Why do some people seem happy all the time while others find it more tricky? Beyond genetics (which play a big role), research reveals mindsets and practices that promote lasting positivity regardless of outside conditions.
Observing common threads among my most upbeat friends has given me insights into what sustainably happier people do differently.
Though life regularly delivers doses of ups and downs for everyone, the most joyful can bounce back quickly. How? In part by cultivating attitudes that positive psychology and Buddhism have long prized as paths to enduring well-being.
Here are the top recurring traits that happiest people often show without always realizing it.
1) No matter what, they exude a glow
My friend Natalie told me that no matter what, she always wakes up feeling happy. She was born that way but it means that she can easily be a morning or a night person, and feel cheerful.
Studies confirm baseline happiness that is centered internally is more lasting in the long term than changeable circumstantial joy.
Natalie isn’t immune to getting rattled, but she rebounds rapidly back – waking up the next morning immersed again in positivity and happiness. So it seems like she is always softly glowing, even when things are tough for her.
Because of that I always feel good around Natalie.
We can’t all have a naturally high happiness set point, but I will talk about ways that you can increase yours.
2) They embody calmness
Bouncing back from downs comes easier when someone already spends most of their time in contentment rather than on an emotional rollercoaster.
Buddhism’s teachings explicitly encourage cultivating this type of effortless tranquility amidst whatever positive or negative conditions each moment brings.
Teachers like Eckhart Tolle speak of shaping perspectives that embrace all emotional weather with a non-reactive presence – enjoying sunny days while finding peace within on stormy nights.
If we regularly reinforce positive mindsets, this builds neural buffers against negativity getting stuck within us. Rather than chasing highs and lows we aim for something in the middle, a calm and content state to be in.
Science confirms that by intentionally managing our reactions to difficult situations with wisdom, self-compassion, calm and non-judgment, our old destructive response patterns will eventually change. We will find it easier to find that inner calmness once again.
3) They reach out to those suffering
Empathy and compassion have a much bigger effect on happiness than having perfect circumstances according to experts. Compassionate people can act on their emotional radar more often, rather than not noticing the pain of others or distancing themselves from it.
They are highly tuned to sense troubles in body language, facial tones, and other subtle social cues.
And the wonderful connection here is that the act of giving compassion actually makes you more happy.
Upbeat people have plenty available of compassion to lift both individuals and whole communities. Multiple studies show that giving compassion, emotional support, insight and hope to others struggling increases personal well-being.
4) Their anger rarely festers
Everyone temporarily feels irritation, whether over rained-out picnics or financial issues. However, unlike those nursing grudges for hours, upbeat people largely process momentary anger spats quickly and bounce right back to baseline contentment.
They allow themselves to feel the emotion, and then let it pass. This means they can focus forward on positive potential rather than allowing past troubles or unpredictable events to rob them of their peace in the present moment..
Managing emotions is a fundamental skillset for sustainable wellness and tranquility. By acknowledging feelings and then refocusing deliberately on helpful responses within our control, we can nurture habitual happiness over-reactivity.
These people embody the maxim, “Clinging to resentment makes little sense yet extracts great costs.”
5) They dwell in the present
Here’s a well-known fact from Buddhism, mindfulness, and positive psychology – super happy people share an ability to savor sensory and emotional pleasures the current moment offers. Rather than remaining stuck on stale regrets or dreaming up anxious future fantasies.
Teachers like Ayya Khema from philosophical disciplines like Buddhism specifically encourage dwelling deeply in the now as a path to sustainable contentment.
Cultivating presence in the moment balances our awareness across past, present and future perspectives. This enhances our ability to gain wisdom from prior experiences while creatively improving current the now, to manifest better tomorrows.
By immersing attention in temporary moments, we receive compound interest from microdoses of beauty in every ordinary day.
If you want to bring more of this into your life, practice saying to yourself ‘The only moment that is real is now’, then take a moment to look around you and soak up the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings.
Is a bird singing? Is a squirrel jumping in the trees? Maybe some sweet person would like some assistance with crossing the road. Look around and find out!
