10 Basic Habits of Happy People, Backed By Research
We all want to live our happiest life.
And if you’re like me, you probably want to separate the self-help fluff from the evidenced-backed information about what truly makes people happy.
Many of us might already be in a good spot, and what to stay that way. Others may be in a rougher patch in their lives. Or maybe you’re striving to live a fuller life.
Whatever your reason for landing here, below is a list of the major behaviors of happiness, backed by decades of studies. It’s not a comprehensive list of activities, but rather the major behaviors that research has associated with happiness.
There are many experiences and activities that can make us happy. However, most will likely fall under the categories below. The following will help you identify areas to focus your effort, and give you ideas on how to boost your own level of happiness.
Happiness and Psychologists
A couple of quick things.
First, an important disclaimer. This may be a surprise, but happiness isn’t 100% up to you. Researchers have identified a genetic component, and also acknowledge that happiness is also influenced by external factors.
You still have significant control over your happiness. But it’s important to note there are other outside forces that are out of your control.
Also, the categories below were identified by a dedicated group of respected psychologists who belong to a charity called Action for Happiness. The charity’s goal is to teach others about improving their well-being.
(For those who want to learn more. One of the psychologists – Vanessa King – has written a book on these habits called 10 Keys To Happier Living. She goes in depth on the research and how to put them into practice in your own life. Unfortunately, most of them ship out of the UK, where the charity and Vanessa are based.)
1. Being Kind To Others
This was found to be one of the most practiced habits of happy people. Doing things for others and small acts of kindness give you more than just fuzzy feelings. Recent research has found that there is a very real effect on happiness when it comes to being kind to others.
And there’s more to it than just giving money to charity. It includes donating your time, energy, or experience for the benefits of others. Along with boosting happiness, it can help strengthen social connections and even improve your health. Not to mention it helps make the world a better place.
You can vow to do 3 nice things for others every day, every week, or whatever time frame you wish. They don’t have to be big or take up a lot of your time. It can be going out of your way to pay someone a compliment, reaching out and supporting a friend in a time of need, donating your time to a non-profit, or helping someone across the street.
2. Staying Socially Connected
This is a big one, as the social connections we have in our life are a big part of our happiness. Studies show how our relationships with others can give us resilience, guard against depression, and how they can even affect our physical health. Not to mention it can boost the joy we get from activities when we are with people we enjoy.
Reconnect with an old friend from college or high school. While you can probably do this with email or social media, doing it the old fashion way – via phone – can be more personable. It can also be getting to know someone better at work, or even having a friendly chat with someone you met at the bus stop, subway, bar, or coffee shop.
3. Exercise and Physical Well-Being
You can get tons of brain benefits from exercise, both physical and psychological. Boosting your mood in the short term is just one small benefit. It can increase your self-esteem, boost memory, be used as a positive distraction from negative thoughts, and has even shown to spark creativity.
Our general state of health is a good predictor of our happiness. We usually don’t notice how big a role our health plays in our happiness, mostly because we don’t pay attention when things are normal. But as soon as you get sick, it immediately affects your attitude, mood, and outlook. This can range from simple headaches, to something less trivial like chronic pain or other health issues.
While a lot of people associate exercise with sweat, heavy breathing, exhaustion, and gyms, there’s plenty of ways to be active that aren’t considered traditional exercise. It’s really about being more active. You can go on a long walk, go on a hike or bike ride, do a light jog. You could even dedicate a set amount of time for playing with your kids or pets outside.
Identify a quick and easy way to improve your diet. This could be as simple as drinking less soda or drinking more water throughout the day.
4. Living Mindfully
In a hectic world and a busy life, sometimes we forget to slow down and enjoy the present. A lot of our individual anxiety, worry, regret, and stress are tied to either the past or the future.
It can be easy to turn our life on auto-pilot, especially when most of our day seems accounted for. Routine days can lead to routine thinking and habits. We can even forget to take time out and enjoy the experiences we are having in the present.
Being mindful is like switching to a different mode of thinking. It’s an intentional awareness and using your sense to notice the things that are happening around you in the present moment. Another key to mindfulness is accepting what we experience without judgment.
Meditation is the most obvious way to align yourself with the present. But it’s not the only way.
There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness throughout the day. One activity is simply do breathing exercises for five minutes a day. Paying attention to the feel and rhythm of your breath.
Other research has shown that even mundane activities, such as washing dishes, can be relaxing when done in a mindful way. So if you’re doing laundry, mowing the lawn, or doing dishes, take time to note the sensations while doing those activities (or any activity you’re doing during the day).
Note the fragrance of the detergent, the softness of the sheets, the feel of the bubbles, the smell of the freshly cut grass, or the sun on your face. Living in the present is simply connecting with the sensations in the present moment.
5. Learning and Trying New Things
Learning goes beyond just preparing for a professional career.
Learning is also about personal growth. Acquiring a new skill, trying a new hobby, or learning about new people and places. Learning is also a big part of one of our key intrinsic motivations: Mastery.
Gaining competence in a new skill can boost our confidence and self-esteem. It also keeps us curious and engaged with life. As such, it can be a great catalyst in exploring the world around you and connecting with others. Trying something new can be challenging, and even a little scary. But personal growth comes from being outside your comfort zone.
