The ultimate life goal for many of us is to be happy. Happiness is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, isn't it?
Commonly, we think that a specific event will give us that happy oh-joy feeling. Haven't you ever thought "if only I get that dream job, I'll be happy" or "if I reach my goal weight, I'll finally be happy"? Not quite.
A research study from Northwestern University compared happiness levels of regular people against lottery-winners of grand prizes. Surprisingly, happiness ratings of both groups were identical!
Truth is, life events don't dictate happiness or sadness. In fact, psychologists call it impactbias, meaning event-based happiness is fleeting.
You create happiness. Each and every day.
Truly happy people have cemented habits that help them retain happiness levels every day. Creating specific habits, changing your mindset, and setting conscious behaviours, will help you achieve happiness on a daily basis. Think about this. Every morning, you wake up and you have complete control over your mood. Imagine a "mood" sweet shop. You can walk up to the little lolly jars on the shelves and pick your mood for the day - a little bit of happy, some excitement, a lot of joy, a handful of grateful, or a scoop of sad, a bit of confused, some overwhelm, and a lot of stress. You get the picture, right? Try this little mind-exercise tomorrow morning. You can't control what happens around you, but you can control how you react to it. According to Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology, estimates that up to 40 percent of our happiness depends on actions and thoughts we can control. Say, what?! Watch his TED talk below. Then, scroll down for habits you can implement today to get happier immediately.
So, you want some of that?
Start to develop and track happy habits, and watch your entire outlook change over time. I've collected proven habits of truly happy people below. If you need help with how to create habits that stick, take a look at our article Lifehack: How To Learn/Unlearn Habits.
1. Get moving
It's widely known that exercise gives you endorphins, which in turns makes you happy. Movement is natural for our bodies, and can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Exercise also helps form more positive self-perceptions of our bodies, which can relieve a negative mindset. It's proven! A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that exercise helps people improve how they feel about their bodies, regardless of actual physical change. Moving for just 10 minutes releases a neurotransmitter that helps your brain feel soothed.
Happy people simply take care of themselves. They make sure to schedule in regular exercise because they know how good it feels. So, get that move on!
2. Go outside
After just 20 minutes of breathing fresh air in the outdoors - you'll feel a lot more energetic and alive, according to several studies. Being in nature truly fuels the soul. And before you yawn at this fluff-talk, it's proven that the best way to get energised is to get a dose of nature. So, just try taking a 20 minute walk each day, focus on breathing in some fresh air, and enjoy a boost of immediate energy.
3. Nourish your body with healthy food
Food is our energy. We eat, or we should eat, to fuel ourselves. If you put things into your body that make you feel tired, sluggish, and heavy - you simply won't approach each day and opportunity with as much energy, excitement, and joy as possible.
People that eat healthy, wholesome foods have higher energy - fuel to tackle all those exciting opportunities in life.
4. Get a lot of shut-eye
Sleep is so incredibly important for our bodies and minds, since sleep literally recharges your brain, removing toxic proteinas that accumulate during the day. Think about your smartphone. At the end of the day, you're likely in the "red battery zone" after using it all day, and you need to plug it in to recharge. It's the same for our brains.
Enough sleep helps us wake up alert, energetic, ready for new activities. On the other hand, sleep deprivation raises stress hormons, increases anxiety, experience lack of clarity, bad moods and poor judgement. People that make sleep a priority just feel better!
5. Be spiritual
Hear me out. A lot of studies show that there's a link between spiritual practice and happiness. Expressing gratitude, compassion, and generosity are strong themes within spirituality - and these also help us feel happier. In addition, setting aside time to focus inwards, elicits calm and reflection, in turn boosting our happiness levels.
6. Appreciate the little things
If you focus on the present moment, you appreciate all those beautiful little details that might otherwise go straight over your head. Happy people know how important it is to appreciate the little things - after all, happiness is build on small moments of joy, not big life-events.
For example, be mindful when you eat and enjoy the taste, look up in the sky and appreciate the colours, be present in an interesting conversation. Practicing gratitude for all that you have, and finding meaning in those little things, is associated with an overall sense of happiness.
7. Live in the moment
This one is slightly different from the above. Living in the moment means you are focusing on the present time, not worrying about the future or obsessing about the past. No matter how hard you try, you can't change what's happened in the past - or what'll happen in the future. If you think about it, there's always only now.
Happy people know and accept this. They make the most of all the experiences today. The reason is, it's hard to be happy when you spend your time worrying about something that you can't control or change. So, try to make peace with the past. And, whilst you might plan for the future - live in the now.
8. Focus on what's in your control
We're all faced with "negative" experiences, events, and circumstances each and every day. The difference between people that seem to take these in their stride, and people that get knocked down - is how we deal with what we can't control.
