How To Be Happy: The Ultimate Guide to Happiness

Updated 28 May 2019

How to be happy? It's probably the most frequently asked question in life. We all want to be happy, above everything else, right? Who cares about money when you're not happy? Who cares about friends when you're not happy with who you are? Who cares about good health if your lonely and depressed? This guide is a result of >5 years of my personal experience, actual examples of other people's happiness and no bullshit advice like "just be happy". This is the ultimate guide on how to be happy.

I'll show you how to be happy by showing actionable steps divided into 4 chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Focus on your mind
  • Chapter 2: Develop good relationships
  • Chapter 3: Train your body and its capabilities
  • Chapter 4: Aim for intellectual happiness

Each chapter contains actionable steps that you can take right now in order to be happier tomorrow. Instead of vague advice such as "smile more" or "breathe more deeply", this guide contains real-life and actually useful steps that will result in a happier life.

how to be happy guide header

Before starting this guide, let's first agree on something very important: Eternal happiness doesn't exist.

It's impossible to be happy all the time. Even the happiest person alive has been unhappy at some point. Sadness is a vital emotion that we can't turn off. Even if we could, we shouldn't want to. We experience sadness in our lives in order to better appreciate and be grateful for the happy times in our lives. It's therefore good to understand that this guide is not about how to be happy for the rest of your life. It's about how to be happy as often as possible.

I don't believe we can all be eternally happy, but I do believe we can purposefully steer our lives in the happiest direction as possible. That's what this guide is about.

Also, I'm going to go through each step as if they are guaranteed to work for you. However, I must admit that this may not be the case. Happiness is one of the most difficult things to define since it's as unique as every other human being. Therefore, don't worry if one of these steps towards how to be happier does not suit you. I'm sure there are other steps that will suit you better.

You can use this table of contents below to jump to the specific sections if you want to skip ahead certain chapters or steps.

Chapter 1: Focus on your mind

How to train your mind to be happy

Happiness starts in your mind. If we master our own emotions, then we are much more likely to be in control of our own happiness.

You see, it turns out happiness is not just a result of the things that happen around you. In fact, happiness is much more dependent on your own mindset. Positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky went as far as to say that happiness is determined as follows:

  • 50% determined by genetics
  • 10% determined by external factors
  • 40% determined by your state of mind.

This is why focusing on the mind is the 1st chapter in this guide about how to be happy. If your mind is in a healthy place, you are able to influence a huge part of your feeling of happiness. Even better, a healthy mind is able to understand 100% of our happiness, even when we can't control every aspect of it.

azores holiday featured image apr 2019

Step 1: Develop your self-awareness!

In a world that is full of external factors which we cannot control, it is becoming more and more important to at least control ourselves. Self-awareness is something you might have heard a couple of times, and rightfully so. You see, despite the extremely dynamic world we live in nowadays, there is still a lot that we actually can control. What we can control is how we deal with these external factors.

Why is self-awareness so important? It allows us to improve the quality of our lives just by being aware of how external factors influence us. We can't control 100% of our lives, but we can often control how we react to the stuff we can't control. That is the key to self-awareness and why it is so important.

Someone who is not self-aware encounters obstacles, sometimes the same ones repeatedly, and doesn't understand why. Someone who is self-aware examines themselves honestly to get to the root of their problems. Maybe people don't like to talk to you. A person that isn't self-aware person would just get frustrated or accept it, or maybe not even notice people are annoyed by them. A self-aware person examines their reality, maybe admits they ramble too much, don't listen enough, aren't engaging or being present.

The difference between these persons is that one has the ability to diagnose the underlying issue. And with that comes the power to fix the true cause of the issue.

Here's an example:

Imagine being stuck in traffic after a long day at work. If you are not familiar with the concepts of self-awareness, you might feel bummed about being stuck in traffic. And that would be that. Your day would be negatively influenced by this traffic, and there it is: you become angry and agitated.

Now think about the same situation, but then with an added sense of self-awareness.

Sure, you still don't like being stuck in traffic. Being self-aware will not magically create an eternal smile on your face. But it allows you to look further than just the direct effect of being stuck in traffic.

When you are fully aware that being stuck in traffic is not something you enjoy, then you at least have the option to change the way you react to it! You can actually decide that being stuck in traffic will not bother you. You can decide to focus on the positive things that are still happening in your life. Instead of feeling bummed about being stuck in traffic, you can choose to remain happy by thinking about things that make you happy!

self awareness example red light

Step 2: Try something new every week!

If you want to know how to be happy and can't seem to find find the answers, then you should try something you haven't tried before.

