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Work / Life Balance

7 Habits of Incredibly Happy People

Surprisingly, it can be the little things that have an outsized impact on our day-to-day happiness levels.


While happiness is defined by the individual, I’ve always felt it foolish to declare that nothing can be learned from observing the happiness of others.

In our day-to-day lives it is easy to miss the forest for the trees and look over some of the smaller, simpler things that can disproportionally affect our happiness levels. Luckily, we can go off more than just our intuition; there are lots of studies that aim for finding the right behavior that leads to a happier life. Below, we take a look at some of the more actionable advice. 

1. Be Busy, But Not Rushed

Research shows that being “rushed” puts you on the fast track to being miserable. On the other hand, many studies suggest that having nothing to do can also take its toll, bad news for those who subscribe to the Office Space dream of doing nothing.

The porridge is just right when you’re living a productive life at a comfortable pace. Meaning: you should be expanding your comfort zone often, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed. Easier said than done, but certainly an ideal to strive towards.

Feeling like you’re doing busywork is often the result of saying “Yes” to things you are not absolutely excited about. Be sure to say “No” to things that don’t make you say, “Hell yeah!” We all have obligations, but a comfortable pace can only be found by a person willing to say no to most things, and who’s able to say “Yes” to the right things.

You should be expanding your comfort zone often, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed.

2. Have 5 Close Relationships

Having a few close relationships keeps people happier when they’re young, and has even been shown to help us live longer, with a higher quality of life. True friends really are worth their weight in gold. But why five relationships? This seemed to be an acceptable average from a variety of studies. Take this excerpt from the book Finding Flow:

National surveys find that when someone claims to have 5 or more friends with whom they can discuss important problems, they are 60 percent more likely to say that they are ‘very happy’.

The number isn’t the important aspect here, it is the effort you put into your relationships that matters. Studies show that even the best relationships dissolve over time; a closeness with someone is something you need to continually earn, never treat it as a given. Every time you connect with those close to you, you further strengthen those bonds and give yourself a little boost of happiness at the same time. The data show that checking in around every two weeks is the sweet spot for very close friends. 

3. Don’t Tie Your Happiness to External Events

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. —C.S. Lewis

Self-esteem is a tricky beast. It’s certainly good for confidence, but a variety of research suggests that self-esteem that is bound to external success can be quite fickle. For example, certain students who tied their self-esteem to their grades experienced small boosts when they received a grad school acceptance letter, but harsh drops in self-esteem when they were rejected.

Tying your happiness to external events can also lead to behavior which avoids failure as a defensive measure. Think of all the times you tell yourself, “It doesn’t matter that I failed, because I wasn’t even trying.”  The key may be, as C.S. Lewis suggests, to instead think of yourself less, thus avoiding the trap of tying your self-worth to external signals.

4. Exercise

Yup, no verbose headline here, because there is no getting around it: no matter how much you hate exercise, it will make you feel better if you stick with it. Body image improves when you exercise (even if results don’t right away). And eventually, you should start seeing that “exercise high” once you’re able to pass the initial hump: The release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria over time.

So make it one of your regular habits. It does not matter which activity you choose, there’s bound to be at least one physical activity you can stomach.

5. Embrace Discomfort for Mastery

Happy people generally have something known as a “signature strength” — At least one thing they’ve become proficient at, even if the learning process made them uncomfortable.

Research has suggested that mastering a skill may be just as stressful as you might think. Researchers found that although the process of becoming proficient at something took its toll on people in the form of stress, participants reported that these same activities made them feel happy and satisfied when they looked back on their day as a whole.

As the cartoon Adventure Time famously said, “Suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something,” and it’s true, struggle is the evidence of progress. The rewards of becoming great at something far outweigh the short-term discomfort that is caused earning your stripes.

Struggle is the evidence of progress.

6. Spend More Money on Experiences

Truly happy people are very mindful of spending money on physical items, opting instead to spend much of their money on experiences.  “Experiential purchases” tend to make us happier, at least according to the research. In fact, a variety of research shows that most people are far happier when buying experiences vs. buying material goods.

Here are some reasons why this might be, according to the literature:

  1. Experiences improve over time. Aging like a fine wine, great experiences trump physical items, which often wear off quickly (“Ugh, my phone is so old!”). Experiences can be relived for years.
  2. People revisit experiences more often. Research shows that experiences are recalled more often than material purchases. You are more likely to remember your first hiking trip over your first pair of hiking boots (although you do need to make that purchase, or you’ll have some sore feet!).
  3. Experiences are more unique. Most people try to deny, but we humans are constantly comparing ourselves to one another. Comparisons can often make us unhappy, but experiences are often immune to this as they are unique to us. Nobody in the world will have the exact experience you had with your wife on that trip to Italy.
  4. We adapt slowly to experiences. Consumer research shows that experiences take longer to “get used to.” Have you ever felt really energized, refreshed, or just different after coming back from a great show/dinner/vacation? It is harder to replicate that feeling with material purchases.
  5. Experiences are social. Human beings are social animals. Did you know that true solitary confinement is often classified as “cruel and unusual” punishment due to the detrimental effects it can have on the mind? Experiences get us out of our comfort zone, out of our house, and perhaps involved in those close relationships we need to be happy.

7. Don’t Ignore Your Itches

This one is more anecdotal than scientific, but perhaps most important.

When the Guardian asked a hospice nurse for the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, one of the most common answers was that people regretted not being true to their dreams:

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

As they say, there are seven days in the week, and “someday” isn’t one of them.

How about you?

What specific mindsets or habits keep you happy?

