C’mon, everybody, get happy! If that sounds too hard, maybe you’ve been going about it all wrong.
It’s time to stop waiting to hit the jackpot, meet Mr. or Ms. Right, or land that sweet job. True happiness doesn’t come from external factors like those.
Instead, take a cue from happy people. Embrace the following habits that help them feel great.
1. Evaluate your bandwidth and set boundaries
It goes without saying that you won’t be happy if you’re overwhelmed with life. Happy people know their limits and pare back obligations to fit both their energy and time. They also know this is not a one-time evaluation and is something that needs to be reviewed periodically.
Once happy people know their bandwidth — that is, how much time and energy they have to spend on various activities — they set boundaries so other people don’t encroach on it. That means learning to say no … a lot.
2. Schedule regular downtime
All work and no play is no fun. It can also be a real drain on your happiness. A 2020 study of 500 people in Taiwan found frequent travelers report more life satisfaction compared to those who don’t vacation as often.
Of course, you don’t need to go on vacation to find happiness. Scheduling regular work breaks and time for leisure activities works just as well for many happy people.
3. Prioritize sleep
Make sleep a priority. The American Psychological Association says chronic sleep deprivation may be “one of the most significant and overlooked public health problems in the U.S.” It’s hard to be happy when you’re dragging through the day, so get those ZZZs.
4. Create realistic goals
Setting goals and creating to-do lists seem to be ingrained in our collective psyche. However, happy people don’t let unrealistic expectations rule them. Instead, they see goals as guides that can be adjusted as needed.
Realistic goals only make you happy if you meet them. In his book “The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM),” Hal Elrod says visualization is one key to success. As Elrod describes it, this practice can be as simple as closing your eyes for a few minutes and mentally walking yourself through all the tasks of the day that need to be done to meet goals, create success and enjoy happiness.
5. Listen to music
A pair of University of Missouri studies published in 2013 found that people who listened to positive or upbeat music, such as that of composer Aaron Copland, reported feeling happier than those who listened to more somber composers, such as Igor Stravinsky.
The catch is that participants also had to be trying to feel happier in order to get a mood boost from music.
6. Volunteer regularly
One way happy people show generosity is by volunteering their time and talents. To maximize the happiness you get out of this habit, volunteer with an eye toward a specific goal. According to a Stanford researcher, having concrete giving goals creates more happiness than vague ones.
So, instead of volunteering with the intent of saving the world (vague), volunteer with the intent of increasing local recycling participation (concrete).
7. Be generous
Being generous can also be a happiness booster. A 2017 study out of the University of Zurich found those who planned to share even a small portion of an unexpected windfall reported higher levels of happiness than those who planned to keep the money all to themselves.
8. Spend time outside
We weren’t made to live in a cubicle, and supremely happy people know this. Instead of staying cooped up indoors all day, they make a beeline for the outside world.
Of course, not all outdoor spaces are the same, and science says spending some time in a natural setting is more likely to improve your happiness level than going for a walk in a busy downtown.
9. Get moving daily
By now, you’ve certainly heard that sitting is the new smoking. However, it isn’t just your body that will benefit from a little more movement. Your mind will thank you too.
Fortunately, you don’t need to clock in long hours at the gym to get a mood boost from exercise. As little as five minutes can have a positive effect on your happiness quotient. To really maximize the experience, spend that five minutes walking outside in a park and you can check off two happiness habits at once.
10. Connect with good friends regularly
Humans are social creatures, and happy people make time to connect with others. They may be part of formal clubs, groups and organizations or prefer the company of only a few close compadres. A 2023 study out of the University of Kansas found that just one quality conversation per day with a friend can increase happiness and decrease stress.
If you spend all day around people who are negative or demeaning, it’s going to be hard to feel happy. Instead, make it a habit to seek out positive people and limit time around those with toxic personalities.
While connecting with others is good, using social media can be a real downer. Studies have shown that spending time on sites like Facebook can cramp real-life personal relationships and reduce overall life satisfaction. Adopt the happiness habit of limiting your social media check-ins to specific times.
11. Find God — or spirituality
There are plenty of studies supporting the notion that spiritual people are happier people. Researchers suggest it may have something to do with religious groups providing a ready-made social network or spirituality supplying a sense of meaning for life. Whatever the reason, you may want to reconsider your Sunday or Saturday morning routine if you’re serious about finding happiness.
12. Count your blessings
Happy people also regularly remind themselves of all the good things going on in their lives. They keep gratitude journals, share personal triumphs during family dinners and mentally tick off their favorite parts of the day before turning in each night.