Think about it: whatever you've been doing until now has not resulted in you becoming any happier. Despite all the things you tried, you still don't know how to be happy. Well, then it sounds pretty logical that you need to find something new to break your routinary life, right?

Think outside the box here. What is something that you would like to do but never tried?

I want you to forget about the reasons why you shouldn't do these new things. There are always reasons to not do something. You have to push through this mental obstacle.

Grab a piece of paper and write down things that you would like to try. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Skydiving
  • Taking dancing lessons
  • Telling a person you have feelings for him/her
  • Ask your manager for a different position
  • Lose 20 pounds and get more confident about your appearance
  • Travel to another continent by yourself

A fun example: I signed up for my first marathon ever 3 weeks prior to the start. I was TOTALLY UNPREPARED (even in full caps, this is still an understatement), but I still finished the damn race. It was a perfect way for me to add a little adventure in my life when I needed it! Running this marathon - something I had never done before - made me extremely happy.

Except for maybe the last 2 miles, as you can see on this picture of my physically broken body.

eindhoven marathon finding happiness
This is me on the last mile of my first marathon. I was physically broken but I was in extacy when I passed the finish line!

Step 3: Be confident and don't give a sh*t about stuff that doesn't matter anyway

I think we've all heard the following quote in some form or shape:

Love yourself first

What does this mean? It means that we have to accept ourselves for who we are before we can expect to truly be happy with ourselves.

Self-esteem and confidence are fundamental factors of happiness. It's impossible to not encounter obstacles in our lives at all. Everybody encounters sadness every once in a while. We need to be able to deal with this as confidently as we can.

For example, since we're constantly bombarded with messed up social media posts and click-bait marketing, it's important to not let these stupid things influence our lives. We need to be confident while dealing with bullshit that we may or may not control anyway.

Here are some examples of how you can become more confident:

  • Set small goals and achieve them.
  • Smile more.
  • Create an exercising routine.
  • Look as good as you can - dress nicely.
  • Don't compare yourself to others, as there are ALWAYS people who seem to be doing better than you.
  • Be more direct (but don't forget to be nice and say thank you!)
  • Improve the things you're already good at.
  • Just do it. Don't procrastinate the things you know you need to do but don't wanna.

When I first started writing on this website, I was super afraid if somebody found out I was writing all this personal stuff on the internet. That was years ago. I've learned now that it doesn't matter what other people think of who you are, what you do and what you're passionate about. If somebody gives you a bad time for doing something you love, then f*ck him or her.

Don't let others tell you what to do. Don't become a person you don't wanna be. Be you. Be confident.

be confident and dont worry about stuff that doesnt matter how to be happy

Step 4: Find the right balance between short and long-term happiness!

In a recent happiness essay, I talked about pursuing short-term and long-term happiness. There's a big difference between the two, and it's vital that you are aware of this. Let me help you by giving you two examples.

Imagine that you are 25 years old and extremely unhappy with your future prospects. You cannot find the motivation to work towards a better future and the most difficult part of the day is often the moment when you have to get out of bed. You think of 2 ways to get happier:

  1. You invite a bunch of friends over, turn the music up and drown your sorrows in alcohol and drugs. At least this way, you'll be happy for the night. Have fun now, and worry about the rest of your life later, right?
  2. You force your life to turn around and work your ass off at your job every day. You work 60 hours per week, hoping you will get promoted. In your free time, you'll be in the gym working your ass off again in order to get fit again. You don't allow yourself to have any fun before you have reached some goals. You need to get your life in order first, you'll have fun later.

These are two extreme examples. Example one focuses on short-term happiness, while example two focuses on long-term happiness.

Do these examples sound like a good idea to you?

No! They are both completely unbalanced and will not lead to sustainable happiness. They say that the journey is much more important than the destination, right? I say that both the journey and the destination can be fun. You should be happy while working towards your future happiness.

What does this look like in real life?

I like to use another example for that:

Imagine that you have set clear and actionable goals and are working diligently towards reaching those. Then, one day, you wake up and feel like shit. You have zero motivation to force yourself to work on your goals and just want to slack off for the day. You might be thinking "here I go again..." or "there goes my progress... back to square one".

If you experience a bad day where you don't feel motivated to do anything productive, you shouldn't feel bad about yourself! Just own it. "Yeah, today I did nothing but binge-watch Netflix, but f*ck it, it is what it is and I at least enjoyed it". There is a time for everything, so that includes wasting time. I want to be happy now, without having to constantly worry about my future happiness.

I have thought about it a lot of times, and "wasting time" should not be a reason for feeling bad as long as you at least enjoyed that time. At the very least, that "wasted time" managed to keep your thoughts in a happy place instead of thinking about your misfortunes.

