Over the past decade, between the two of us, Angel and I have read 1,000+ books on happiness, coached 10,000+ people who were struggling to find happiness, and interacted with 100,000+ subscribers (subscribe here) who continue to ask us questions about happiness every single day.
All of this has given us keen insight into the specific behaviors that make human beings happy. We’ve literally watched people go from feeling down in the dumps to being on top of the world in a matter of weeks, simply by making subtle, effective changes to their daily habits.
Not surprisingly though, once these people get it figured out, their “happiness habits” become second nature to them, and thus, they never talk about them. Bystanders may witness their public displays of contentment, but remain clueless as to the source of their happiness. So that’s precisely what I want to discuss today – the habits happy people have, but never talk about.
- They don’t get caught up in other people’s drama. – Never, ever create unnecessary drama, and don’t put up with those who spew drama your way. The happiest people I’ve ever met care less about what random people say about them, especially if their remarks are rude. In fact, happy people are often thankful for all the rude, obnoxious, and difficult people they meet in life, because these people serve as important reminders of how NOT to be. They simply smile and walk the other way. I challenge you to follow in their footsteps.
- They give to others whenever they are able. – While giving is considered an unselfish act (and it is), giving can also be more beneficial for the giver than the receiver. In many cases, providing social support is actually more beneficial to our happiness than receiving it. Happy people know this, which is precisely why they are always looking for ways to help others, while unhappy people stand around asking, “What’s in it for me?”
- They nurture their important relationships. – Finding Flow, an interesting psychology book on happiness, reveals national survey data showing that when someone claims to have five or more friends with whom they can discuss important problems, they are 60% more likely to say they are happy. The number of friends isn’t the important aspect here; it’s the effort you put into your relationships that matters. Studies show that even the best relationships dissolve over time; so a close connection with someone is something you need to continually earn and never take for granted.
- They leave space to love themselves too. – The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone else too much, and completely forgetting that you are special too. Yes, nurture others, but don’t forget about yourself. Happy people know self-love isn’t selfish. They put their needs first because they see the power of showing up fully for others. When you take care of yourself, you are better able to help the people you care about. If you sacrifice all your needs in order to help them, you’re only showing up as a shell of your true self.
- They focus on effectiveness over popularity. – Never confuse popularity with effectiveness. Being popular means you’re liked for awhile. Being effective means you’ve made a difference. And it’s this feeling of knowing you made a difference that matters in the end.
- They say “no” when they need to. – Saying “yes” to everything puts you on the fast track to being miserable. Feeling like you’re doing busywork is often the result of saying “yes” to too much. We all have obligations, but a comfortable pace can only be found by properly managing your yeses. So stop saying “yes” when you want to say “no.” You can’t always be agreeable; that’s how people take advantage of you. Sometimes you have to set clear boundaries.
- They sincerely practice gratitude. – Gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be any more clear than Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s insight in The How of Happiness: “…the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.” Bottom line: Consider how very fortunate you are. Consider it every day. The more you count your blessings, the more blessings there will be to count, and the happier you will be.
- They cultivate optimism. – The happiest people do not live with a certain set of circumstances, but rather with a certain set of attitudes. They have the ability to manufacture their own optimism. No matter what the situation, the successful diva is the gal who will always find a way to put an optimistic spin on it. She knows failure only as an opportunity to grow and learn a new lesson from life. People who think optimistically see the world as a place packed with endless opportunities, especially in trying times.
- They don’t attach themselves to every success and failure. – Happy, successful people are often successful in the long run for one simple reason: they think about success and failure differently. They don’t take everything that goes wrong personally, and they don’t get a big head when everything goes right either. Follow in their footsteps. Be a humble, life-long learner. Never let success get to your head and never let failure get to your heart.
- They develop strategies for coping in hard times. – A happy life and a meaningful life are not necessarily the same thing. It’s hard to be happy when tragedy strikes, for instance. But who lives longer and fares better after problems? I’ve witnessed and experienced enough hardships to confidently know the answer: those who find benefits in their struggles. How you respond to the hard times is what shapes your character. Remember, you become what you believe. Look at things objectively. Find the lesson and move forward. Don’t let a hard lesson harden your heart for too long. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- They see rejection as protection from what’s not meant to be. – Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough; it means the other person failed to notice what you have to offer. It means you have more time to improve your thing – to build upon your ideas, to perfect your craft, and indulge deeper into the work that moves you. Happy people know this and they don’t take rejection personally. The guy who didn’t call back, the potential job that didn’t pan out, or the business loan rejection letter are all universal signs that it wasn’t the best fit. Trust that something better suited for you is on its way.
