8 Habits of Healthy People

Use these quick, simple practices to boost your happiness every day.

By Ginevra Holtkamp


March/April 2017

Smiling Woman

There are plenty of simple things you can do each day to maintain a happy and positive attitude.

Photo by iStock

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For most of us, brushing our teeth at least twice a day is a habit and doesn’t require much effort or discipline. We wake up in the morning and do it without deliberation. Forming good habits makes things easier, and it is possible to create ones that can increase positive emotions. Here are eight habits you can incorporate in your day-to-day routine that can make you feel happier.  

1. Give Thanks

In his book The Happiness Equation, Neil Pasricha writes, “If you can be happy with simple things, then it will be simple to be happy.” He suggests writing down three to five things you’re grateful for from the past week. He wrote five a week on his popular blog 1000 Awesome Things while processing the loss of his marriage and a close friend. What started as a journey toward finding happiness in his life led to a series of books, a TED Talk and speaking around the world about the power of optimism. What you write down can be relatively small in importance (see #840 from the blog, “Popping bubble wrap”) or relatively large (#829 “Smiling and thinking of good friends who are gone”); it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you are tuning in to what is good in your life — a habit that trains your brain to scan for positives instead of negatives. Furthermore, when you write about a positive experience, you relive it, and then relive it again each time you read it, thus exponentially increasing your happiness. 

2. Say Something Nice

The next time someone asks, “How are you doing?”, think of something positive and specific to say instead of automatically replying “OK” or “tired,” says Michelle Gielan, author of Broadcasting Happiness. You could say something simple like, “I’m great! This cup of coffee is really hitting the spot.” Or, delve deeper and share a more meaningful experience. A simple shift in how you communicate can help you get in a positive mindset and create contagious optimism, causing the person you’re speaking with to share something positive as well. 

3. Get Some Exercise 

We all know exercise is good for us both physically and mentally. It wards off health problems, keeps weight in check, and can help us feel less stressed and anxious. Then why is it so hard for many of us to make exercise a habit? In Happiness is a Habit, author Michele Phillips suggests doing something that moves your body every day, but not to exercise just for the sake of exercising. “It will be boring, tedious and you won’t stick to it,” she writes. Think about exercise activities you love — perhaps gardening, hiking, swimming, biking or dancing. Find a workout buddy. It will be more fun, and you’ll be more likely to keep it up. You can also find or form fitness groups on meetup.com for anything from tai chi to salsa dancing.

4. Know How to Unplug  

Technology has some wonderful benefits, but the constant stream of incoming emails, text messages and social media posts can take its toll, leaving us feeling distracted, stressed and even depressed. Simple changes in the way we use technology can help. Here are some suggestions: Limit checking email and social media to only a few times a day and deactivate alerts on your cell phone; unplug from all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed; use social media to deepen existing connections rather than comparing yourself to your peers; choose one day a week to take a complete break from email and social media; or do something once a day without your cell phone. 

5. Connect With Nature 

Growing research suggests people who interact with and appreciate nature experience more life satisfaction. A large-scale campaign in the UK called 30 Days Wild challenged people to engage with nature every day for a month by performing a “Random Act of Wildness.” Walking barefoot through grass, feeding birds, and climbing a tree are a few of the simple and fun ways an estimated 18,500 participants connected with nature. In an analysis published in the journal PLOS One, researchers found a significant increase in participants’ happiness and health — not just throughout the challenge but also for months after it had been completed. For more ideas on how to get wild, visit My Wild Life.

6. Be Mindful

Many of us go through life rehashing the past or worrying about the future without enjoying the present. Practicing mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is simply being aware of our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in the moment — without judging them as good or bad. Research shows it can reduce stress, enhance our connection with others and increase positive emotions. One study published in Archives of General Psychiatry found it may be as effective as antidepressants in fighting depression. Although mindfulness can be cultivated through formal meditation, you don’t have to spend hours sitting in lotus position to tap the benefits, says psychologist Elisha Goldstein, author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion. Try weaving mindful moments into your daily routine, while you’re showering, waiting in line or even washing dishes. Focus your attention on your breathing and senses, and be fully present in the moment. 

7. Get Things Done

Procrastination is draining. Tackling nagging tasks can set us free and help us feel happier. Author Gretchen Rubin, who writes about happiness and habits in Better Than Before, says if you’re feeling overwhelmed and ineffective about the things you need to accomplish, just take one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion is encouraging, and will help you get things done. And remember, most decisions do not require extensive research, she says. If you are paralyzed by your inability to make a decision, remind yourself that often, one choice isn’t that much different from another, make a decision, and move on. 

8. Nurture Relationships

Happiness researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor suggests starting each day by sending a short email or text praising or thanking someone you know, a different person each day. Not only does it make us and our recipients feel good, but it also strengthens our social support network, so when challenges and stress arise, we have people who can help. Achor’s research has found that deepening our connections with friends, family and peers is one of the greatest predictors of long-term happiness — with a correlation stronger than the connection between smoking and cancer.