7 Habits of Happy People

Article posted in: Lifestyle

Decades of research on positive emotions have come to one major conclusion: Happiness isn’t something that just happens. It’s a choice and a practice, and some people are just better at “doing” happiness than others.

Fortunately, we can all learn to be happier by adopting the same good habits of happy people, like these:

1. They count their blessings. A sense of gratitude is one of the key characteristics of happy people, according to research. Happy, grateful people regard all the good things—and sometimes, even the bad things—in their lives as gifts that have helped them grow and flourish. You can cultivate gratitude by writing down three things that went well for you every day for a week to three weeks. In one study, people who did that felt happier for six months afterward.

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2. They nurture their relationships. Many studies have found that having great people in your life—friends, family, co-workers, neighbors—means you’re not only less likely to be sad and lonely, you’re likely to feel better about and take good care of yourself. It’s important for your happiness to hang out with happy people. Being surrounded by happy people will make you happy too, says 2008 research from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego. One way it may work: A European study found that happy people give off a scent that makes those around them feel happier too.

3. They know and use their strengths. More than a decade ago, the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, PhD, was part of a project to compile a list of character strengths—things like creativity, curiosity, a sense of fairness, courage, kindness, and spirituality. He found that people who understood their key strengths and used and developed them were happier than those who don’t. Tapping into what’s best about ourselves tends to make us feel strong, independent and competent.

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4. They accentuate the positive. Our brains have a “negativity bias,” says neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, author of Hardwiring Happiness. We’re hardwired to be on the lookout for danger, bad news, or something to worry about since self-protection is vital to our survival. Studies show that the brain overreacts to intense negative stimuli such as loud noises or scary pictures and glosses over the good things. It takes some effort to shift your bias toward the positive, says Dr. Hanson. One way to do it: Keep a diary of things that make you happy each day, no matter how small, like the driver who lets you pull out on a busy highway, the smile of the stranger in the elevator, or the unexpected gift from a child. Staying mindful of positive events in your life can help you counteract the negative things that happen.

5. They give to others. Giving was the top habit of the 5,000 happy people who responded to a survey by the British charity, Action for Happiness. Giving—whether it’s officially volunteering or just giving when you see someone in need—has been linked in studies using a special kind of brain technology to the regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. Studies show it also releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that may be responsible for both the runner’s and the helper’s “high.” Try performing five acts of kindness a week. Happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California and author of “The How of Happiness” found that when her study subjects did that for six weeks, they felt a glow of happiness that was lasting.

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6. They savor life. You know how the first bite of chocolate is always the best? And if you have too much, the pleasure you first feel starts to fade? That’s called “hedonic adaptation:” We adapt to and take for granted pleasurable things. Happy people spend a little more time “savoring” the good things in life. They don’t glance at a rainbow in the sky and keep moving along. They look at it, think about it, maybe take a photo to remember it. They’re aware of the beauty of nature around them, the camaraderie of friends out for an after-work happy hour, the moments spent with ones they love. That focuses their attention—mind, heart and soul—on the good things in their lives.

7. They don’t “pursue” happiness. In fact, a new study from the University of California at Berkeley found that people whose goal was to “be happier” weren’t as happy as those who “found” happiness by being involved with and helping others.