You probably know people who always seem happy. They greet the day with a smile on their face. They see the bright side of any situation. They believe that people are inherently good.|
I consider myself to be one of those people.
I haven't always been this way. I struggled with depression and anxiety in adolescence and my early 20s, and I had a hard time learning to be optimistic and happy. I looked at other people and wondered how they did it. How could they be happy, with seemingly no effort whatsoever? I thought they must have had perfect lives--so unlike mine. How could I possibly be happy when all these things kept happening to me?
Later I learned that being happy takes work, but the work is worth it. Just as I didn't lose 50 pounds overnight, I certainly didn't change my mindset immediately. I worked on it, setting goals and changing behaviors. These days, I'm happy to say that I, too, am now a happy person. And I'm not afraid to say that it still takes work to feel that way.
Despite my rosy outlook, my life is not all kittens, rainbows and sunshine—nor should anyone expect a "happy" life to be that way all the time. Positive thinking doesn't mean you'll have endless cheer or optimism, but rather that you've shifted your behavior and your perspective. Since taking up a yoga practice in 2006 and especially since becoming a yoga teacher in 2009, I've done a lot of reading (and thinking) about happiness. What makes a person happy? What makes me happy? How can I help others be happy? And what is happiness, really?
Happiness research has become a popular area of psychology in the last 20 years, and today positive psychology is among the most popular classes at Harvard University. Experts agree that there are several things happy people have in common. These aren't inherent traits that you were either born with or not. They are habits that you can begin to integrate into your life. Here are 51 habits of happy people, gleaned from experts and experience.
1. Believe they can be happy. About 40% of our happiness is based on intentional behavior.
2. Change up their routine to consciously vary what they do. Though some people do thrive on routine, it can lead to monotony and boredom, whereas variety and novelty can lead to greater happiness.
3. Don't blame genetics. Only 50% of our happiness is linked to our genes.
4. Accept that change is imminent and one of the only certainties in life.
5. Exercise! Cardiovascular activity is among the best releasers of dopamine, the "happy hormone." They have fun while they exercise, too.
6. Spend time in "real life," and they keep their online "life" in perspective. They take time to cultivate relationships outside of social media.
7. Recognize that you can get "stuck" in positive habits, just as you can in negative ones. Whether you struggle with emotional eating, fat talk or a general sense of pessimism, you can change your habits and increase your happiness.
8. Accept that building happier habits takes time. William James, the renowned Harvard University psychology professor, said that it takes 21 days to create a habit for life.
9. Understand that joy—from adopting a new puppy, reaching a goal weight or getting a raise—eventually dissipates, but it can be renewed again and again.
10. Accept that bad things happen, but bad things won't affect their lives for as long as they think they will. Happy people know that no matter what happens in their lives, they will survive and thrive.
11. Know that good things will also happen—-and that even good things affect our lives less in the long run than we think they will.
12. Know happiness isn't based on social status, a job or even health. These things account for only 10% in people's differences in happiness, experts say.
13. Do things for themselves, not just for others. "Happiness does not consist in things themselves but in the relish we have of them; and a man has attained it when he enjoys what he loves and desires himself, and not what other people think lovely and desirable." —La Rochefoucauld
14. Understand that when things go really, really wrong, people often thrive. They suffer, yes, but they react, take action, and move on.
15. See misfortune not as something they deserve due to a past transgression, but as just another part of life. A crisis becomes an opportunity for growth or significant change.
16. Know that focusing on extrinsic factors like money and success often leads to anxiety and depression, not happiness.
17. Don't sit back and wait for happiness to happen. "The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." —Benjamin Franklin
18. Are grateful. A University of Pennsylvania professor taught a single happiness-enhancing strategy to a group of severely depressed people: Log on to a website and write down three good things that happened to them that day, no matter how simple or trivial they seemed. Within 15 days, depression levels went from severe to mildly/moderately depressed, and 94% experienced relief.
19. Say nice things about other people. They limit gossip, avoid name calling and understand that words can wound as deeply as a sword.
