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How to Be Happy: 15 Habits to Make You Happy in Life

by Ashley

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Key points

  • Practice daily gratitude to shift focus towards positive aspects.
  • Foster relationships and regularly express appreciation to loved ones.
  • Engage in consistent, enjoyable physical activity to enhance mood and overall well-being.

We all want to be happy. So why are so many people unhappy? Oftentimes the answer can be found by analyzing our daily habits.  

Developing intentional habits is at the root of feeling happy in life. By crafting a routine of daily happiness practices, you begin to realize that happiness genuinely stems from within.

This article will help you carefully craft habits to design a life full of happiness. By the end, you’ll have an arsenal of habits to use to help you find joy.

What is happiness?

Have you ever had to define happiness? It’s harder than it sounds.

Most of us default to some definition that indicates a state of feeling positive emotions. In other words, happiness means feeling good.

Research suggests that our definition of happiness is influenced by our cultural background.

In one country, happiness might be synonymous with success in your career. While in another country, happiness might mean spending time with your community.

Ultimately, I think the definition of happiness is personal. You have to decide what happiness means to you.

To me, happiness is utter peace and contentment with my life.

Take some time and figure out what happiness is to you. Because this will better help you determine the best way to find it.

What makes us happy or unhappy?

Now that you know what happiness means to you, what will make you happy? This is a question that research has been trying to answer for decades.

Research indicates that your happiness is determined partially by your genetics and partially by external sources. These external sources include things like behavior, societal expectations, and life events.

We can’t change our genetics or control unexpected life events. But what we can control is our behavior.

And our behavior consists of our daily habits. This is why if you want to be happy, you need to carefully select your habits.

Not long ago, I went through a yucky bout of depression. And I can attest that it was shifting the simple daily habits that helped me overcome depression.

It’s not a “sexy” get-happy-fast method. But focusing on your daily habits is the ultimate solution to finding joy.

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

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15 habits of happiness

If you’re ready to develop habits for lasting happiness, then buckle up. This list of 15 habits will point you toward a life full of smiles.

1. Gratitude

If you’re only going to focus on one habit for happiness, let it be this one. Gratitude is so simple yet so powerful when it comes to finding happiness.

For most of us, gratitude doesn’t come naturally. It’s so much easier to focus on what’s going wrong or on what we don’t have.

When I first wake up, it’s instinctual for me to focus on the stressors of the day. It’s clear this isn’t a recipe for happiness.

This is why you have to make gratitude a habit. And the research indicates gratitude practices are worth our time.

A study found that shifting towards an attitude of gratitude will activate areas of your brain that help to produce dopamine. Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters that help us feel happy.

I make gratitude a habit by listing 3 things I’m grateful for first thing when I wake up. I do this before I even step out of my bed.

This trains my brain to focus on the good instead of the stressors.

If you want to make it more formal, you can make a gratitude list in a journal. Or better yet, make a list with your partner in the morning.

2. Eating well

You might be tempted to skip over this tip. But hear me out before you write me off as another person telling you to eat healthy.

It’s obvious your diet impacts your overall health. By itself, this will have an impact on your joy because it can be the reason you do or do not experience life-altering diseases.

But on a more interesting note, diet is correlated with your risk for developing depression.  

If you are deficient in particular nutrients, your brain may not be able to produce the “happy” chemicals in your brain as easily.

You don’t have to be perfect. But shifting your diet to be richer in nutrient-dense foods will positively affect your mood.

I think it’s easy to see this firsthand. Think about how you feel after you eat a bunch of junk food. You may get that quick temporary dopamine hit.

But a few hours later, you tend to feel bloated and mentally fatigued.

On the other hand, think about how you feel after eating a fresh fruit smoothie. Odds are you feel energized and vibrant.

If you want to be happy, pay attention to what you eat. Consciously choose foods that are good for your body and your mind will thank you.

3. Movement

This tip goes hand in hand with eating well. I know you’re probably thinking this all sounds like typical health advice.

But trust me and the research when we say movement is a powerful drug.

Research shows that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants. You read that right. Movement has the potential to shift your mood just as effectively as a serotonin-boosting drug.

And it appears it only takes a minimum of about 30 minutes a day to achieve these effects.

So why not take advantage of your own powerful physiology daily?

Any time I’m having a rough day, I lace up my running shoes. You can bet by the end of my run my frown has flipped upside down. And if you choose an exercise class like spin or yoga, it gives you something to look forward to each day.

Find your favorite form of movement and do it consistently. It’s a simple recipe for happiness.

What does our data say?

