The quest to find the key to happiness is perhaps one of the most frequently pondered subjects, and the topic of countless self-help books. Authors, such as Shawn Achor, who wrote The Happiness Advantage, and Gretchen Rubin, writer and podcast host best known for her book The Happiness Project, have examined the role that habit formation plays in happiness.
Although each person’s path to happiness is different, a growing body of research suggests that the following habits have been consistently linked to happy people.
Take care of yourself: Make sure your daily routine is one that promotes good health. This means eating balanced and healthy meals, as well as making sure you get a good night’s sleep. Regular exercise is important too. Physical activity can take many forms, including hiking, yoga, swimming, walking the dog at a brisk pace, or joining a sports team. Find an activity that best suits your schedule, interests, and fitness level to increase the likelihood that you’ll stick to it.
Connect with others: People with a strong and broad social support system report being happier and healthier, and also live longer. What’s more, having close relationships with friends and family has been associated with increased self-esteem. Strengthen your relationships by identifying supportive individuals in your life and nurturing those bonds. If you’re feeling isolated, consider joining a new club, committee, or class. Spending time at your local community centre or coffee shop might also help forge new relationships with people who live near you.
Additionally, studies show that the act of giving is linked to increased happiness. Combine the positive effects of social contact with giving by volunteering for an organization that you care about.
Cultivate gratitude: People who are grateful report being happier and more fulfilled. Gratitude has also been associated with lower levels of stress and numerous positive physical effects, such as reduced heart rate. Being grateful involves more than saying thank you. It’s about taking the time to truly explore what you appreciate in your life.
Try this exercise on a daily basis: write 3 good things that happened to you each day. This can be absolutely anything you feel good about, there is no right or wrong answer. Make sure to be as specific as possible. Even on a bad day there is usually something to feel grateful about, whether it’s a supportive friend or your ability to have managed a difficult situation. Taking the time to be grateful isn’t about ignoring the bad, but rather about focusing more of your attention on the positive than the negative.
As outlined in Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage, just like you need to work out regularly to build physical strength and endurance, your brain needs to be trained to think positively. That’s why it’s so important for this habit to be integrated into your daily life.
Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the act of observing your present moment experience in a non-judgmental and compassionate way. When you’re mindful, you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and therefore better able to manage them. Mindfulness releases tension as well as boosts concentration and creativity. It has also helped people overcome more serious concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. The best part is that it can be done anywhere, anytime, and its effects can be life-changing.
Every day, spend five to ten minutes doing a simple mindfulness meditation exercise. As mentioned, being mindful involves staying in the moment, noticing what’s going on both within you and in your environment. Whether you set a timer and sit still, take a mindful walk in nature, or listen to a guided script, feel how mindfulness can help you become more connected and at ease, and quiet negative thoughts.
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“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”
– Dalai Lama