concerns that are not immediate fears, some of the above methods are equally applicable.  Having good self-esteem, taking good care of ourselves, and having a generally positive attitude all help us to feel more confident and less concern. 

19. We can imagine likely positive outcomes to create an expectation of success.

20. We can take pains to accurately assess the problem without exaggeration or bias, including our own contributions to the situation.  Often acknowledging clearly how we contribute to the problem can be enough to reduce the concern (increasing one’s degree of inner peace) and give us fresh ideas about how to ameliorate the problem.  

21. We can make realistic plans in regard to the problem, so that we have an action plan and will not panic in the future.

22. We can come to an accurate assessment of our abilities to cope and respond to the concern.  Knowing what we are capable of can reduce our concern. 

23. We can improve our coping skills and abilities.

24. We can trust ourselves and our resources to be adequate to cope with the concern.  Having confidence in one’s capacities and resources will allow us to relax our vigilance until there is a need for action.

25.  After doing all we can to make ourselves safer, see things realistically, and increase our coping capacities and resources, we can accept the situation and the possible undesirable outcomes, even though we are still at risk


If we overcome the many barriers to having inner peace and actually feel peaceful much of the time, we will naturally wish to maintain that state (a nice problem to have, yes?). 

26. We can use many of the ideas above to cope with circumstances that move us “off center” and disturb that peace. 

27. We can accept that our inner peace will from time to time be disturbed and not let that in itself be disturbing. 

28. We can think ourselves back into a state of inner peace, by imagining exactly how it feels and trying then to feel and “stay with” that feeling. 

29. We can cultivate in our lives the things that make life meaningful—(1) positive relationships and (2) accomplishments that are joyful because they call on us to use our valued skills and abilities and because they result in valued states for ourselves and others.  Having one’s life focused in this way reduces distractions, keeps one’s focus positive, and leads to feeling that there is something very “right” about one’s life (which then lets one relax into a peaceful inner state).  So many people feel trapped by circumstances beyond their control in dreary lives when they actually have the capacity to break out to something better, simply by taking action and believing in themselves.

30. We can use our relationship time for being with others who add to the good in our lives, and leave behind negative relationships that we are unable to improve even by clearly asking for what we want and changing our own behavior so that we contribute only positive things ourselves to the problem relationship.

31. Perhaps the most important method of maintaining inner peace is to cultivate inner peace by ensuring that we have daily time to luxuriate in that peace and focus on our own processes that keep us peaceful as well as the behaviors that contribute to inner peace for others, such as being considerate and helpful.

Cultivating these various methods of maximizing one’s coping strengths and dealing with fears and concerns creates a strong set of skills and attitudes for dealing with life in general.  This set of skills and attitudes can be thought of as being like a computer program that one can call up consciously when needed to move one toward inner peace.