Exercising can come in many different forms. In our mission to help destigmatize mental health issues, we’ve interviewed 23 people who’ve overcome their struggles by exercising. These stories show that exercising is a great way to become happier in life.

Our most recent therapy interviews:

Healing From Postpartum Depression With Therapy, Friends & ExerciseSurviving a Workplace Shooting and Navigating PTSD, Insomnia With Marathons and PrayersHow Sobriety, Therapy, and Self-Care Help Me Navigate BPD and Bipolar Disorder BetterConquering Alcoholism and Hopelessness And Helping Others Do the SameRecovering From Chronic Pain and Long-COVID With Emotional Healing MovementOvercoming Grief and Assault With 29 Marathons and Now Helping Others Do the SameConfronting The Stigma around My ADHD and Embracing It to Reinvent MyselfOvercoming Social Anxiety and Depression Through MMA Training and Self-RealizationFinding My Way Through Bipolar, BPD, and PTSD With Therapy and MedicationHow I Navigated Anxiety, Depression and Panic Attacks As I Settled Abroad in a New World

4. Finding the good

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase happiness is a choice. And I hate to admit it, but it’s true.

You have to make an active effort each day to work on your attitude.

All of us have days where our attitude is not so hot. But you can’t choose to live in that headspace if you want to experience happiness.

Working on your attitude means choosing to see the good in your life. This means even when things aren’t going your way.

Recently, my husband and I found out one of our cars has repairs that cost more than the car is worth. We’re not in a place to buy another car right now.

My immediate reaction was one of anxiety and frustration. But in the middle of my reaction, I remembered that I had a choice.

I slowly flipped the switch on how I was thinking.

I chose to focus on how we still had one car. And then we were able to come up with an alternating bike or carpool routine. And then I started thinking about how this would be great cross-training for my running.

I know that’s a relatively small problem in the scheme of life. But no matter how dark things may seem, there is always a bright side.

All it takes is cultivating an attitude that focuses on the good.

5. Working towards goals

Have you ever considered who the happiest people are in your immediate circle? When I stop and take a look at these people, they all tend to have one thing in common.

They’re working towards a goal or multiple goals. My happiest friends are ambitious and driven toward their passions.

And this relentless pursuit of working towards something brings joy to the mundane days.

I find this concept to hold true for me as well. Whenever I have a specific training plan for running a race, it adds a sense of spark to my day.

My running feels like it has a purpose. And I feel motivated to get out there and push myself.

And few things in life compare to the joy that comes after achieving a big and lofty goal.

Goals help us explore our own potential. And through exploring our own potential, we often stumble upon happiness.

So set some goals. Your goals can be massively ambitious or simple ones that can be accomplished in a week.

Once you have your goals in mind, make them easily visible. This will encourage you to continue working towards them so this goal-inspired happiness can become a habit.

6. Giving

If you’re familiar with Tony Robbins, you may know one of his favorite sayings. It goes like this, “Living is giving.”

As much as the man’s strong personality annoys me at times, I have to agree with him. I feel most alive and happy when I’m giving to others.

It doesn’t matter what country you’re in or if you’re old or young, giving a sure way to make you happy.

Giving can take any form you want. You can donate to charity or you can give of your time.

There are two places that I default to when it comes to this habit. I enjoy volunteering at the animal shelter and the food shelter.

Both of these locations give me the opportunity to stop focusing on me for a bit. And I think that’s the real magic of giving that helps to create happiness.

I personally find that focusing my giving resources in my local community brings me the most joy. It simply feels good to give back to the place you call home.

Incorporate volunteering into your weekly or monthly schedule. You’ll walk away with a smile on your face and your community will reap the benefits.

7. Learn new things

One of the least happy times in my life was directly correlated with feeling like I was stagnant. I wasn’t pursuing growth in any form.

This was particularly true in my career. When I was burnt out, I just wanted to get through the workday.

But one key to bringing back my happiness was getting excited to learn again. It took taking continuing education courses and testing out new hobbies to find my zest for life.

As humans, we’re designed to want to learn. Our brains crave new stimuli.

So if you find yourself going through the motions, your brain may be telling you it needs new input.

Something as simple as learning a new hobby brings you happiness. It will also probably introduce you to new people, which is a bonus.

Finally, go and take that painting class. Or learn to play the instrument that’s collecting dust in your closet.

Sometimes learning new things for your happiness may require a career change. Don’t be afraid to make the leap if you find yourself unhappy.

But whatever you do, never stop learning. Because your happiness is tied up in your ability to continually challenge your brain.

