11 simple habits that will make you a happier person

by Brendan Brown | December 25, 2023, 11:00 am

What makes a happy life?

In some ways, that’s the question at the root of all philosophy for the past couple of thousand years, if not more.

It’s a big ask for a short blog post.

At the same time, finding happiness can be as simple as adjusting your habits. After all, as Aristotle said, we are what we repeatedly do. 

None of us can just snap our fingers and make ourselves instantly happy. But we can practice habits that will bring us closer to the goal of a happy life.

Here are some powerful habits that are proven to increase your overall happiness and well-being.

1) Pursuing a goal

Let’s turn to Aristotle again.

Part of the reason happiness can seem so elusive is that the English language suffers from a certain poverty when it comes to talking about happiness. We only really have the one word that covers a lot of different concepts.

The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, had a more nuanced understanding of happiness, and used several different words to describe different kinds of happiness.

For Aristotle, eudamonia, a term that may be best translated as well-being, was the highest goal in life. But living well as a human requires using human capacities, such as reason. 

For Aristotle, then, happiness came from virtuous activity.

In other words, you need to actually do something.

Interestingly, it hardly even matters what your goal is. As psychologist Timothy A Pychyl writes, as long as the goal is meaningful to you, pursuing it will make you happier.

Having a goal in life helps you to decide how you will spend your limited time on this planet. And achieving little goals along the way has enormous effects on your self-esteem and well-being.

As long as your goal isn’t world domination or something else unvirtuous, having goals is key to living a happy life – as long as you remember to take some pleasure along the way.

2) Accepting challenges

No matter who you are, you are going to face challenges in life. We don’t all have the same advantages or disadvantages, but nobody gets a free ride.

From the outside, it often seems like the people who are happiest are those who don’t have any problems. But actually, that’s not true at all.

Instead, a more accurate statement would be that people who accept the challenges life throws at them are happier than those who try to escape any kind of hardship and suffering.

Think about it.

If your happiness depends on everything in your life going perfectly, you have no chance of ever being truly happy. Instead, you need to learn to be happy even when things aren’t going your way.

Nothing makes us grow more than being challenged. And the right challenge can send us on a whole new path that we might not have considered before.

If you want to be truly happy, get in the habit of seeing the challenges you will inevitably face as opportunities for growth and progress.

After all, life is an adventure. And what kind of adventure doesn’t have any challenges?

3) Getting outside

One of the simplest ways to improve your mood is to spend time in nature.

Just like every other animal, we were not made to live in air-conditioned office cubicles, artificially lit houses, or behind the wheel of a car.

We grew out of this world like everything else does, and our bodies have never forgotten that fact.

There are plenty of studies which show that time spent outdoors can have huge effects on both our physical and mental well-being.

You don’t have to go hiking for a week in the mountains – unless you want to. Even a quick walk around your local park is enough to improve your mood and help you form a happiness habit.

4) Being mindful

You’ve probably heard this one before. But that’s because it’s true.

Mindfulness means focusing on your experiences in the present. Because while pursuing goals is a key part of being happy, it’s also vital that you don’t focus only on the future and miss the forest for the trees.

Here’s the thing: you can only ever live in the present. And by the time the future you are planning for gets here, that will be the present too. So if you don’t know how to be happy now, you never will.

Mindfulness is a key component of Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, but you don’t need to be a practitioner or believe in anything in particular to reap the benefits of paying attention to your life as you are living it now.

Being mindful of your environment has been shown to have all kinds of benefits for both your happiness and your performance. 

There are various ways to practice mindfulness, but however you do it, it’s one of the best habits you can cultivate to make yourself happier.

5) Cultivating your social network

By now, you may be noticing a trend. Part of being happy is accepting your own nature as a human and following where that leads.

This is another example of doing just that. Humans are the most social animals on the planet, and even those of us who are more comfortable with solitude usually benefit from having some kind of social network around us.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that more friends is automatically better.

Having many friendships makes people happier. But the quality of our relationships is even more important.

In other words, it’s more important to have a few really good friends than lots of superficial ones.

6) Sleeping

It doesn’t get much more simple than this. However, you might be surprised to learn what an important effect good sleep has on your happiness.

Lots of studies have shown that the quality of the sleep you get has a huge effect on your general life satisfaction. So don’t forget to get plenty of rest if you want to be truly happy.

7) Nurturing your creativity

Another often neglected part of human nature is creativity.

Ever since the first humans started painting pictures of the animals they hunted on the walls of caves, creativity has been a major part of people’s lives.

And you don’t have to be an award-winning writer or famous musician to get the benefits of being creative.

It could be as simple as a coloring book, woodworking, or messing around on the guitar. There are heaps of scientific evidence demonstrating that any creative pursuit can have positive effects on your well-being.

8) Helping others

This one may be a little counterintuitive. But there’s plenty of evidence that real and lasting happiness comes from putting others before yourself.

It makes sense when you think about it.

As I’ve mentioned, humans are intensely social animals. We can’t really be happy when people are suffering around us.

Therefore, making the effort to help others, even in small ways, can have huge effects on our own well-being.

9) Ignoring the news

There’s an argument that we ought to be well-informed and engaged with the problems of the world.

But it’s undeniable that focusing on all the world’s problems as brought to us by our current media landscape is making us all miserable.

There are lots of emerging evidence that suggest a focus on negative news coverage makes us unhappy. 

The thing is, negativity gets attention, so the media focuses on it almost exclusively.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: unplug. The next pandemic, war, or recession will get along just fine without you.

10) Forgiving the past

Even the most fortunate of us have stories of hard times. It’s a sad truth of life that none of us gets out unscathed.

What makes it beautiful is that we have the power to forgive the past, no matter what we’ve been through.

Forgiving both yourself and the people who may have wronged you is one of the most powerful ways to ensure your own happiness. 

It doesn’t matter what you’ve suffered. It doesn’t even matter if the people you forgive want your forgiveness or acknowledge that they did anything wrong.

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. But it does mean reclaiming your personal power and robbing past trauma of its power to define your present and future.

Learn to forgive, and you’re well on your way to being a happier person.

11) Doing what you love

I don’t mean for a living.

If there is something that you love to do, whether it’s writing or painting or playing a musical instrument or snowboarding, do it. Do it as often and as well and as joyfully as you can. You don’t need anybody else to pay you for it to justify doing it.

And you may be surprised where a passion takes you. After all, I started writing because I love it, and now it’s how I make a living.

But whether you achieve success in the eyes of the world or not for your passion is irrelevant. Doing it is what matters.

In fact, that’s a rule for happiness in life too. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how you do it. It just matters that you do it, every single day that’s given to you.

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