Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
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.”
The floor is yours…
How about you? What specific habits or mindsets keep you happy? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.
Photo by: Spencer Finnley
I think I’ve mentioned this before on one of your other posts, but my #1 tip for happiness: Smile every chance you get – even when you don’t feel like it. Other people will see you and smile too, which will make you smile even more.
Thank you so much for all of your thought provoking, insightful advice. Reading your articles and your book in small doses helps me look inside myself to better influence the world outside of me. I strongly believe happiness is the best gift we can ask for and give to each other.
Hi Marc! Along the same lines as seeing rejection as protection, I think a good habit is seeing failure as learning. Both require trust and faith that what is right is coming your way. And not only is what’s right is coming your way, but it’s better suited for you and likely better than you had initially expected.
Your last point rings very true – living a life they want to live. It’s conscious, deliberate, everyday actions based on their inner voice. While so many people do what society tells them to do, in my experience the happiest people listen to their intuition.
My number tip to being happy is to accept people as they are. YOU cannot change anyone. The sooner you accept people, the happier you’ll be. Why? Because you won’t get stressed out or ticked off if someone does something that you wouldn’t do. It won’t affect you, and you’ll be happier. And you can make the decision to:
1. Keep people in your life who “drive you nuts” or suck your life’s energy.
2. Cut ties with people with people who “drive you nuts” and suck your life’s energy.
It’s your choice.
Jean Larson says
Happiness for me these days is all about helping my sons grow into the strongest, kindest versions of themselves.
Good read. In a backwards way, this article also reminds me of how blessed I am – how blessed we all are.
Sandra Pawula says
Meditation! #1 is an especially good reminder for me right now as various dramas have been popping up and tempting to pull me in.
I’m amazed by the number of books you both have read! You seem to have a natural talent for understanding and helping others.
Maria Roby says
Thank you. Really, thank you. What you share continues to help me find hope and happiness.
Dana Kristiansen says
The thing that helps me most is staying in gratitude daily – I write in a journal every night and I pray daily and thank the universe and my God for the day ahead (his will not mine)! I also keep my expectations low of things out of my control, including all people and I am always pleasantly surprised that it all works out the way it’s suppose to without my control (letting go of control is number one priority for happiness in my mind)! We can only control what we want to make of the day/our life and chose to see the beauty around us or not! I chose to see it even in the hardest times and I am always peaceful knowing that this is a huge step in finding spiritual serenity 🙂 Life is really good 🙂
Be comfortable in your own skin. Be who you are and not what you think others want you to be or look like. One cannot be anyone but who (or is it whom) they are!!!
Enjoy Now says
All good points but point #12 is very important. As I read somewhere, it is only happiness here and now.
Sandra Hamlett says
The mantra I use while meditating lately is “I love me.” These three little words have opened a window that has been closed for a long time. What this means is the opening of possibilities instead of settling. It has become my mindful nudge throughout the day. For instance, “If I love me then I will go for that run because I feel so great afterwards.” This has completely changed the way I live my life.
Tatiana Davies says
I absolutely enjoyed reading every single word in this article. I’m at the point in my life where I’m trying to find my balance between being who I am and being a functioning member of my very extended family, without trying to stretch myself too thin and/or getting caught up in drama.
I do my best to remind myself of how blessed I am, everyday, even though I may not feel the essence of being completely content in every waking moment. My life has brought me to and from a lot of chaos, and in the aftermath of each storm, it’s always been VERY important to me that I focus on something, at least one thing, that I took from each table that I sat at. It’s been a crucial part of my building my path to peace.
Thank you so much for sharing.
These are great tips… I especially like the one about leaving time to love yourself. Such a needed message.
What most people seem to forget is that everything we need in order to be happy lies within ourselves rather than on external things.
Happiness is a state of mind, if you want to achieve it you just need to think about your life and pick out what you like about it.
I have not been successful keeping a traditional journal or diary, but when, during a particularly challenging period I decided to keep a “gratitude journal” that became a positive habit that stuck for me.
Knowing I will write down the things that made me feel fortunate and grateful actually helps me look for the good in my life.
Sue Allemand says
Love this list! I do them all — but reading the list reminds me to do more of them – more often! Love & gratitude!
I never get tired of reading the posts here. You guys often share similar stuff, but you do it in a way that keeps me engaged. It’s incredible, really! Thanks.
David Rapp says
The happiest people I know view life in simple terms. I doubt they could come up with a long list.
One observation I have made is that happy people are not slaves to the clock and calendar. This is my downfall.
Another observation is that they never use money to keep score. EVER.
Happy people talk about their passions openly. They are not hidden, denied, or side-stepped.
Rebecca Rodriguez says
Hi Marc and Angel,
I feel it’s an admirable goal to focus on what will outlive you. Whether you realize it or not you do leave a legacy. How do you want yours to read?
I agree wholeheartedly, I also think looking for the wonderful in every day is a worthwhile habit.
I am interested though in how you can help negative people make these changes, it’s all very well to say, ‘Don’t care what others think’ or ‘love yourself’ but many people just can’t do that, it’s like telling an insomniac to ‘just go to sleep.’ So are there ways to help the pessimist or the self loather do these things?
I have heard or read similar messages recently, and I am grateful. For me it’s all about making written lists – both positive and negative. Be proud of the positive and work on the negative.
Thanks, again for the reminders I need… right in my face. Love it! Karma.