8. Get outside your comfort zone

Few of us are naturally drawn to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. But outside of your comfort zone is often where you find happiness.

When we stay in our comfort zone, life becomes too routine. You can start to feel like you’re living your life on repeat.

You always talk to the same people. You always do the same activities. You always work the same job.

And it is comfortable because you know what to expect. But it often goes hand in hand with a sense of dissatisfaction if we never push our limits.

Getting outside of your comfort zone helps you explore new perspectives and your potential.

When I find myself feeling a sense of existential dread, I know I need to expand my little bubble.

Getting outside of your comfort zone can come in many forms including:

  • Making new friends.
  • Starting a new job.
  • Exploring a new hobby or interest.
  • Going on the dream trip you’ve been afraid to book.
  • Creating a completely new daily routine.

By no means is this a comprehensive list. Get creative and find ways to meaningfully burst your own comfort bubble.  

9. Forgive often

Do you forgive others easily? If you find yourself answering no to this question, I feel you.

But this might be standing in the way of your happiness.

When we hold grudges and anger towards someone, it only fosters negative emotions.

Sometimes we hold onto these grudges and negative emotions for years on end. You can free yourself and make room for happiness by being willing to forgive.

I promise you that after you forgive someone you will feel an immense sense of relief. And your mind will have more time and energy to focus on things that bring you joy.

This forgiveness should also apply to yourself. This is personally where I struggle even more.

I find it easy to beat myself up over my own mistakes.

The other day I forgot my next-door neighbor’s birthday. I was so upset with myself that it ruined my mood and interactions with others for the better part of the day.

It wasn’t until my husband told me that I needed to give myself a break that I finally let it go.

Come to terms with the fact that you are human. It’s inevitable that you will mess up.

Choose to learn from your mistakes and give yourself grace. You will be happier for it.

10. Foster your relationships

What often makes us happiest in life is our relationships. So it makes sense that to be continually happy, you should invest in your relationships.

Taking the time each day to foster your relationships will leave you with a sense of satisfaction.

But how do you intentionally foster your relationships each day? It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Some easy ways to improve your relationships include:

  • Active listening to your partner and friends.
  • Asking questions and sharing with your loved ones.
  • Eating a meal together with no cell phones.
  • Spending time doing an activity together.
  • Helping a loved one out with a favor.

These things probably sound simple. But simple things go a long way in showing someone that you care.

I know the days when I have dinner with my husband and we have genuine conversations, those are some of my favorites.

And all of my happiest memories involve experiences with my loved ones. This is why developing the habit of nurturing your relationships is critical to your happiness.

People who’ve been helped by the support of others:

Of the 144 people we’ve interviewed, 53 people say that the support of others has helped them overcome their struggles. So if you need any more convincing, know that your relationships can help you deal with a lot of hardships:

Our most recent therapy interviews:

Healing From Postpartum Depression With Therapy, Friends & ExerciseMy Journey from Loneliness and Isolation to Creating an Online Haven for SeniorsHow The Support of Others Helped Me Heal After a Mental BreakdownFrom the C-Suites to the Streets and Back – Overcoming Addiction, Anxiety, Depression and PTSDHow Sobriety, Therapy, and Self-Care Help Me Navigate BPD and Bipolar Disorder BetterConquering Alcoholism and Hopelessness And Helping Others Do the SameNavigating Pet Grief With EMDR Therapy and Vulnerability to Come Out Stronger Than EverMy Journey to Get Back on My Feet After Alcoholism and an Ischemic StrokeNavigating Loneliness and Unfamiliarity in the Buzz of London and Overcoming ItBreaking Free from Abuse and a Toxic Family to find Self-Love and Authentic Happiness

11. Let go of perfection

This habit may be one of the most challenging for many of us.

For the better part of my life, I’ve strived for perfection. I thought that when I achieved perfection in any area, then I’d feel happy.

But this notion is silly. As humans, we’re wonderfully imperfect and this is part of what makes life interesting.

If you continually strive for perfection and fall short, you’re setting yourself up for a cycle of unhappiness.

As a physical therapist, I used to think that if the patient didn’t leave feeling amazing by the end of a session I had failed.

This completely ignores the concept of human physiology that nothing is immediately fixed. So I should have known better.

Yet the human and people-pleasing side of me wanted “perfect” sessions with “perfect” results.

Remember that burnout I was describing earlier? Well, you can bet that this ridiculous striving for perfection in my job was a key component of what led me there.

When I finally let go of the notion that each session should be perfect, I felt less pressure. And I started to enjoy my job more.

