What makes people happy? What’s the difference between a happy person and a miserable person?
It seems like a difficult question to answer, but in reality, it’s simple: It’s their habits.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, attractive or ugly, and if you’re successful or unsuccessful, the main difference between happy and unhappy people is habits.
And that’s great news, isn’t it? Because it means that happiness is in our hands.
If you want to be happier, check out these 10 habits of happy people that we can all learn from.
1. They don’t fake happiness
Happy people don’t fake happiness. They’re comfortable with who they are and they accept reality for what it is.
In an interview with the Verge, psychologist Tasha Eurich says that one of the most common causes of unhappiness is deluding ourselves by avoiding reality.
Specifically, she says that just embracing the brighter side of life causes us to lose self-awareness, which is the real cause of unhappiness:
“When we delude ourselves from seeing true reality, we tend to be less happy, less successful and equally importantly, the people around them tend to view them pretty negatively.”
What’s the problem?
Eurich says that deluding yourself can lead to repercussions down the line. She uses an example of someone who is super deluded about their singing ability:
“They’re a pre-med student and going to quit their pre-med program to audition for The Voice, but they don’t make it past the first round. They feel horrible. They’ve changed the course of their life for this and it wasn’t a good choice. It’s a silly example, but when we don’t have a clear understanding of who we are, we tend to make choices that aren’t in our best interest.”
Eurich believes that the key to feeling happier and more fulfilled is through better self-awareness:
“People who see themselves clearly are more forgiving and they’re gentle and compassionate toward both themselves and others. People who are self-aware are higher in empathy and perspective-taking. It kind of does make sense because part of truly being self-aware is understanding how you come across to other people and the impact you have on them. And to be able to do that you kind of have to put yourself in their shoes.”
2. They are grateful
Happy people don’t get upset about what they don’t have. Instead, they’re grateful for what they do have.
It may not seem like an important step on your journey to happiness, but being grateful is associated with many positive emotions.
Practicing gratitude will help you when times are tough. It will keep you from giving up in the face of hardship and spiraling further into disorder.
Furthermore, being grateful is scientifically really good for you. There are all kinds of positive benefits, both mental and physical.
Showing gratitude will help you to make positive decisions and be proactive (not reactive) through every step of finding happiness.
According to neuroscientist Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral Workbook, gratitude has a number of other benefits as well:
“Gratitude can decrease depression symptoms as well as stress in general and leads to increased perception of social support. It improves self-esteem and psychological well-being. It can even improve your physical health and the quality of your sleep. Gratitude has so many benefits because it affects a wide variety of brain regions and chemicals. Importantly, gratitude has the power to activate the dopamine system, specifically the brain stem region where dopamine is produced.”
3. They decide what happiness means to them
Happiness looks different for everyone. Happy people have decided what happiness means to them.
Rubin Khoddam PhD says that “regardless of where you are on the happiness spectrum, each person has their own way of defining happiness.”
So many of us are chasing other people’s definitions of happiness. In order to find happiness, you need to determine what that looks like for you.
The hard part is that we often adopt our parents’ or society’s version of happiness and strive to achieve those visions in our own lives.
That can lead to a great deal of unhappiness as we come to find out that what others want is not necessarily what we want.
And then we have to be brave as we decide to step into our own lives and figure things out for ourselves.
What do you want your life to look like? You need to know.
4. They accept the difficult things in your life
Happy people remember that life is not all butterflies and rainbows and that you only get rainbows after it rains, and butterflies only appear after a caterpillar has gone through a tremendous transformation.
The struggle is required in human life in order to find sunshine.
We don’t just wake up happy, we need to work for it and work on it.
When you allow struggles into your life and don’t dramatize them, you can make the most of any situation and grow from it, like the caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly.
There’s no point in feeling bad about feeling bad, says Kathleen Dahlen, a psychotherapist based in San Francisco.
She says accepting negative feelings is an important habit called “emotional fluency,” which means experiencing your emotions “without judgment or attachment.”
This allows you to learn from difficult situations and emotions, use them or move on from them more easily.
Once we see the rainbow – or the result of our struggles – we often forget how bad the rain was.
While most people searching for happiness want to get to the fun faster, they are not willing to sit in discomfort and learn things about themselves.
People who are truly happy are those who have come through the fire and lived to see another day.
We don’t live happy lives tucked into bubbles and closed off from the hurt and pain of being human.
We need to feel all that there is to feel as human beings in order to be happy.
After all, without sadness, how can you know when you are happy?
5. They don’t rush through life
Happy people know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you can’t see the beauty if you are rushing through life.