You have to allow yourself to be happy. Do not beat yourself up over a single "failure". We are not robots. We are entitled to occasionally give in to our weaknesses. We all do it. And we shouldn't feel bad because we do.

With that said, it is important to limit your time on distractions that do not make you better in the long run. And please notice how I say "in the long run". It's okay to binge-watch series or play games the entire day, but just remember that tomorrow's a new day. Create a new set of small and achievable goals that you want to achieve the next day and do your best to reach those. It's perfectly fine to drop the ball every once in a while, but try to limit it to a single day if you do!

You don't necessarily need others to be happy when you have a Positive Mental Attitude

Chapter 2: Develop good relationships

Other people are sometimes the answer to how to be happy

I consider myself to be an introvert. There's only a finite amount of energy that I can get from socially interacting with others. Extraverts generally tend to extract much more energy from being social when compared to me.

But I am still the happiest on days that I spend with friends, family and my girlfriend. It's why I usually see an increase in happiness during the Christmas period. My birthday is also a great example of this. Being around others generally has a positive influence on our happiness. The truth is, good relationships are a great way to be happier.

That's why developing good relationships is the 2nd chapter in this how to be happy guide. Before we dive into each step, I want to emphasize how important it is to not just spend time on any relationship. Some relationships are just bad and should be avoided. If you're not valued for who you are or if a relationship does not make you any happier, then it's best to just avoid it. This chapter focuses on good relationships and how they can help you to become happier.

Cheers to the weekend March 2019

Step 5: Spend time with your close friends

As Chris McCandless - from Into the Wild - said prior to passing away:

Happiness is only real when shared.

While the exact influence of spending time with others varies per person and per day, it is commonly known that you need some form of social interaction once in a while to be happy.

I consider myself to be an introvert, meaning that spending time with others may actually cost me energy. You can lock me in a room for a full day and I might actually want to stay there longer. What I'm trying to say is that I don't mind being alone every once in a while.

That said, spending time with people I love has a huge influence on my happiness. Whether I'm with my girlfriend, family or close friends, I almost always notice that I'm happier after spending time with these people.

The truth is, you have to get out there and be amongst others if you want to find sustainable happiness. Even if you don't feel like being around others, you should really try to meet up. You'll likely find out that you enjoyed it afterward.

However, it's important to spend time with these people in a setting that you enjoy. If you're anything like me, you don't want to meet up with your friends in a club (I absolutely hate clubs). If a quiet night playing board games together sounds more fun to you, make sure you meet up with others under these conditions. Don't associate and mix up good things (your relationships with the people you love) with potentially bad things (like spending time at a club).

spend time with friends how to be happy

Step 6: Love is the key to happiness

Do you believe in a soulmate? That one person who will make you the happiest person in the world?

I don't. But still, my relationship with my girlfriend is probably the best thing I have in my life. We started dating back in February 2013, and are currently going strong for more than years. We've also moved into an apartment together right at the start of 2018. My relationship is as solid as it's ever been. We've endured much more challenging times during our 6 years together, notably caused by all the long-distance periods that we've survived.

The thing is, spending time with the person I love is an almost sure-fire way for me to be happy. We don't always agree with each other, and can sometimes really get on the other's nerve, but I consider that to be normal in any kind of relationship. We love each other, and at the end of the day, that allows us to easily forget about these small annoyances.

All in all, I can easily say that my girlfriend is the biggest source of my happiness these days! I feel lucky to have my girlfriend in my life. 🙂

(I'm not just saying all these things because my girlfriend might be reading this and will get pissed if I don't. I promise! Heeeeeeelp meeeee)

love is the key to happiness how to be happy

Step 7: Don't forget about your family

If you're anything like me, then you'll often think that you're not spending enough time on family. How can we keep up with so many people while maintaining our busy lives? I find it extremely difficult to make time for my family, without sacrificing sleep, work, relaxation, hobbies, exercising and friends.

However, if you're anything like me, then you'll also really enjoy the time spent with your family. Why? Because these people have a special place in your heart. You've grown up with these people and therefore feel a connection with them. The truth is, I love spending time with my family, mainly my parents, brother, and sister.

  • Like that time my brother, sister and I ran a marathon together.
  • Or the many dinners at my parents home with the family.
  • Or when my father takes me and my brother to Austria for a couple of days of hiking in the mountains.
  • But also the birthdays of my grandparents.
  • Or the chaotic Christmas dinners with the entire family.

Hell, I'm not even a parent yet. So you can only imagine how much more important my family will become once my girlfriend and I try to expand our small family. Funnily enough, I found out I'm going to be an uncle in 7 months (at the end of 2019)! I'm at an age now where the family will likely become even more important, so it's going to be very interesting to see this develop!