I started to spend less time beating myself up for my imperfections. And I was better able to celebrate the little wins that accompany a patient making subtle progress.

Stop being a perfectionist and you will find more happiness each day.

12. Slow down

Does your life feel rushed? I can tell you mine often does.

From the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed, I feel like I’m constantly trying to make my way through a to-do list. Sometimes I feel like I can’t even stop to breathe.

Does reading those sentences give you anxiety? Yeah, me too.

So why are we surprised when we live in this pace of life that we feel unsatisfied?

The antidote habit to a life of hustle and grind is one of slow intentional living. And it’s darn hard to do in today’s society.

But you can build habits into your day that cause you to slow down. And as a result, you’ll appreciate and enjoy your day-to-day life more.

A few tangible ways you can habitually slow down are:

  •  Not looking at your phone first thing in the morning or right before bed.
  • Cut down on total social media time.
  • Take a morning walk or after-dinner walk with no phone.
  • Practicing meditation.
  • Create a strict cut-off time for answering emails each day.
  • Say no to at least one unnecessary activity.
  • Stop multitasking.

When you slow down, you feel a greater sense of peace. And this peace inevitably leads to a better mood and a happier life.

13. Prioritize sleep

You may think sleep and happiness are unrelated. But just think about how you feel after a poor night of sleep.

If you’re anything like me, it feels like it ruins the day. I get extra grumpy and my motivation tanks.

This is why sleep hygiene is critical for mood regulation.

The National Sleep Foundation indicates that the average amount of sleep for an adult is 7.31 hours. And this is an amount that seems appropriate for overall well-being.

Most sources indicate somewhere between 6 to 8 hours will do the trick. Although I have to admit, I function best on somewhere between 8 to 9 hours.

This is where it’s important to know yourself. Become familiar with your personal sleep preferences.

For a week, track how much sleep you’re getting. Take that data and compare it to your mood the following day. This will help you determine the right amount of sleep for you.

While it may sound simple, making sleep a priority will do wonders for your overall happiness. Because sometimes all it takes is a good night’s sleep to positively shift your perspective.

14. Take an intentional vacation

Based on the title, this is bound to be your favorite tip. Don’t underestimate the power of regular vacations.

Just the idea and anticipation of a vacation is enough to make many of us happy.

But the habit part for this one comes in scheduling your vacation intentionally throughout the year.

I used to have a tendency of working upwards of 6 to 8 months in a row without taking a vacation. And then I was surprised when I felt run down and burnt out.

But many of us live this way. We hustle and grind without end hoping that at some point we’ll have time for a vacation.

We’re not designed to work relentlessly without time off. Time off helps you recharge and stoke your fire for life again.

So instead of randomly planning a vacation here and there, get intentional about it. Try to roughly plan 2 to 3 big vacations a year.

Better yet, schedule mini-weekend getaways throughout the year as well.

Having these big and mini trips to look forward to throughout the year will inevitably help you experience more happiness.

15. Don’t expect to be happy all the time

Last but not least, it’s important to not expect to be happy all the time. It may seem like this tip is counterintuitive for an article about happiness.

But it’s important to realize that no one is happy all the time. And it’s healthy to not be happy all the time.

How would we know what happiness meant if we never experienced the opposite emotions?

As humans, our emotions ebb and flow. And it’s important to let yourself feel sad, frustrated, or angry from time to time.

But aiming to be happy more times than not is a more reasonable goal.

I used to put immense pressure on myself to be happy and go-lucky all the time. This made me feel like I couldn’t let myself feel my low moments.

When you allow yourself to feel the “low moments”, you’re better able to process them. And then you can take steps towards returning to a state of happiness.

Take the pressure off of yourself to be happy all the time. You may just find that in and of itself makes you happier.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail Clean

This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

Wrapping up

Happiness is not easily defined, yet we all want it. And we tend to want a clear road map to get there. But the real path to happiness is built through your daily habits. This article will give you a starting point on which to build habits for lasting joy. By prioritizing your daily habits, you will discover happiness is something you can find in each day.

What is your main takeaway from this article? What’s your favorite tip to maintain your happiness? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Ashley Kaiser AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Physical therapist, writer, and outdoor enthusiast from Arizona. Self-proclaimed dark chocolate addict and full-time adrenaline junkie. Obsessed with my dog and depending on the day my husband, too.

2 thoughts on “How to Be Happy: 15 Habits to Make You Happy in Life”

  1. Slow down works for me
    Because ewe get so much on to do list slowing down is a energiser.
    Not to start on the phone is excellent habit i have appreciated
    Focusing on the positives/gratitude


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