21 Habits of Happy People That You Should Try

If you want to walk through life with a smile on your face, try these habits on for size.
By Maryalene LaPonsie • October 5, 2017

C’mon, everyone, get happy! If that sounds too hard, maybe you’ve been going about it all wrong. It’s time to stop waiting to hit the jackpot, meet Mr. or Ms. Right or land that sweet job. True happiness doesn’t come from externals like that.

Instead, take a cue from happy people. Embrace these 21 habits that help them feel great.

1. Evaluate your bandwidth

It goes without saying that you won’t be happy if you’re overwhelmed with life. Happy people know their limits and pare back obligations to fit both their energy and time. They also know this is not a one-time evaluation and is something that needs to be reviewed periodically.

2. Set boundaries

Once happy people know their bandwidth — that is, how much time and energy they are willing to spend on various activities — they set boundaries so other people don’t encroach on it. That means learning to say no … a lot.

3. Organize your priorities

Saying no only leads to happiness if you’re saying no to the right things. Happy people know what’s important to them and live accordingly. They focus on activities related to their priorities first and don’t feel bad about cutting the rest from their to-do list.

4. Have a routine

Daily routines may seem dull, but there are plenty of reasons why they can lead to happiness. Rather than having to spend energy making new decisions every day, a comfortable routine lets people focus energy on what really matters.

5. Schedule regular downtime

All work and no play is no fun. It can also be a real drain on your happiness. A 2016 survey by Booking.com found that nearly half of respondents said a vacation brought them more happiness than their wedding day.

Of course, you don’t need to go on vacation to find happiness. Scheduling regular work breaks and time for leisure activities works just as well for many happy people.

6. Create realistic goals

Setting goals and creating to-do lists seems to be ingrained in our collective psyche. However, happy people don’t let themselves be ruled by unrealistic expectations. Instead, they see goals as guides that can be adjusted as needed.

7. Practice visualization

Realistic goals only make you happy if you meet them. In his book “The Miracle Morning,” Hal Elrod says visualization is one key to success. As Elrod describes it, this practice can involve closing your eyes for a few minutes and mentally walking yourself through all the tasks of the day that need to be done to meet goals, create success and enjoy happiness.

8. Make sleep nonnegotiable

Happiness is your head on a pillow at a decent hour each night. The American Psychological Association says chronic sleep deprivation may be “one of the most significant and overlooked public health problems in the U.S.” It’s hard to be happy when you’re dragging through the day so get those Zzzzzs.

9. Listen to music

Happiness may be internal, but happy people can turn to external cues to help them boost their mood. Music is one such cue.

A pair of studies published in 2013 by the University of Missouri found that people who listened to positive or upbeat music, such as that of composer Aaron Copland, reported feeling happier than those who listed to more subdued tunes. The catch is that participants also had to be trying to feel happier in order to get a mood boost from music.

10. Stop and smell the flowers

Or the pine trees or the oranges or the baby powder. In fact, there is a whole range of scents that are associated with feeling happier.

11. Be generous

Happy people don’t make a habit of keeping everything good for themselves alone. A 2017 study out of the University of Zurich found those who planned to share even a small portion of an unexpected windfall reported higher levels of happiness than those who planned to keep the money all to themselves.

12. Volunteer regularly

One way happy people show generosity is by volunteering their time and talents. To maximize the happiness you get out of this habit, volunteer with an eye toward a specific goal. According to a Stanford researcher, having concrete giving goals creates more happiness than vague ones. So instead of volunteering with the intent of saving the world (vague), volunteer with the intent of increasing local recycling participation (concrete).

13. Find the humor in life

Being able to laugh at life comes with a couple of perks that make people happier. First, laughing releases endorphins in the brain that can dull pain and improve mood. Plus, those who don’t take life so seriously may be able to bounce back from setbacks more readily, according to some research.

14. Spend time outside

We weren’t made to live in a cubicle, and supremely happy people know this. Instead of staying cooped up indoors all day, they make a beeline for the outside world. Of course, not all outdoor spaces are the same, and science says spending some time in a natural setting is more likely to improve your happiness level than going for a walk in a busy downtown.

15. Get moving daily

By now, you’ve certainly heard that sitting is the new smoking. However, it isn’t just your body that will benefit from a little more movement. Your mind will thank you too.

Fortunately, you don’t need to clock in long hours at the gym to get a mood boost from exercise. As little as five minutes can have a positive effect on your happiness quotient. To really maximize the experience, spend that five minutes walking in a park, and you can check off two happiness habits at once.

16. Connect with good friends regularly

Humans are social creatures, and happy people make time to connect with others. They may be part of formal clubs, groups and organizations or prefer the company of only a few close compadres.

17. Choose your friends wisely

If you spend all day around people who are negative or demeaning, it’s going to be really hard to feel happy. Instead, make it a habit to seek out positive people and limit time around those with toxic personalities.

18. Turn off social media

While connecting with others is good, using social media can be a real downer. Study after study have shown that spending time on sites like Facebook can cramp real-life personal relationships and reduce overall life satisfaction. Adopt the happiness habit of limiting your social media check-ins to specific times.

19. Find God (or spirituality)

Or find whatever higher power or purpose you fancy. There are plenty of studies supporting the notion that spiritual people are happier people. Researchers suggest it may have something to do with religious groups providing a ready-made social network or supplying a sense of meaning for life. Whatever, the reason, you may want to reconsider your Sunday or Saturday morning routine if you’re serious about finding happiness.

20. Count your blessings

Happy people regularly remind themselves of all the good things going on in their lives. They keep gratitude journals, share personal triumphs during family dinners and mentally tick off their favorite parts of the day before turning in each night.

21. Ignore everyone else’s habits

Now that we’ve told you 20 habits of happy people, we’ll tell you one more: Ignore them. Well, don’t ignore them completely. Try them on for size and see what works for you, but don’t feel like you need to make all these habits a regular part of your life.

Gretchen Rubin, an author specializing in the field of happiness, says one of the keys to happiness is to know yourself. In other words, don’t live your life according to other people’s habits and expect to have the same results. Everyone’s happiness is unique, as is the road to get there.


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