Formal education is just one part of learning. Try to learn a new skill related to a hobby you’ve wanted to try. You can learn about someone’s culture. Play the guitar or piano. Or learn to speak French. Also things like climbing, dancing, cooking a new dish, or playing a new sport are all great examples of things you can learn at any age.
So pick up a new hobby, join a club, or choose an activity you’ve never done to do with a spouse or friend.
Having goals may be one of the more surprising areas to can affect your happiness. But the research says that goals can not only motivate us, but it gives us satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Goals can also help give your daily routine a bit of purpose, yet another happiness behavior we’ll talk about later.
You don’t have to wait for New Years to set a goal or a resolution. Although some research has shown that our motivation is highest to set goals around meaningful dates. Pick something that you’ve been thinking about achieving for awhile.
Don’t make it something huge, vague, or impossible to achieve. Break it down into something concrete, that can be achieved in a shorter amount of time. But make sure it’s connected to a larger, long term goal. Progress is a great motivating factor that you can spring board into longer term achievement.
7. Resilience and Stress Management
Life doesn’t go as planned. And things don’t always turn out how you’d want it.
Stress is a normal part of life. And how you choose to respond to it can have implications for your happiness. Some events can be more traumatic than others, but finding productive and helpful ways to deal with life’s ups and downs is a skill that can be improved with the right perspective, support from others, and our own skills.
Resilience allows us to bounce back faster, deal with challenges, lowers risk of depression and anxiety, and grow.
One part of being resilient is your support system. The people and relationships we lean on we times are bad, and help us celebrate when things are good. So if you want to help build resilience, build the relationships with your friends and family. Anything you can do to connect on a deeper level can help you down the road.
Another big thing is how you frame your perspective when something goes wrong. How you frame your experience internally can help you cope with negative situations. So finding the positive in a bad situation, or a benefit, has helped some people cope with bad situations. Some people will find how a bad situation can give added meaning to their lives and what’s important.
8. Positive Emotions and Looking For the Good
It may seem obvious that focusing on positive emotions will make you happier. But it’s more than just fuzzy self-help advice, and encompasses a number of attitudes and behaviors. It includes things like gratitude, optimism, and inspiration.
First, it’s more than just thinking positive thoughts. You can’t be happy all the time. Simply trying to avoid negative emotions isn’t good for your mental health. It can even backfire, and end up making you feel worse. The happiest people are optimistic, but temper that optimism with balanced realism.
However, positive emotions inspire feelings of trust, connect us with others, and be more open. It also gives us the motivation for longer term life changes and can help buffer us against daily stress.
Remember to find the positive in situations, but to be realistic. Do something that makes you happy, and schedule it into your day. It’ll give you something to look forward to during the day. Listen to music for inspiration or a quick boost of joy.
Accepting yourself and being comfortable with who you are. Everyone has flaws……..everyone.
Internalizing this fact not only makes us happier with ourselves, but can also help us accept others as they are. If we constantly compare yourself to others, or focus on your own flaws, it can color your world in a shade of negativity.
Another part of self acceptance is self compassion. When something goes wrong, when you make a mistake, or perform poorly, we have a tendency to be hard on ourselves. While we need to be realistic and accountable for our actions, research has shown that forgiving ourselves can increase our well-being and boost our resilience.
Ask your friends or colleagues for honest feedback. Ask them what they think your biggest strengths are, as well as your biggest weaknesses. This can give you a balanced view, things you can be positive about, while giving you something to improve upon.
Also the next time something goes wrong, instead of dwelling on what happened and how you feel about it, reframe the experience as something you can learn from. Identifying what went wrong and how you can do differently the next time can help you frame the experience – and yourself – in a more positive light. You’ll be a better, stronger person having learned from it and moving on.
10. Meaning and Purpose
Experts have found that being a part of something bigger can give your life meaning and purpose. It can also lower levels of stress and anxiety, make you more resilient, and lower depression. All things that can lead to more happiness in your life.
What does meaning and purpose mean?
Martin Seligman, a founder of positive psychology, describes it as believing in something bigger than yourself.
Finding meaning and purpose, though, can mean something different for everyone. It can be a deeply personal goal, and what gives you meaning can be a result of your values, beliefs, ideas, and upbringing.
Religion and spiritualism are two things that give many people meaning. But they are hardly the only ones. The truth is meaning and purpose can come from any number of places. Our relationships, communities, or ideas.
Being involved with your community, mentoring youth, working or volunteering for a charity, connecting with nature or the natural world at large. It can be higher ideals or causes like social progress and or equality for all. Finding organizations that fit in line with your ideals, values, and morals are great ways to find meaning or purpose.
Balancing our professional and personal lives can be difficult sometime, and it’s always good to take a step back and reevaluate our circumstances every now and then. Happy lives are the ones where we strive to improve our lives and the world around us.
While many of us might already be content with our lives, that doesn’t mean we can’t identify areas in our life where we can improve. One study, for instance, found that self-acceptance and exercise were two areas of happiness people practiced the least.
Many of us have lots of things to be grateful for, as well as opportunities to connect with others and pursue our passions. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves.