If you ask people what they want out of life, most would reply that they truly desire to be happy and healthy.
We also express wishes for happiness to friends and loved ones with greetings such as “happy birthday,” “happy anniversary,” “happy new year,” and so on.
So the question is: if most of us wish for happiness, then why do so many of us report being unhappy?
Short answer: because life happens. Many situations and events occur throughout our life that may be out of our control (i.e. death of a loved one). Many of these events go hand-in-hand with the grieving process.
Although some life events can derail our plans for full happiness during certain periods of time, you can—and should—take action to maintain some degree of happiness.
In order to be truly maintain happiness throughout your life, you need to practice certain habits consistently, especially through the most challenging life events.
Here are six habits of happy people, backed by scientific evidence and expanded upon in my book.
What Happy People Do
1. Feel positively…
Research has found that happy people work at creating and experiencing greater positive feelings and emotions than unhappy people. Positive emotions have also been shown to improve resilience, one’s ability to bounce back from setbacks, and overall life satisfaction.
Experiences that create positive feelings and emotions don’t have to take a lot of time. For instance, taking focused time out to linger in a garden, petting animals, listening to music, or watching a sunset may not take much time, but can result in positive emotions.
Longer bouts of positive experiences that create positive feelings and emotions, like taking an extended vacation with your family, taking a day off to go to a spa, or meeting friends for a day of leisure and laughter can certainly re-charge your well-being and improve happiness.
2. …and think positively
One of the most essential habits of happy people is to monitor and, if necessary, restructure thoughts to improve happiness and overall well-being. Happy people generally experience more positive thoughts than unhappy people.
We all have automatic thoughts when we are facing a situation or event. To improve happiness, it is important to monitor your automatic thoughts and re-structure them if necessary.
For example, when you wake up in the morning, if your automatic thought is “Today is going to be a stressful day at work, I just know it,” you may want to restructure that thought to improve your happiness.
Re-structure your thought to something like, “It’s a beautiful day today, it’s good to be alive, and I will see today’s challenges as opportunities; all is good.” It’s a proven academic theory that happier people work at creating happier and positive thoughts.
3. Engage in life!
Being completely present in life has been shown to improve happiness. Happy people work at focusing on each and every moment, engaging their senses, and are more mindful.
For example, when eating dinner with your family, ensure you are completely engaged in the moment. Try to clear your mind, flush the day’s events from your thoughts, and focus on who you are with and where you are now.
Engage all your senses, taste the food, listen to the tone and inflection in your children’s voices, smell the food, feel the texture of the bread, and look in the eyes of your loved ones.
If you practice being more mindful, present, and engaged in life, you will be happier!
4. Make your relationships positive
One of the founders of Positive Psychology, Christopher Peterson, once stated that “positive psychology, which includes the study of happiness, is simply about other people.”
Related: The 7 C’s Of Happy Relationships
If we think back on all our experiences related to positive emotions, relationships, meaning and accomplishment, they most likely include other people.
To continue your “happiness journey”, think about how you can plan more positive experiences with your friends and family, or perhaps how you can cultivate new friends and deeper positive relationships.
5. Strive for a meaningful life
Dr. Martin Seligman, a researcher who studies happiness and well-being, describes “meaning” as “belonging to and serving something bigger than the self.”
Meaning can be expressed in practice of spiritual or religious beliefs, or through pursuit in an active cause that you believe in that can benefit others and or the greater good.
Dr. Seligman, along with other researchers who study the construct of “happiness”, found that happy people strive to live more meaningful lives.
Related: 6 Ways To Become Happy
6. Work towards accomplishments
Accomplishments that provide meaning and purpose improve happiness and well-being. Accomplishments are most valuable when they are pursued for intrinsic (internal motivations) verses extrinsic motivation (financial benefit).
The happiest people strive for accomplishment, not for money or fame, but because they believed in what they were striving for, a “cause,” passion, or belief, and that is what motivated them to succeed or even excel.
Research reports that people who are happier achieve better life outcomes. These outcomes can include financial success, meaningful relationships, emotional health, effective copying abilities, physical health, and longevity.
The evidence is clear on ways to achieve true happiness. Practicing the above six habits of happy people is a great start. Finally…don’t worry, just be happy!
Anne Marie Ludovici (Annie) is a noted author, speaker, wellbeing activist and leading authority in affective personal lifestyle enrichment. Annie’s best-selling book, Winning Health Promotions Strategies, is considered the blueprint for fostering healthy communities everywhere. Her new book, Change Your Mind, Change Your Health: 7 Ways to Harness Your Brain to Achieve True Well-Being was written to help you finally change for good!
Photo by Mait Jüriado