Do you want to know how to be happy and stay happy?
Although experiencing different moods is normal, consistently happy people tend to share these habits. See which ones you can add to your life!
1) They look after themselves
Ok so I’m not going to list all the ‘obvious’ things in this article such as gratitude journals and meditation and so on, but certain aspects of self-care are too important not to point out.
Have you ever felt down and you don’t know why? Me too. And the first thing I check is the basics:
Am I hungry? Thirsty? Tired?
These three very basic human experiences can affect our happiness and are easily resolved once you realize they are the issue.
And while we are talking about the basics, can you guess something else that makes a huge difference?
Regular exercise. Yes, we all know that exercise is good for your physical health, but it’s also amazing for your mental health as well, stimulating dopamine and endorphins, reducing anxiety and depression, giving us sunlight for vitamin D, and getting us out into the world!
Not into the gym? Me neither! I find that a nice walk can totally change my mood.
2) They make time for good things
Doing things we like makes us happy, but all too often we put off the ‘little’ things because we are so concerned with the busyness of life.
When I first met my hardworking trucker ex, he told me that it had been twenty years since he had laid his head on grass. Twenty years! For a pleasure that is free and doesn’t take that long.
I reminded him that, like all of us, he wasn’t going to live forever.
He now takes time to lie on grass and do all the other little things he enjoys. He also fulfilled his ‘big’ dream of buying a Harley Davidson for himself and his son, and they now regularly connect and enjoy riding together.
It’s great to be responsible, but don’t put off doing the good things, they are a part of what makes life worth living.
3) They connect with friends and family – or make new ones
We’re social animals, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. As therapists Mick Cooper and Dave Mearns demonstrate through a wealth of studies, in their book, “Working at Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy”, being lonely is significantly going to reduce your health and well-being.
As you saw with my ex, spending extra time with his grown-up son has dramatically increased his happiness and their bond.
There are many ways you might connect more with family members and friends, whether it’s doing an activity together, or just making extra time for a phone call.
And if there is no one you can relate to in your family and friend group – get out there and make new friends!
To quote author Jess C. Scott: “Friends are the family you get to choose.”
4) They have fun!
We talked about making time for the good things, but what about the fun things?
As this recent article in Aeon Psyche demonstrates, there can be a tendency to devalue fun when we are busy. However, as the author Mike Rucker tells us “Fun isn’t frivolous – it’s vital for your wellbeing.”
I recommend you read the whole article, but to summarize some key points:
- Having fun has many benefits, including reduced stress, improved immune function, and increased longevity.
- To start having more fun, examine and challenge your limiting beliefs about fun, reframing it as an opportunity for growth and a way to enhance your quality of life.
- Combine activities to make them more enjoyable and maximize limited free time, such as listening to podcasts while doing chores or exercising with friends.
- Choose variety – exploring new hobbies, attending events, and meeting new people. Commit to these activities and schedule them.
Other ways to have fun include gamifying boring tasks, such as seeing if you can clean your room within a set time. And using a habit tracker with friends such as Habitica.
Also – release that inner child!
For me, that looks like going to an improv workshop, or playing Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) with friends. Or painting just for the fun, not the result. Or having silly mini parties with friends where you dress up.
In the words of Bart Simpson (and the quote that was stuck in my head for 20 years!) “You’re right Milhouse, fun IS fun!”
What does your inner child think is fun?
5) They do what they say they are going to do
We all know that feeling when we have planned to do something fun, but for whatever reason, we don’t want to do it. Maybe we are feeling under the weather, tired, or anxious.
But the fact is that we probably planned to do it because we knew it would be rewarding.
Going out into the world, especially if it’s outside your comfort zone, is likely to give you a boost.
This is because it opens up more opportunities for fun, new interests and connections. As well as the feelings of confidence and pride from doing something new.
To quote a song from Instagram influencer and musician Anthony Vincent, (who flips the heavy metal genre to shout positive messages in a funny way):
“Do what you say you’re gonna do,
I promise you you won’t regret it…
Your comfort zone is cozy,
Believe me I know,
But if go you’ll feel endorphins
You wouldn’t feel at home”
Every time I’m tempted to bail on something I’ve planned, I think about this song and do my best to go. And you know what? I always appreciate that I did!
6) They do something for others
We’ve established that fun is fun. Yay! And in psychological terms that is called ‘hedonic pleasure/well-being’.
But there’s another type of pleasure which is called ‘eudaimonic happiness’. This is the type of pleasure that you get from doing something fulfilling for yourself or for others. These things can be big or little. Studies have shown that people topping up other people’s parking meters made them feel happy.
And doing things for others can take your mind off your problems.
Practicing compassion, which often involves an action for others in the face of their suffering, has been shown to increase positive emotions (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008), and improve physical health (Carson et al., 2005; Kok et al., 2013).
But wait – there’s more.
Eudaimonic happiness takes us back to making time for good things. But what is ‘good’ in this context?
Well, it’s a bit like having a massive hedonic ice cream with sprinkles, or making a tasty eudaimonic nutritious homemade meal.
Both give you pleasure (and have their place!) but one has empty calories that you will soon forget about. The other is something long-lasting that will fill you up, and continue to nourish you long after you finish eating.
Here’s the takeaway: Scientists believe we each have a happiness set point – the place where our brains naturally settle at. Some of us have higher or lower ones. But we can change our set point!
After the hedonic ice cream, your happiness soon returns to baseline. But if you regularly include eudaimonic pleasures in your life, you can increase your happiness setpoint, and be consistently happier in the long term!
7) They let go of expectations that weigh them down
So far we’ve talked about a lot of good stuff that you can include in your life. But what about the things you have to let go of?
A friend of mine recently realized that he is what some call a ‘high-potential person’. Essentially, it’s someone that “is a dynamic person who will develop beyond her current skills and abilities.” It usually means they are very intelligent and make great leaders.
But when my friend learned this, it put a huge pressure on him. Especially as he was grateful for his excellent childhood and opportunities. He felt inspired, obliged even, to change the world in a positive way.
Sounds great right?
And at first, it was. He began to do all kinds of things, from learning how to code, to devising a new way for science labs around the world to collaborate.
But it wasn’t all positive.
After a while, he began to experience odd symptoms and health problems that couldn’t be explained. He couldn’t sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. He sank into a deep depression that lasted several years.
Finally, after a lot of self-work and therapy, he realized the issue. It was the pressure of the expectation that he should be able to do something extraordinary, that was weighing him down.
Only by letting go of those pressures and expectations he had taken on, was he able to get better.
He still wants to help others, and continues his worthy career as a teacher, providing inspiration and care for generations of children. But now he can relax and can sleep, and the weird health problems have gone away.
So ask yourself, are there any pressures or expectations that are getting in the way of your happiness and well-being? These might have come from you or from your family, friends or colleagues.
If yes, it’s time to reexamine them and see if they are still worth holding on to!
8) Accept that different moods/emotions are normal
Staying happy is great, but should we expect to feel happy all of the time?
Positive psychology may tell us that constant happiness is normal, but actually, this is a very culturally and historically specific belief.
Consider the Buddhists, who acknowledge that much of life contains suffering (rejection, pain, sickness and death are things we will all face), and that the path to contentment (rather than happiness) is to accept that.
Ironically, the pressure of ‘having’ to be happy all the time, can end up making you unhappy. Exactly like the expectations we just talked about.
And on the flip side, by acknowledging negative emotions and situations, we can end up feeling more happy, with many contending that this is essential for mental well-being.
Take time to feel your feelings and remember that “this too shall pass”.