Think being happy is something that happens are a result of luck or circumstance? Think again.
As the Dalai Lama said, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
But like most things in life, happiness requires actual effort.
The good news is, there are specific traits and habits that happy people have in common, and if you can learn to adopt these habits yourself, then you’ll be well on your way to being happier.
Here are 8 things happy people do differently in their lives.
1. They Recognize Themselves for What They Are
We all know the saying, “You can be anything you want to be.” But really, there’s a much better way of saying it: “You can become better than who you currently are.”
The process of positive affirmation doesn’t mean that you focus exclusively on positivity. In fact, psychologist Paul Pearsall’s version of this is called “openture”, where he encourages that we welcome flaws with the same zeal as strengths.
Instead of pushing to become something we are not, we must simply acknowledge our flaws instead of pretending they don’t exist. A study conducted by the University of Waterloo found evidence that forcing positivity can only lead to greater discontent.
The first step to happiness, then, is to forgive ourselves for the things we don’t like, and push forward with the things that we are proud of.
2. They Welcome The Complexity Of Life
Life is a very complex thing, and the spectrum of human emotions is no less complicated.
Psychologist Jonathan Adler performed a series of tests for a theory called mixed emotional experience.
He theorized that people who welcomed positive and negative emotions simultaneously possessed an overall positive psychological well-being.
True enough, participants who affirmed both of their bad and good feelings reported better moods.
Adler says this is caused by neutralization of two strong emotions: “Taking the good and the bad together may detoxify the bad experiences.”
Similarly, a Boston University study affirms that anxiety can be overcome through the very acknowledgment of complex human emotions. Another study by Hal Hershfield even went as far to conclude that emotional balance helps to maintain one’s physique.
There is a clear benefit from internalizing the good and the bad in human experiences, so don’t be afraid to embrace them.
3. They Always Expect The Worst
But isn’t that pessimism, you ask? Not really. This age-old practice of “negative visualization” or expecting the worst and preparing for it has been around since ancient Japan.
In modern times, expert Oliver Burkeman described it as “the premeditation”: “In most situations, you’re going to discover that your anxiety or your fears about those situations were exaggeration.”
Perhaps another modern-day testimony to the potential benefits of negative visualization is military training.
Talking to a friend who was a previous Navy SEAL, he told me his superiors always challenged them because “the enemy won’t be any kinder.”
By training for the worst, you can prepare for anything between the worst and the best possible situation.
4. They Are Physically Close To People They Love
It’s natural for us to feel happier when friends and family are around. Interestingly, there is now scientific proof on how proximity can influence happiness.
An impressive study known as the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts studied participants, observing how happiness behaved across several generations.
They found that happiness and proximity are affected by several factors, most prominently the kind of relationship they share with the other person.
The study concluded that, of all relationships, mutual friends were perceived as the relationship that brings most happiness to the participants.
Being near a family member didn’t fare as well, only ranking fifth for siblings.
Interestingly, romantic relationships ranked fairly lower than mutual friendships, with co-resident partners ranking sixth and non-resident partners ranking eighth.
So whenever you need a quick pick-me-up, try giving one of your good friends a call and see what happens.
5. They Are Not Afraid Of Learning Something New
Delving into novelty can be a pretty scary thing. Needless to say, it packs a lot of stress. When we try to pick up a new skill, we often deal these with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, as is a natural response to exploring unfamiliar ground.
A study published by the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests that this stress is good for you, at least for the long term.
When you are making a conscious effort to improve your character by learning a new language or developing a weak trait, for example, you eventually become happier on a daily basis.
Knowing that you are well on your way to becoming a more mature, more competent individual is a surefire way to boost happiness and foster confidence.
6. Change The Way You Say No
Countless work-life balance experts have claimed that turning down responsibilities is a definite step toward happiness.
In other words, the quickest way to become happy is by knowing when to say no.
But even when we do say no, we feel guilt for abandoning non-urgent responsibilities just because we’re already used to saying yes.
The Journal of Consumer Research did an interesting take on the variation of saying no in understanding if the terminology has anything to do with effectivity.
Instead of saying no, the study found out that saying “I don’t” is a better affirmation for both taking up tasks and giving them up. Saying “I don’t miss family dinners for work” rather than “I won’t miss family dinners for work” is likelier to come true, making it a better mantra for any busy person in the world.
7. They Realize That Relationships and Experiences Are Better Ways to Increase Happiness
While it’s not uncommon knowledge that therapy in itself works as a mood booster, it’s also commonly perceived that receiving material objects like money can produce equal amount of happiness.
Apparently, this is not the case. In one recent study, it was found that thousands of subjects reported that receiving therapy was at least 32% more effective in boosting happiness than receiving cash.
The study went on to conclude that non-material factors like experiences and relationships are better ways to increase happiness, as compared to material objects like possessions and money.
Knowing how to change your life in order to become a happier person will pay off in the long run, even if it means forgoing temporary material objects in favor of long lasting life events.
8. They Participate In Pleasure Fasting
The principle of fasting is pretty simple. Some people participate in fasting as a part of their religious holidays (Ramadan, for example); others to induce a new way to burn calories (water fasting).
But fasting can go beyond matters of food. Pleasure fasting is where you give up things that you would regularly enjoy: checking social media, indulgent sweets, a certain video game. The goal of pleasure fasting is to increase happiness on things we already enjoy.
How? One psychologist explains this phenomenon perfectly well: “Denying yourself something makes you appreciate the things you take for granted.”
When you engage in pleasure fasting, you will find your willpower becoming weaker throughout the day, but that isn’t really an indicator of weakness. You can easily train yourself to obey your mind as control becomes more elusive.
In a way, pleasure fasting is one of the quickest ways to boost happiness. It challenges us to rethink the way we engage with current sources of happiness and elevates our experience to these otherwise mundane interactions.
Putting yourself first
What’s your number one goal at the moment?
Is it to buy that car you’ve been saving up for?
To finally start that side-hustle that’ll hopefully help you quit your 9-5 one day?
Or to take the leap and finally ask your partner to move in?
Whatever your goals are, there’s a hidden trap in how you set them.
The trap is this:
You’ll only experience genuine life satisfaction when your goals are aligned with your values.
Because when values and goals are aligned, you enjoy the journey much more. And this makes achieving your goals much more likely.
If you find it hard to articulate your deeper life values, I suggest downloading the free values exercise by career coach Jeanette Brown.
It takes only a couple of minutes and will reveal a number of powerful insights about your underlying values.
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