There aren't many situations where we're in complete control of our circumstances - the weather, other people, accidents, unforeseen events, and injuries happen. Happy people are happy because they realise there's nothing they can do beyond focusing on what they can control. The bad doesn't have to hold us back.
9. Be positive
This might sound too simple to be useful, but stay with me. Your mind is hugely powerful, and how you frame situations has a direct impact on your overall mood. We all experience bad events and situations. In each of those moments, as we've already talked about, you can choose your reaction. Optimism is hugely beneficial to our health - it reduces stress, increases pain tolerance, and supports the heart.
Remind yourself to stay positive in each situation, by focusing on the good over the bad. Keeping above point in mind, if the "bad" is outside your control, discard it. There's nothing you can do anyway. Consider how you can turn a bad situation around, or learn from it for the future. There's a lesson in everything - so appreciate whatever comes your way.
10. Be grateful
Appreciate what you have, instead of focusing on what you don't have. If you obsess over what's missing in your life, you risk overlooking all the beautiful things that you do have. People that work daily to develop an attitude of gratitude experience better moods, increased energy levels, and better physical well-being. Translation - these people are happier!
Here's a simple challenge for you. Each day, grab your journal and notebook and write down 3 things you're grateful for. Do this every day for 14 days and reflect on how your happiness level has changed. For the skeptics: if it doesn't work - what's the harm done? And if you think you don't have enough time - it literally takes 5 minutes! Go on.
11. Be emotional
We all feel emotions, good and bad. Trying to surpress these, will have a negative impact. When you're open about your emotions, you can reduce stress and improve your overall mood. In fact, there's a study that suggested a relationship between how long you live and your ability to express emotions!
12. Pursue your dreams
A hospice nurse revealed the top five regrets that people had when dying - one of which was that they regretted not going after their dreams. There's nothing more fulfilling, joyful, or satisfying than living the life you've always dreamed of. You only have one life, so make sure you spend your time wisely.
Truly happy people are 100% committed to their dreams and goals. Whatever your life's purpose is, find it and make it your mission to live it. Dream big, aim high, and be relentless in your pursuit. This, I think, is the most important piece of the happiness puzzle and something I'm very passionate about.
13. Set goals
Keeping in mind that happy people live in the moment, they also definitely look ahead and plan for the future. As per above point, if you have big dreams, you also have to translate these to tangible goals in order to achieve them.
Goals help set the direction of travel. They give us clarity and help us determine when we've reached certain milestones. Therefore, happy people are great at setting goals for the short and long term, as well as breaking these down into achievable chunks to focus energy on. In your planner, make sure you write out the goals you are focusing on each month, week, and day.
14. Celebrate successes
Making sure to stop and appreciate small and big achievements, is vital both to stay on track towards bigger goals, but also to boost our moods. Little rewards throughout the day, are proven to contribute to an overall sense of accomplishment, according to Susan Weinschenk Ph.D.
Take note of those little achievements that you might overlook, to help stay on track and keep your spirits high.
15. Find your 'busy balance'
There's a fine balance between being too busy, and not busy enough. In fact, research shows that being too "rushed" increases your likelihood of being miserable. However, studies suggest that having too little on your plate, can have a negative impact. The lesson here is - you should constantly try to push yourself outside your comfort zone, without getting overwhelmed. Take risks and challenge yourself.
A good trick is learning when to say "yes" or "no". Check in with yourself - if a challenge feels energising and exciting (happy butterflies), then go for it! If, on the other hand, you feel anxious and unsure (nervous butterflies), then take a step back. Get to know yourself and find your happy medium.
16. Make an effort to develop your strengths
It can be hugely rewarding to put effort and energy into developing a key strength. Happy people are generally known for an area they are particularly strong in. This might be something they've had to learn over time, and overcome challenges along the way. No one is good at anything the first time - if you see setbacks as learning opportunities, you'll bounce back more satisfied, and happier, than before.
17. Always keep learning
Following on from the above point, a growth mindset is open to continuous learning. Believing that you can change and evolve means you are open and agile to changes and challenges. You'll treat situations as opportunities to learn something new.
The happiest people don't stay where they're comfortable, but seek risks to challenge themselves, grow, and achieve more.
18. Surround yourself with happy people
You are the sum of the people around you. This is never more true than with happiness. By surrounding yourself with happy people, you'll build confidence, have fun, and become more positive.
The opposite is true when hanging out with negative people. They spread their own negativity to feel better about themselves. If you have anyone in your life who in anyway holds you back - say bye bye! Although tough, you are responsible for your own happiness, and need to make decisions for yourself. Happy people are contagious, and fun!
19. Listen to others
A good listener is open to more knowledge and demonstrates confidence and respect for others. This signals a level of confidence and self-security - and therefore positive energy. Truly listening to others also means you are stepping away from focusing on yourself, and instead give others the opportunity to connect with you. This is very feel-good and selfless - and will therefore feel very satisfying.