Research suggests that being “rushed” can make you miserable.
Yet on the other hand, some studies suggest that have nothing to do can also take its toll on you.
However, the balance is just right when you’re living a productive life in a comfortable place.
Therefore, it’s important to have goals, but we don’t need to be in a hurry all the time to get things done. It leaves so much wasted time on the journey not soaking in life.
Happy people feel their way through life and they allow the good and the bad to penetrate into them so they can have the full human experience.
Stop and smell the roses isn’t just some old-time advice that sounds nice, it’s real-life advice that can help you be happier.
6. They remember how to play
Happy people let themselves be silly. Adults forget how to play, and only allow it in formalized ways.
In his book Play, psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”
In the book, he says that play is essential to our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem solve, and more.
Dr. Brown says that play is how we prepare for the unexpected, find new solutions and keep our optimism.
The truth is, when we engage in play and have fun, it brings joy and is helpful for improving our relationships.
So kick off your shoes and get your feet wet in the river. Get dirty. Eat ice cream. Who cares how many calories there are in it.
7. They try new things
Give yourself permission to go out and experience the world around you. It’s huge!
There are things you have never done right in your own backyard. Try something new and watch yourself be happier.
Psychologist Rich Walker of Winston-Salem State University looked at over 500 diaries and 30,000 event memories and concluded that people who engage in a variety of different experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones.
According to Alex Lickerman M.D. in Psychology Today:
“Thrusting yourself into new situations and leaving yourself there alone, so to speak, often forces beneficial change. A spirit of constant self-challenge keeps you humble and open to new ideas that very well may be better than the ones you currently hold dear (this happens to me all the time).”
8. They have a few close relationships
You don’t need a hundred close friends, but you do need one or two people in your life who matter and who are there to help pick you up when you fall.
This might be a spouse, your parents, a sibling, or a friend from down the street.
Having a few close relationships has been shown to make us happier while we’re young, and has been shown to improve quality of life and help us live longer.
So, how many friends?
About 5 close relationships, according to the book Finding Flow:
“National surveys find that when someone claims to have 5 or more friends with whom they can discuss important problems, they are 60 percent more likely to say that they are ‘very happy’.”
However, perhaps the number isn’t as important as the effort you put into your relationships.
We all need someone to remind us we are not alone in this life, and to help make us smile when things have gone sideways.
Happy people have someone they can count on. It makes them feel safe and secure to know that they can turn to their person during their time of need, and to celebrate the wins when they happen.
Connection makes for a happier life. If you are seeking happiness, don’t head out on the journey of discovery alone.
While we can walk this world alone, it is always more fun to spend your precious time with people, doing things that bring you joy.
When we are surrounded by people we love and who love us, we feel safe.
When we feel safe, we are more likely to let things slide off our backs, are less likely to let drama take hold of us, and are more likely to see the good in people.
We have a trusting circle that we feel protects us, our interests, and we feel safe to be ourselves.
9. They buy experiences, not things
Happy people are happy because they don’t focus on material things, but instead understand the value of experiences.
You might be inclined to head to your local shopping center when life is getting hard; a little retail therapy never hurt anyone, after all.
But does it really make people happy?
Sure, you might get a quick-fix of pleasure, but you know as well as anyone that the happiness derived from buying things doesn’t last.
Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has been researching the affect of money on happiness for two decades. Gilovich says, “one of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
If you feel the urge to spend money, spend money on experiences. Go see the world. Live your life on planes and trains and in the car on the road to nowhere.
According to Gilovich, “our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
Get out and find out what life is made of in other places. Spend time in beautiful parks, on challenging walking trails, and by the ocean as much as possible.
These are the places you’ll find your happiness, not the mall.
10. They know who they are
Happy people don’t just appear; they are made. You need to make yourself into a happier person.
But that can take work. And the work you do doesn’t always mean that you will find out things you like about yourself.
According to Niia Nikolova, a Postdoctoral Researcher of Psychology, knowing ourselves is the first step in breaking negative thought patterns:
“Recognising true emotions can help us to intervene in the space between feelings and actions – knowing your emotions is the first step to being in control of them, breaking negative thought patterns. Understanding our own emotions and thinking patterns can also help us more easily empathise with others.”
Learning about yourself is a tough road to walk down, but the happiest people in the world don’t live in oblivion.
They are authentic and authentic to themselves. The only way to become authentic is to face the music.
If you want to be a more patient person, you need to practice patience. You don’t just become patient.
Makes sense, right?
But you first need to know why you aren’t happy.
That requires courage and the bravery to look yourself in the mirror and find out why you aren’t letting yourself live your life to the fullest.
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