What’s the secret to happiness? That can differ according to the person involved. But we do know that happy people have different habits and think differently than those who are miserable. So, the good news is, if you’re trying to be one of those happy people, recognize that that desired emotion comes from within and that you have the power to literally turn that frown upside down by mastering some simple habits.
Here’s what happy people do and don’t do . . .
1. They savor the moment.
Do old cliches like “stopping to smell the roses” and “it’s the little things in life” really lead to happiness? Yep.
Researchers call this “savoring,” which is all about paying attention to the moment. Instead of multitasking and being focused on the past and future and on the present negativity all around, those of us who are most satisfied with our lives stop to enjoy the beauty and the small, amazing things in life.
2. They meditate daily.
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to embark on a path of stillness and mindfulness, which, in turn, gives your mind a much needed break from all those worries and anxieties occupying it. Best of all? It takes only a couple of minutes each day. To start out, you can download an app like Calm, Stop, Breathe & Think, or Insight Timer.
3. They don’t hold on to grudges.
Forgiving and forgetting is absolutely necessary when it comes to happiness. The reason? Holding a grudge means that you’re hanging on to anger, resentment, pain and other negative emotions that are roadblocks to happiness. By letting go of these emotions, you free yourself from negativity so there’s more space for positive emotions to get in.
Related: 3 Strategies for Hacking Happiness
4. They spend money on others.
“We’ve shown in our research that giving money to others actually does make people happier,” said Michael Norton, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. “One of the reasons is that it creates social connections. If you have a nice car and a big house on an island by yourself, you’re not going to be happy, because we need people to be happy. But by giving to another person, you’re . . . creating a connection and a conversation with that person, and those things are really good for happiness.”
I’ve learned myself that true friendships require investment. This doesn’t always mean money, but it does require a lot of your time. Truly happy people spend time (and money) on their relationships: Giftology book and gifting expert John Ruhlin has written about this topic.
5. They’re busy, but not rushed.
Research shows that feeling “rushed” can lead to stress and unhappiness. At the same time, people struggle with finding that happy medium of being just busy enough. After all, other studies suggest that a healthy work-life balance is key, since boredom can be burdensome.
If you’re over-committed or too scattered, follow this rule entrepreneur Derek Sivers included on his site: “When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than ‘Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!’ — then say ‘no.'”
6. They surround themselves with the right people.
Happiness is contagious. This means that when you surround yourself with other people who are happy and supportive, you’ll be able to build self-confidence, boost your creativity and just have more fun in general. On the other end of the spectrum, hanging out with negative people means you’re just another member of their pity party — and that’s exhausting and not much fun.
7. They don’t sweat the small stuff.
People who are happy focus their energy and efforts only on things that are truly important and within their control. Remember, getting consumed by the things that you have absolutely no control over is a waste of time that will end up making you lean more toward the miserable side. In other words, master the art of letting it go.
8. They celebrate other people’s success.
It’s no secret that that having both a rich social life and healthy relationships is an important component to happiness. But, happy people nurture and improve their relationships through “active and constructive” responding, which includes celebrating the success of those around them.
As Martin Seligman explained in his book Flourish: “People we care about often tell us about a victory, a triumph, and less momentous good things that happen to them. How we respond can either build the relationship or undermine it. There are four basic ways of responding, only one of which builds relationships.”
9. They treat everyone with respect and kindness.
Kindness, like happiness, is contagious. There’s even a name for it: “moral elevation.” A study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles, and the universities of Cambridge and Plymouth in the United Kingdom found that witnessing acts of kindness makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside.
“When you feel this sense of moral ‘elevation,’ not only do you say you want to be a better person and help others,” said Simone Schnall, of Cambridge, the lead researcher. “But you actually do, when the opportunity presents itself.”
10. They’re optimistic.
Let’s be honest: Bad things happen to all of us — even the happiest and most upbeat people on the planet. The thing is, they don’t complain, whine or let pessimism become a self-fulling prophecy. They remain optimistic by focusing on solutions to the problem and reflecting on what they’re grateful for.
11. They’re proactive about relationships.
Evidence suggests that most relationships (especially marriages) decline over time. But, happy people actually work on maintaining these relationships by checking in on loved ones, being active and constructive listeners and not being conversational narcissists.