6) They focus on serving others
And that brings me to my next point. Acts of service. Mounting medical research links selfless service and volunteerism with boosting personal physical and mental health. Science says that compassionate acts release neurochemicals and hormones like oxytocin that enhance wellbeing.
My friend Natalie intuitively grasps this truth – I often find her delivering homemade meals to isolated neighbors or patiently listening as friends process relationship problems.
She understands giving’s paradoxical yet reliable returns. By lifting other people and strengthening community bonds without needing praise or reciprocation, our shared net of support widens.
This makes us happier, and means that our emotional resources grow. We bring joy and interconnected hearts and minds, through the self-transcendence of doing things for others.
7) They embrace a growth mindset
I’ve noticed that the happiest among us share a growth-oriented mindset seeing all experiences as opportunities to learn. My aunt Alicia models this constantly. When other people ask “Why me?” when troubles hit, her reflexive response is “What lesson does this contain?”
Rather than judging events as good or bad, Alicia filters them through the question – how can this make me wiser, kinder or more developed?
Science confirms that by embracing failures and setbacks as feedback for improvement, we build resilience. Our emotional muscles strengthen with use, just like body muscles during resistance training.
Each trial offers us a kind of gym for developing life skills like patience, determination, creativity, and compassion. By leaning into difficulties with an inquisitive attitude that there must be buried treasure inside unpleasant surprises, we can discover psychological gold.
8) They spread more laughter
Another secret of the cheerful is they bring more laughter, amusement, and playfulness into their connections. Taking themselves lightly, they surf each day’s ups and downs with humor rather than grim seriousness.
I once watched a workplace training with an improvisational theater expert demonstrating cognitive links between improv skills strengthening relationships to heightened well-being.
Brain scans show laughter alters nervous system responses. After belly laughs, our biochemistry more quickly returns to its parasympathetic relaxation mode – “Rest and Digest” after stress.
So if you want more humor in your life, find the silly in life’s adversities. Surround yourself with playful people. Watch things that make you laugh.
Laughter lovers intuitively know that rituals of playfulness, jokes, and shared joy diffuse tension faster than conflict often does. A Swedish proverb reminds us that “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow”
9) They cultivate gratitude
I’ve noticed the happiest people I know nurture gratitude. Even when life gets challenging, instead of focusing on what’s bad, they purposefully look to appreciate the good stuff, as tiny as it might be.
They may or may not have a formal gratitude list or practice, but I see them taking pleasure in the small things. Being grateful for what they do have, whether that’s enjoying a moment of sunshine or giving thanks for their friends.
Studies show that making regular gratitude lists helps us focus on the ups more than the downs, rebalancing our brain’s tendency to get attached to negative thinking. Counting our small joys, wins and pleasures counterbalances the downward pull of rumination and overthinking.
Even small daily moments of conscious gratitude will compound over the years to a create higher baseline of happiness. Another way to cultivate this is to deliberately recall people and things we appreciate.
This helps us to rewire our thought patterns into habitual optimism and lifts our moods in the long term. It really works!
How to be like the happy people
Take note of the happy people in your life, and see what insights you can gain from their behavior.
The consistently upbeat don’t wake happier through magic nor immunity from pain. Genes are very helpful but regardless of our biology, research shows we can increase our baseline levels of happiness with wisdom shaped by Buddhism and science-backed techniques. Proper health and diet help a lot too.
The happy people I know have a lot of emotional resilience – meeting all conditions with grace. Anyone learning these timeless practices can learn how to ride each moment more smoothly.
As this article reveals, sustainable happiness usually comes from intentional practices. If we want to be more like these people we can seek enduring happiness over fleeting fixes.
We might nurture empathy, immerse ourselves in the present moment more, move quickly (but respectfully) through negative feelings, and spread more helping hands expecting nothing in return.
So let’s nurture all of this and bring a growth mindset, laughter with friends and selfless service into our routine so that we too can sometimes be those happy people who inspire others.
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