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11 Habits of Happy People

Discover the secret habits all happy people have in common, including the foods they eat and the choices they make.

| May/June 2015

  • Adopt a few of these daily habits for a happier, more satisfying life.
    Photo by iStock
  • Boost your mood by eating foods rich in B vitamins, protein and healthy fats.
    Photo by iStock

For centuries, people have struggled with this question: What is the secret to happiness? Many have turned to possessions, social status, appearance and even career success, but most have found that the answer isn’t hidden in such pursuits. Recently, science has started to look at this age-old question analytically. As it turns out, happiness isn’t about feeling good all the time or even about how much money we have. Instead, research suggests it’s a combination of how satisfied we are with life and how good we feel on a day-to-day basis, according to Happify, a website that creates science-based activities to help people achieve a more fulfilling life.

A number of factors outside of our control can negatively affect our happiness: About 50 percent of our “happiness set-point” is determined by personality traits that are largely hereditary, according to the Association for Psychological Science. In addition, 10 percent of our happiness set-point is determined by circumstances such as our health, income or significant life events such as divorce. Yet that leaves 40 percent fully within our control, meaning happiness is a skill we can strengthen through positive thoughts, actions and behaviors.

Research shows us that the habits of extremely happy people differ from the average American—try adopting some of these day-to-day habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

1. Be More Social: After researching how extremely happy people differ from the rest of us, Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, discovered one key ingredient: “They’re not more religious, they’re not in better shape, they don’t have more money, they’re not better looking, they don’t have more good events and fewer bad events,” Seligman said in his 2004 TED Talk, “The New Era of Positive Psychology.” “The one way in which they differ is they’re extremely social.” The size of your network doesn’t seem to make a difference—quality trumps quantity. Participate in activities you enjoy and build a strong support system.

2. Spend Wisely: Research results regarding the connection between money and happiness may not shock you—people with higher incomes are happier than those who struggle to get by. But that doesn’t mean money itself can buy happiness—what matters is how people spend their money. Giving our money away (for example, to charitable organizations or a friend in need) makes us a lot happier than buying something new for ourselves. When we do spend money on ourselves, we’re happier when we use it for experiences such as travel, dinners out with friends and family, or attending concerts and other events, rather than material goods.

3. Prioritize Your Health: Happy people are healthy people, as studies indicate that happy people have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, have stronger immune systems and heal faster after injuries. To enhance your health, exercise often (brisk walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day can do a world of good) and stick to a healthful diet (for wise-eating tips, read “How to Eat Yourself Happy”). Regular exercise is also associated with a lower incidence of depression and can help you feel better about your body—even if you don’t notice any outward physical changes, according to a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology.

5/8/2018 8:02:13 AM

It takes a long time to get over devastating losses. Although I did not lose a child I lost my brother, mother and nephew all very tragically at different times in my life. Personally I also have dealt with outcomes of an accident and a surgery that went bad. It was very difficult trying to be happy after each of these incidents and I did suffer depression each time. I can say once I was able to start walking again I would walk 3-5 miles at sunrise every morning and still do! I credit this to much of my upbeat nature and the fact I never have a bad day. I won't allow myself to get in the mindset of a bad day and when I have some troubling circumstances I acknowledge to myself that it is a "challenging" day and one that I will successfully manage those obstacles. Once I changed my attitude about my mental image of a not-so-wonderful day my life changed! People ask me why I'm never in a bad mood or have bad days...I smile and tell them I do have some challenging days but never a bad day!

7/15/2015 11:19:24 AM

Hi Tammy I had to bury one of my kids 9 years ago and I haven't been truly happy but I do work on it everyday because I know that is what he would have wanted me to do. If he thought that I was life depressed and broken hearted he would be very upset. I miss him terribly and would give anything for another hug from my son but I also do what I can to be happy in his honor. He taught me that happiness is a choice you choose how you want to live.

5/19/2015 5:55:12 PM

I wonder if any of those happy people have ever had to bury one of their kids? I have not had a truly happy day for over 11 years now.

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