12. They get enough sleep.
You’ve probably heard this a zillion times. But getting quality sleep is absolutely necessary. If you need a refresher, sleep deprivation can negatively impact your health, productivity and ability to cope with stressful situations. If you have trouble getting a good night’s rest, start by sticking to a sleep schedule, taking advantage of natural light, avoiding bright lights before bed, exercising and not eating or drinking alcohol close to bedtime.
13. They spend time in nature.
Nature has a calming effect and reminds us to slow down, take deep breaths and soak up the present. “People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several 100 years — from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers,” said researcher David Strayer, of the University of Utah. “Now, we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.”
Simply put, take the time stroll through a park, visit the beach or hike a trail.
14. They view problems as challenges.
Happy people have changed their internal dialogue so that when there’s a problem, they view it as a challenge and new opportunity to enhance their lives. In fact, you should just go ahead and eliminate the word “problem” from your mind altogether
15. They reward themselves.
“‘Treats’ may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it’s not. Because, forming good habits can be draining, treats can play an important role,” wrote Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.
“When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for and contented, which boosts our self-command — and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits,” Rubin wrote.
She continued: “Studies show that people who got a little treat, in the form of receiving a surprise gift or watching a funny video, gained in self-control. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn’t selfish.”
16. They express gratitude.
Research conducted at the University of California-Davis shows that those studied who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude improved their mood and energy, and experienced substantially less anxiety. This is most likely due to lower cortisol levels. So express gratitude every morning, writing in a journal about what you’re thankful for, and occasionally saying “thank you” to your loved ones and colleagues.
17. They dream big.
The happiest individuals dream big and work hard to turn those dreams into achievable goals. They’re committed and disciplined, and they know their iorities: They allow themselves to say “no,” take care of their health, break out of their comfort zones and accept the fact that they may have to start over.
18. They spend time alone.
While relationships are important to one’s happiness, we all need some alone time in order to catch up with, well, ourselves. Spending time alone gives you the chance to unpack your worries and anxieties, reflect on what you’re grateful for and get back on track with your dreams and desires. I try to schedule weekly solo dates, usually first thing in the morning before everyone else is awake, to check in with myself.
19. They don’t make excuses.
It’s incredibly easy to blame someone for your failures. The problem is that this doesn’t allow you to let go and move past those failures. Happy people take responsibility for their mistakes and use that failure as an opportunity to change their lives for the better.
20. They have a growth mindset.
When it comes to personality, individuals fall into one of two camps: those with a fixed mindset or those with a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe you are who you are, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s a problem because it prevents them from growing or changing.
People with a growth mindset, however, believe that with a little effort, they can improve, which in turn makes them happy because they’re better suited to cope with and overcome challenges.
21. They spend money on experiences, not material things.
A variety of research sources show that people are happier when buying experiences instead of material items. This is because experiences tend to improve over time; people revisit those experiences more often; experiences can be unique; and they involve social interaction.
Furthermore, materialism can have negative effects. In her book The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky explained: “A mountain of research has shown that materialism depletes happiness; threatens satisfaction with our relationships; harms the environment; renders us less friendly, likable and empathetic; and makes us less likely to help others and contribute to our communities.”
22. They have a morning ritual.
Morning rituals are soothing and set the stage for how your day is going to play out. Whether you’re meditating, going for a walk, reading an inspirational book, writing a gratitude journal, cooking a healthy breakfast or catching-up on emails, it’s important that you create and stick to a morning ritual.
23. They take care of themselves.
Since the body and mind are connected, it makes sense that you if aren’t taking care of yourself physically, you’re going to suffer mentally and emotionally. Start by getting quality sleep every night, eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly and finding healthy ways to decompress and alleviate stress.
24. They use their character strengths.
Research has shown that using our “signature strengths” makes us feel happier and more fulfilled. As Shawn Achor explained in his book The Happiness Advantage: “When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups.
“And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a full six months later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.”
25. They engage in deep, meaningful conversations.
Happy people skip the small talk and engage in deep conversations. In fact, this has been backed by research. In Pursuing The Good Life, Christopher Peterson wrote: “First, happier participants spent more time talking to others, an unsurprising finding given the social basis of happiness. Second, the extent of small talk was negatively associated with happiness.
“And third, the extent of substantive talk was positively associated with happiness. So, happy people are socially engaged with others, and this engagement entails matters of substance.”
If you want to be happier — and honestly, who doesn’t? — start by mirroring the habits listed above. To make this an enjoyable experience, start by mastering one habit at a time, then quickly move on to the next. You’ll be surprised how amazing you’ll feel!