While your list is very helpful I think it’s worth mentioning that there are some situations where you can’t walk away from someone else’s drama. A crazy maker boss you can’t escape in a very tight job market, a child you are responsible for who has addictions, the responsibility of assuming debts for a relative or spouse/child who won’t be responsible. Even OctoMom’s mother eventually said “Enough!” and left her daughter to take responsibility for all those babies but not without becoming a target herself. Let’s be careful not to “blame the victim” for staying in a bad situation. Sometimes innocent people will be hurt so we choose misery short-term to protect them.
Thank you. I so enjoy your messages. They ring true to me and I am learning to apply them to my everyday living.
This is one of the best articles i have ever read!!
Self Satisfaction & Self Realization are the keys to Happiness in my opinion…
Thanks a lot!!
renz martin says
I live each day for what life has to offer – I am always open to accept either good or bad situation… I am thankful to be here either way and grow from my experiences.
This list is AWESOME. Another one of my favorite posts. This is a good reminder. Thank you Marc, Angel and all for sharing.
Living simple – is what I live by. Appreciating everything I have and people in my life. I feel very blessed.
Perhaps the most important factors of happiness are acceptance and staying in the present moment.
When you’re frustrated, it’s because there’s something in your reality that you’re not accepting. When you fully accept what is, you become happy and free of frustration.
The second factor – staying present. Our mind likes to recall past events and envision possible future scenarios. These memories and visions can be both good and bad, but until you haven’t fully experienced the present moment you haven’t experienced true joy and happiness.
Awesome article, Marc 🙂
-Gratitude to God for this life and to everyone and everything for being in it
-Letting go of all the bad and futile things in daily life (which includes the drama around)
-Embracing the impermanence of life
These are the things that keep me happy 🙂
And yeah….I never complain…I don’t know whether it’s a reason for/result of happiness.
Kari williams says
God centered living is the key to Real Joy! I love these points about happiness, I believe and have witnessed these all to be true in the people I know who I would describe as happy people! I do believe that it should be a 21 point lost with God as number 1!:)
Marc Chernoff says
Excellent additions, everyone. Thank you so much. 🙂
And of course, thanks so much for the kudos too. Your kindness truly fuels us to do what we do.
Some days I just feel too foolish and weak for coping with life, it seems to me as if everybody is wiser, and smarter, and stronger and that those like me does not deserve living a proper life because I am not good enough. Do any other the other readers here experience this feeling? And if so, how do you cope react? Thank you.
One of the most important things I try to keep in mind is to never assume anything. If I don’t know the answer to why someone does something, I ask. Assuming can lead to all sorts of incorrect tangents and perceived scenarios that then lead to reactions based on a made up assumption. That is a lot of wasted energy! I ask, and if I have to wait for an answer, I remind myself that I it’s ok to not know. Sometimes it just isn’t my business anyway!
Always look on the bright side… and don’t look back.
Ahmed Ali says
During the day, taking out some time during which I turn off my thought-processes and deep-breath. And doing nothing for a while. This helps relieve a lot of stress which contributes to happiness.
Captain Kirk says
Marc and Angel…
Several years ago, I discovered a “universal view” of life that was compelling, described as the Five Life Levels for personal growth (in this order). Each level begins with the letter “S”, which serves as a memory aid.
The life challenge is to reach Level 5 (Significance). Perhaps we could capture the essence of SIGNIFICANCE…with this question:
What is my purpose, passion, mission, gift, talent, that I bring to life – and – to this world?
Only YOU can answer this question.
Discover that Significance and the CHAMPION inside of you!
Stacy G says
Good article! My happiness:
1) I don’t lie. I’m not blunt with people, but I don’t concoct lies so I don’t have to worry about what the truth is.
2) I genuinely like people.
3) I don’t plan schemes to get ahead in my life or to do better than someone else. I just always do the best that I can, and that gets me ahead.
4) I don’t get jealous. Again, i try to do my best. And if I don’t succeed, then I know I have limitations that I must accept. Everybody is not the best at everything.
jbob coy says
Happiness is a Do, not a Be.
Some of us are very happy but are more solitary individuals. (Okay, I do have a bunch of dogs.)
I do like people and try to appreciate everyone’s individuality. It makes me think about myself and what I can do. But I have noticed that some people need to be surrounded by people all the time (that is not to say they are not happy too). I like myself and don’t mind being alone at all.
This is a great piece. It should be shared everywhere.
Thank you for sharing. This great article was sent to me by my classmate translated to Russian. Although all of 20 things are important, I would emphasize on 7 – gratitude, 8 – optimism, 12 – focusing on present, 18 – little joys.
Everything in our life comes in comparison. Don’t take everything you have for granted. Being an immigrant, I remember this every single day. I have many things to compare and be grateful and appreciated for.
We can’t change others or sometimes a situation we are in, but we can change ourselves and our attitude to the situation. This tool I use constantly. It is very helpful in order to find peace and happiness inside yourself.
Cultivate sense of confidence and optimism. Tell yourself about your achievements and successes. Sure you have them. This makes you feel confident, secure and happy.
I like this quote, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present!” We don’t know what happened tomorrow and shouldn’t get back all the time to the past. Live in every present moment and take it as a present.
Find happiness in small things and be grateful for small joys rather than be upset with small things, especially if you can’t change them.
Lady May says
I fully understood the true meaning of happiness when I was experiencing difficulties and hardships in life. For this is when I started to appreciate life in its fullness. Before I was so bitter with life that I forgot to thank God for my existence.
Now the first thing I do when I wake up is to say thank you for giving me a brand new day. Now I am strong and confident that whatever problems I may encounter in this journey , I won’t give in. To God be the glory
howie zabel says