20. Talk about deep stuff
Moving on from listening to talking - avoiding surface-level discussions and instead going deep to reveal what truly drives you, creates some serious feel-good. In fact, a study showed that people who take part in deeper and more meaningful conversations feel more satisfied generally. So, quit the small talk and go deep.
21. Choose face-time over screen-time
In today's world, it's commonplace to send someone a Snapchat, quickly type out a mass-tweet, and shoot out text messages. However, spending time with real people in person (gasp!) brings more joy and well-being. Physical closeness with those we care about promotes a whole lot of positive emotions. One of the best things I've ever done, was to fly across the world to surprise one of my best friends for her birthday. She had no idea, and was in complete shock! So much joy seeing the true surprise, appreciation, and gratitude in her eyes. There's no substitute to spending time with someone you love.
22. More give, less take
Happy people are giving people. They spend money and give energy to others. How good does it feel when you offer something to someone else, or give to a charity? There's nothing better than feeling generous, kind, and helpful. Here's your challenge - do one good deed each day for a month and feel the difference!
23. Forgive, but don't forget
Holding onto grudges only brings negative emotions. You should move on from bad experiences and forgive others quickly and completely. However, here's the trick: the happiest people aren't as quick to forget. Meaning, they know to protect themselves from future repeats of any negative experiences by others.
24. Spend on experiences, not things
There's a difference between spending on material items, and making experiential purchases. The latter makes us happier, according to research. The reasons are, experiences stay with us as beautiful memories over time, are more likely to be revisited, are more unique, have a longer lasting feeling, and are more social. Haven't you ever received an experience as a birthday gift? How amazing is it to try something new, and create new memories? Compare that to receiving another piece of homeware, technology, or clothes. Yep, there's a major difference.
25. Be adventurous
Similarly to spending on experiences, happy people seek out adventures! Going outside your comfort zone to experience something new is truly exhilirating and joyful. This isn't always about the "big stuff" either such as bungyjumping, flying a plane, or swimming with sharks. It can be the little things too - hiking up a mountain, tasting new food, meeting new people, or taking the scenic route.
26. Laugh and smile
Physically being happy translates to feeling great. Laughter is the best medicine after all. It releases happy brain chemicals that make us more tolerant to both pain and stress (two enemies of happiness). Making laughing a habit is like doing your body and mind good every day.
Similarly, smiling brings your happiness levels up, even when you don't feel like sunshine and rainbows. This physical act actually triggers a change in psychology, which improves your mood. And, you become more approachable and liked by others - nothing to lose here!
27. Do the right thing
Keeping promises and staying true to your word feels great. Happy people are willing to genuinely contribute and stand up for what's right, without personal agendas and motivations. Staying accountable eliminates a risk of feeling guilty and stressed, which enhances self-satisfaction and happiness levels.
28. Get lost in the moment
Have you ever found yourself completely absorbed in a task or activity? Hours can go by. This is called "flow", and is a state of mind that happy people seek out. It can create a huge sense of achievement, success, and fulfilment. According to Pursuit of Happiness, these activities need to be voluntary, enjoyable, and somewhat challenging. Go ahead, try finding your flow this week!
29. Enjoy break-time
Everyone needs a break now and then, to relax, reset, and recharge. Whether you prefer meditating, simply breathing, or unplugging your tech (yes, we're all guilty of this!), taking a few minutes of "off-time" has a huge impact on our happiness levels. It recharges and centres us, and can also improve resilience.
Here's a challenge: try out 10 minutes of quite time each day, perhaps when you come home from work and before you launch into evening activities. Raise up your legs against the wall, turn on some background music, breathe deep, and close your eyes. Just enjoy a small moment of stillness. You'll thank me!
30. Love yourself
Perhaps too obvious, but happy people are genuinely appreciative of who they are. They recognise and love their strengths and flaws, and know their own worth. Self-compassion also helps you make healthy choices for yourself, from relationships and work to food and exercise. Look after yourself, and love yourself. Know that you are worthy. You are worthy.
31. Create your own happiness
Lastly, but absolutely not least, I'll take the conversation back to what we talked about first. You have a choice everyday. Only you can create happiness. Nothing around you will create a lasting sense of happiness, but many things can derail you. In those moments, you need to rise above and simply choose happy emotions. This is easier said than done, which is why it's a habit you need to consciously work on every day.
So, you've got a fairly long list of habits that can help make you happier immediately and over time. Just know, since happiness is a state of mind (not an event) it's something we need to actively work on to achieve. Don't get discouraged if you experience ups and downs - we all do. Just know, you can and will be happy, if you just choose to.
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What do you do, when working hard is defined by the number of hours you work? Do you care about perception?