Comments (87)
  • writelaughdream

    I would say definitely finding a work/life balance is extremely important. Sometimes we are so driven in our careers, that we don’t give enough time to the things that are really important. I guess it lends itself to those 5 important relationships. Actually taking time to nurture them and putting aside work for a couple hours or for a weekend has definitely improved my life.

  • ToSiMpHaL

    Great piece, very useful

  • Riru

    Point 5, second paragraph: “something took it’s toll” should read “its”.

    • Sasha

      Ack! Good catch!

    • http://www.sparringmind.com Gregory Ciotti

      My favorite little error to make, thanks for the heads up!

  • Aero

    Thanks a lot. True !!

  • Swap-Hop Founder

    Great Article, thank you!

  • Anders Midtgaard

    Great post, the last one though is tough, people easily gets caught up in chasing the DREAM and forgets the first 6 points of the article. So you wanna be a star and you dream about the perfect life. Question is who is dreaming you or the glossy magazines, your parents, the movies, your friends, or YOU? and now the people around you are not you friends anymore, you are attached completely to the externalities of life, how many downlodas, tickets or films are you selling, you have no time for your friends. You are extremely busy do to your highprofile schedule. Suddenly your dream was not what you expected and you are miserable. So stop and listen to yourself, who is dreaming you, or the norms of society your parents, the magazines you read, your friends. Stop listening to the noise and find your own way. Good luck.

    • InSpiro Arts

      So, if suspected the majority of the readers are in touch with whom they are, point six hits the nail right on. Great comment but lets choose to hope the majority on this page are quite awake already!

  • Martin

    Great article!

  • http://www.theconfidencelounge.com/ Aaron Morton

    I remember going to a talk by a guy who had made his millions through property.

    He said when he earnt his first million he wanted to treat himself, so booked a holiday to an island where his plan was to do absolutely nothing for a whole month. After all isn’t that the dream when you reach a million; retire to do nothing?

    After 2 weeks he came home because he was massively bored!

    Your first point Gregory about being busy, not rushed emphasises this point.

    I am working on the notion of letting go of the outcome at the moment. Not because I don’t want it, more that it isn’t connected to my self-confidence or overall level of happiness.

    I’ll admit its hard because we are emotional beings after all, but i catch myself and remind myself that it doesn’t have to mean anything other than ‘this is event that has happened’!

    I have also taken on board the notion of experiences. Last year I hardly had any experiences, I worked mostly.

    This year I have sought to change this and already I am doing an acting class, going to Salsa classes, going to more social events and hired a coach to help me make my business more remote so i can travel more by the end of the year.

    Small steps but keep moving!

    Thanks Gregory Great article as always!

    Aaron
    The Confidence Lounge

  • Stephanie Curran

    Great post! So true “there are seven days in the week, and “someday” isn’t one of them”

  • yasuyo takeo

    Thank you so much for this great post. As I’m pursuing my freelance career while juggling work for my startup, on many days I feel pressured and stressed (with declining amount of money in my bank account) — but then I realize there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing right now. It was nice to be reminded about regrets of the dying in your post as well. Thanks so much!

  • thelastmusicfan

    Australian Glitch Hop keeps my life interesting 😀

    http://adaptedrecords.bandcamp.com/track/neuro-love

  • Naddl

    Such a nice article! Now, i´m happy!

  • Maggie Clancy

    Love this! Also love that Adventure Time was quoted here. To being happy!

  • Mary Kunihira

    Mary Kunihira

  • http://www.babydoodah.com/ Jillian @ Baby Doodah!

    What an awesome article! Some great food for thought. I need to put #4 into practice much more frequently!!

  • http://seamesparkle.wordpress.com/ Tami @ SeaMeSparkle

    Love this article. Thank You.

  • Alex

    It’s one of the most amazing articles I’ve never read about happiness! Thank you for this.

  • beautylovesbooks

    Love this post! The 7 habits of highly effective people is one of my favourite books!
    http://beautylovesbooks.com

  • Claudia Falcao

    I loved the article Gregory!
    My way of keeping happiness involves all the ones described, particularly about the experience. I am vital, happy and fulfilled with my life, body and mind. I guess it took me until my thirties to become an expert on me without being selfish,vain or unkind. Call me silly – I dance in front of the mirror, I smile as a scape for anything but more importantly I am truly loyal to my mind.

  • http://www.mycity4her.com MyCityM

    I have found that taking time for yourself as a priority, is important to being, feeling, living “Happy”. I also found doing the work you love, contributes to being happy – I love the time Mycity4Her.com occupies in my life, as a result, I am happier for sure. GREAT article, great ideas…I will share with enthusiasm!

  • http://www.TravelShepherd.com/ Michael

    Thanks for the list. The concept in #6 is new to me as a happiness generator but not new to me as a lifestyle Since I am a global nomad my whole life is an experience.

    Just today I published an article about the happiness to success and back again cycle:

    http://www.opinionspost.com/hedonism-healthy/

    Cheers

  • fatinha

    Feel more happy already 🙂

  • Ismael

    I don’t get the usage of “proficient” in Truly happy people are very proficient with what they spend on physical things… or the use of “relieved” in Experiences can be relieved for years… (Not being a language Nazi, just want to make sure I get the nuances here.)

    • http://www.sparringmind.com Gregory Ciotti

      Not at all! Thanks for the heads up, just emailed the editor.

  • Adrian

    Good article. Nice points. Not too long. Thanks.

  • Peter Smetaniuk

    Oh yes! The ‘regret of inaction’ is probably the most depressive feeling an individual can experience–especially when the life is coming closer to the end.

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