20. Laugh—even at themselves—and they find humor in most situations, when appropriate.
21. Don't worry about what other people think. They do their best to cultivate self-confidence.
22. Know that happiness isn't commensurate with one's income. Studies have found that those earning tens of millions of dollars are only slightly happier than those who are in the working class.
23. Understand that no other person will increase their happiness. Married people are only slightly happier than single people, according to one study.
24. Believe in themselves, which can increase life satisfaction by about 40%.
25. Watch less TV. Tuning in has been linked to an increased desire for material possessions, and every hour you watch leads to a lower level of contentment.
26. Know what happiness is not. According to Buddhist philosophy, happiness is not dependent on an object or events, which eventually go away and replace a happy feeling with a sad one. It depends on a state of mind that feels those transitory emotions but also understands that change is life's only certainty.
27. Can differentiate between pleasure and happiness. In his book "The Art of Happiness," His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains the difference between happiness and pleasure, which are easily confused: "True happiness relates more to the mind and heart. Happiness that depends on physical pleasure is unstable; one day it's there, the next day it may not be."
28. Question their intentions when faced with a dilemma. They ask themselves, "Will this bring me pleasure, or will it bring me happiness?"
29. Spend time with family and friends whenever possible.
30. Understand karma not to be punishment for one wrong decision. If they choose to believe in it, they understand it to be the sum of your actions and not the universe seeking revenge.
31. Are as optimistic as possible, while still being realistic.
32. Cultivate a sense of purpose, whether through religion or spirituality, a hobby family, or a career that satisfies them.
33. Live in the present, not dwelling too much on the past or worrying about the future.
34. Appreciate what they have and don't worry about what is lacking.
35. Don't compare themselves to others, and they accept that they are unique.
36. Don't hold grudges, but instead choose to forgive.
37. Are not jealous of what others have, and they feel joy for the success and prosperity of those they hold dear.
38. Spend time in nature. A 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that spending even a short amount of time in nature, such as visiting a city park, improved people's moods and mental well-being.
39. Tell others how they feel and are not afraid to express their emotions.
40. Appreciate life and retain a "beginner's mind," meaning they don't lose sight of the wonderment of life, and they aren't afraid to show excitement, be it a brilliant sunset or a random encounter with a loved one.
41. Take part in something they believe in, whether it's a church activity, a social club or a group that shares their passion for a certain cause.
42. Surround themselves with happy people. Joy begets joy. By sharing their bliss and surrounding themselves with other happy people, they create a virtuous cycle of happiness.
43. Get creative with problem solving. They don't get defeated by life's problems, and they don't wait around for someone else to solve their problems.
44. Invest in relationships, even when times are tough. They help their loved ones through rough patches, just as they support them when things are going well.
45. Eat well, choosing healthful foods that nourish their body and fuel them through their daily lives. They indulge in moderation, and they try not to use food as a way to cope with emotions.
46. Take responsibility for their successes and their mistakes.
47. Don't sweat the small stuff. They pause and reflect before reacting to situations that might not matter in a day, a month, or even a year.
48. Take pride in their work, but they also strike a balance. Japan, for example, is the least happy of wealthy industrialized nations but its citizens work among the longest hours.
49. Meditate. Meditation can help you increase your happiness level and for longer periods of time. (Some studies have shown it can help even more than taking anti-depressants for some people.)
50. Apply a Goldilocks philosophy to life. “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” —Socrates
51. Never stop learning—about themselves and about topics that interest them.
There is no place for perfection in happiness, nor is there a single version that works for everyone. Happiness is a journey, and it's a learning experience. Happy people still get mad, cry and employ sarcasm. They don't follow all 51 of these habits every day of their lives. What sets them apart from unhappy people is their mindset and their behavior. It's never too late to change your outlook on life. Start today with one small step, and see where it takes you!
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MedlinePlus, "Green Spaces Boost City Dwellers' Well-Being," www.nlm.nih.gov, accessed on July 15, 2013.
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One Day University Presents: Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness (Harvard's Most Popular Course), The Learning Annex.
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