Who doesn’t want to be happy?
We can argue all day about big questions like the purpose of life, but ultimately, everyone wants to be happy. Sometimes, it seems like the only argument is over how we can make ourselves happy.
But even after thousands of years of philosophy and undeniable progress in human rights and scientific know-how, happiness still remains elusive.
What does it take to be happy? It’s a deceptively simple question with an answer complex enough to fill thousands of pages.
Still, there are plenty of happy people in the world. And examining their behaviors can provide some clues as to how to be genuinely happy.
1) They don’t compare themselves to others
This first point is a simple one, but it’s also one of the most powerful ways to protect your own happiness. It’s also one of the most notable things about genuinely happy people.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Focusing on what other people have and you don’t is a sure way to make yourself unhappy.
No wonder people who are always trying to outdo others are some of the least happy people around.
On the other hand, happy people focus on what they have. They’re not worried about someone else having a bigger house, a flashier car, or a fatter bank account than them.
Instead, they focus on their own life and what will make them happy.
2) They cultivate a support network
There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. And there’s no reason to believe that introverts are any less happy on average than extroverts.
But what is clear is that humans need a support network to be truly happy.
Think about it. It makes sense.
On the other hand, it’s not as simple as thinking having more friends will make you happier. It doesn’t work that way.
For some people, a few very close and meaningful relationships can be better than lots of more superficial friendships.
But either way, people who feel loved and appreciated by others report the highest levels of happiness.
3) They prioritize time over money
Money is important. We all need certain material comforts like food and shelter, and money is how we get them.
With that said, genuinely happy people know that money by itself does not make anyone happy. And even the things you can get with money only have a limited effect on your happiness.
In this study, researchers found that making more money can make people happy – up to a point. Past about US$75,000 per year, however, money no longer had any significant effect on people’s long-term happiness.
Genuinely happy people know that money, while useful, is not enough to make you happy by itself. That’s why they focus on making more time for themselves rather than making more money.
4) They practice gratitude
One of the easiest ways to make yourself happier is to practice gratitude.
Think about the things in your life you are grateful for. While it’s easy to forget it in the chaos of daily life, we all have things to be grateful for, even if our lives in general are not going the way we would like.
To your ancestors, the fact that you can just turn on the tap and get pure, clean drinking water would be a miracle. To lots of people in the world, it still is.
If you live in a wealthy developed country, you can access an abundance of resources that medieval kings didn’t have.
There’s always something to be grateful for, whether it’s the warm sun on your face, a satisfying meal last night, or having the ability to read an article like this.
Truly happy people know how to take pleasure in life’s little blessings along with its bigger achievements.
That’s one way they stay happy even when everything isn’t going their way.
5) They give back
Humans are social animals. As much as it sometimes seems like the opposite, we are hardwired to cooperate and help one another.
Maybe that’s why it feels so good to help others.
Genuinely happy people know that simply chasing their own desires is not enough to achieve happiness. Instead, you also need to help other people out.
It could be donating to charity, giving your time to volunteer at an organization that means something to you, or even something more small-scale, like being there for a friend.
But however you do it, evidence suggests that helping others is a key component in making you truly happy.
6) They pursue goals
By now, you might be thinking that the key to happiness is being some altruistic hippie who just goes with the flow. And for some people, it is.
But that’s not to say that happy people can’t have ambitions and goals
Chasing a goal can be one of the key components of a fulfilling and happy life.
But there is a caveat.
The goal has to be one that means something to you. Just trying to get more money or look like a big shot in the eyes of society isn’t going to make you happy.
In fact, it will most likely have the opposite effect.
Find something that means everything to you and give yourself to it, and you’ll be on the path to happiness before you even know it.
7) They focus on the present
On the other hand, goals can be dangerous things.
Spending your life in pursuit of something is a key element of happiness. But it’s just as important to remember that the future isn’t real.
By the time it arrives, it will just be the present. Therefore, the only time you can really be happy is in the here and now.
This is the fundamental message of mindfulness, and it’s no wonder that mindfulness meditation has been found to make people happier than they would be without it.
As important as it is to have goals, don’t lose sight of the present moment. Practice mindfulness to keep you grounded in what’s going on around you and remind you that happiness is not something you should wait for beyond the next curve in the road, but something you can experience now.
8) They stay active
You’ve almost certainly heard this one before. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
Partly, that’s because of the powerful neurobiology of exercise that causes it to release hormones that make you feel good.
Also, it’s probably because exercising gives you better overall health and increases the range of possibilities of things you can do with your life.
Ultimately, humans are made to move. And you don’t have to be an athlete to take advantage of this happiness hack.
Just make sure you get a little exercise on a regular basis, and you’ll be able to reap the benefits of one of the most powerful ways to make yourself happier.
9) They spend money on experiences rather than things
As I mentioned earlier, money doesn’t really make people happier. But some things you buy with money can.
That may seem like a subtle distinction, but it’s an important one. Happy people know that experiences are worth more than money.
That’s why, instead of buying more things to own, they buy themselves time and experiences that they will always remember.
Whether it’s a scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef or a big party with all your friends, fun experiences are what life is all about. And they are a key ingredient to living happily.
10) They focus on meaning
As far as philosophical questions go, how to be happy is a big one. Perhaps an even bigger one, though, is this: what is the meaning of life?
However, maybe that’s the wrong question to ask. As writer Joseph Campbell used to say, we are not looking for a meaning of life so much as we are looking for an experience of being alive.
We all have different values and different things we care about. To live your life in accordance with your own sense of what is meaningful is one of the best ways to be happier.
Don’t worry: that doesn’t mean you have to devote yourself to philosophy and become a monk or hermit.
But it does mean that your way of life should be in accordance with your values and ideals. Do that, and you’ll find yourself becoming happier almost right away
11) They define their own success
One of the most noticeable things about happy people is that they define success for themselves.
That means they don’t worry about what’s in their bank account or what kind of car they drive. Instead, they have their own measurements of success that they use to keep their lives on track.
What is success to you? Is it:
- having kids?
- having lots of friends?
- supporting your family?
- seeing more of the world?
- creating art?
These are all valid goals to have in life, and they can all make you happier if they are what you truly want.
But make sure what you are pursuing is what you want, not what you’ve been told you should want.
Life is full of things that seem like they will make us happy, only to leave us disappointed in the end.
But by examining these behaviors of truly happy people, you can get a better sense of what happiness looks like.
Incorporate some of these behaviors into your life, and you’ll find yourself becoming happier almost immediately.
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