- They are focused on the present. – Never let your past dictate who you are today, but let it be a lesson that’s part of who you will become tomorrow. No regrets. No looking back in anger. Just hold on to life and move forward. We have no way of knowing what lies ahead, but that’s what makes the journey even more exciting – that’s what makes life worth living today. Happy people know this, and that’s precisely why they make the most of the present.
- They dedicate time to meaningful pursuits. – When the Guardian recently asked a hospice nurse about the The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, one of the most common regrets was that people regretted not being true to their dreams. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it’s easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people do not honor even half of their dreams and end up dying knowing that it was due to choices they made, or didn’t make. Good health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it. As they say, there are seven days in the week, and “someday” isn’t one of them.
- They are fully committed to their top priorities. – If you’re interested in something, you will do what is convenient. If you’re committed to something, you will do whatever it takes. Period. And ultimately, it’s commitment that creates outcomes worth smiling about.
- They embrace discomfort for mastery of a desired skill. – Struggle is the evidence of progress, and happy people live by this. They generally have a “signature strength” they are motivated to practice, even if the learning process is sometimes stressful. Why? Because they feel happy and satisfied when they look back on the progress they’ve made. The bottom line is that being terrible at something is the first step to being pretty darn good at it. The rewards of becoming great at something in the long run far outweigh the short-term stress of mastery.
- They take care of their physical health. – There’s no getting around it: no matter how much you think you dislike exercise, it will make you feel better if you stick with it. If you don’t have your physical energy in good shape, then your mental energy (your focus), your emotional energy (your feelings), and your spiritual energy (your purpose) will all be negatively affected. In fact, did you know that recent studies conducted on people who were battling depression showed that consistent exercise raises happiness levels just as much as Zoloft? Even better, six months later the people who participated in exercise were less likely to relapse because they had a higher sense of self-accomplishment and self-worth.
- They spend money on experiences, rather then needless stuff. – Happy people are often mindful of spending money on physical items, opting instead to spend much of their extra money on experiences. “Experiential purchases” tend to make us happier for two key reasons: 1. Great experiences improve over time when we reminisce about them. 2. Experiences are often social events that get us out of our house and interacting with people we care about.
- They savor life’s little joys. – Happiness is a how, not a what – a mindset, not a destination. Happiness is enjoying all the small things, while chasing after the big ones. Deep happiness cannot exist without slowing down to enjoy the joy. It’s easy in a world of wild stimuli and omnipresent movement to forget to embrace life’s enjoyable experiences. When we neglect to appreciate, we rob the moment of its magic. It’s the simple things in life that can be the most rewarding if we remember to fully experience them.
- They embrace the impermanence of life. – Just because something doesn’t last forever, doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth your while. Happy people know this to be true – everything has a time and place. Relationships, jobs and experiences are all part of a bigger plan. As we grow older and wiser, we begin to realize what we need and what we need to leave behind. Sometimes there are things in our lives that aren’t meant to stay. Sometimes the changes we don’t want are the changes we need to grow. And sometimes walking away is a step forward. (Read The Untethered Soul.)
- They live a life they actually want to live. – This final point basically ties it all together. One of the most common complaints Angel and I hear from coaching clients is: “I wish I was brave enough to live a life I want to live, not the life everyone else expects me to live.” Don’t do this to yourself. What other people think – especially those you don’t even know – doesn’t matter. Your hopes, your dreams, your goals… matter! Make choices that feel right. Surround yourself with people who support and care not for the “you” they want you to be, but for the real you. Make true friends and stay in touch with them. Say things you really want to say to the people who need to hear them. Express your feelings. Stop and smell the roses. And most of all, realize that happiness in most situations is a choice.
By compiling this list I’m not suggesting that these are the only keys to happiness, I’m simply shedding light on some common habits that can make all the difference in the world. A great deal of human happiness is due to intentional activity. The books I’ve mentioned in this post, and in other posts, provide scientific evidence proving that it is possible for us to significantly increase our happiness simply by altering what we choose to do every day. And much of what we do, we do on autopilot based on our habits.
As Elbert Hubbar once said, “Happiness is a habit – cultivate it.”