The point is, if you are in good contact with your family, then spending time with these people will undoubtly have a positive influence on your happiness! We are all living busy lives, sure, but it's important to spend a part of our limited time with the people that are most important to us.

spend time with family how to be happy

Step 8: Smile to a stranger

It's the small stuff in life that can sometimes make you the happiest. When I went running this week, a total stranger complimented me on my stride and technique. I found this odd since I've never had any training and I sometimes feel quite clunky. However, this random comment made me very happy.

Comments like these can be more impactful than you might think. A simple smile or compliment to a stranger can go a really long way.

On your pathway to happiness, you will probably encounter a lot of people that are dealing with similar issues like you. I want you to consider the possibility of being a source of happiness for these people. Yes, even though you might not feel happy right now, that doesn't mean that you can't be a source of happiness for somebody else! You see, humans tend to move in groups. We tend to unknowingly copy the behavior of others, and as some of you might know: emotions can be contagious!

If your partner or close friend is sad or angry then there is a possibility that you will feel that emotion as well.

The same works for happiness.

Your happiness can actually radiate to other people. Your smile has the power to bring a smile to someone else's face! How can you put this to practice?

  • Smile to a stranger.
  • Try to laugh when you're around others (not in an awkward way!). Laughter is one of the best remedies for sadness.
  • Do something nice for somebody else, a random act of kindness.
  • Open the door for someone with a smile.
  • Make a compliment to somebody else and notice how it affects their happiness (like that stranger that complimented my running form!)
  • Etc

Why would you want to focus on the happiness of others while you're the one who's struggling to be happy?

It's easy: spreading happiness will make you happy as well. Teach by doing, and you'll learn something for yourself as well.

Happiness is truly a subjective feeling that has a lot of myths, biases and different strong opinions. People say it can't be measured, it's a waste of time to pursue it and that happiness is not really measurable at all. I've further detailed my definition of happiness in a separate essay.

Despite all this, there is one interesting aspect of happiness that most people agree on, and that's:

When you are trying to make others happier, you will paradoxically find happiness yourself.

a radiating smile grateful vs thankful

Chapter 3: Train your body and its capabilities

Because nothing is worth a damn without good physical and mental health

Good health is one of the most important factors for happiness. A lot of people will say that nothing is worth a damn without good physical and mental health. This is further supported by raw data. Year after year, the World Happiness Report shows us that a long and healthy life is highly correlated with the Happiness Index.

And it's exactly the same for me personally. It's rather straightforward. A lot of my worst days happened on days where I was in bad health. Challenging my body has always had a great positive effect on my happiness.

For those reasons, keeping your body and mind healthy and fit is chapter 3 in this how to be happy guide. This chapter includes why you need to prioritize exercising and sleep while avoiding stress at all cost.

physical happiness quotient

Step 9: Exercising makes you happy!

If you wanna know how to be happy, you have GOT to try exercising more. I can safely say that exercising is one of my biggest happiness factors. In fact, running has made me extremely happy the last couple of years.

This is an animation of all my runs throughout the last year:

Exploring Breda running influences happiness essay

The truth is, finding a form of exercising that I like (running) has transformed my life. It has helped me cope with stress, anxiety and boredom more often than I can remember. It is both an outlet and a source of fulfillment for me, and I can't imagine my life without it.

And I'm not even that good of a runner! I'd call myself a passionate hobbyist. I don't really care about racing and being the fastest, because I'm obviously not able to compete on that level. I mean, I have a friend who runs 15K in under an hour and I still find it hard to believe that such speeds are possible. I run purely because it allows me to do one of the following:

  • Feel good about myself
  • Challenge my body
  • Meditate
  • To blow off steam when stressed
  • To burn calories (I would probably be obese if I didn't run, considering the amount of food I consume)

So whenever I have a busy day at work, I go for a run afterwards and feel great. Feeling bored? I go for a run and feel energized again! Feeling energized and want to feel good about myself? I go for a run! Simply put, running always has a positive effect on my happiness.

What's funny about exercising though, is that you might not always enjoy it whilst doing it. In fact, some of my most miserable moments ever where during a very tough exercise. I've finished 5 marathons now, and the process of running them has always been the same. The last 5-10K's of the race are probably the most miserable moments of my entire life. Yes, it's that bad.

Don't believe me? Here's a couple of pictures from when I felt miserable during my long races.

running makes me happier proof pictures marathons
From left to right: My first 10 mile race (2013), my first marathon (2015), my third marathon (2016) and my 5th marathon (2019)

You can probably see how much I hated running on these pictures. My 5th marathon was by far the hardest. Yet, I'm still planning to sign up for my 6th marathon soon.

Another example: I sometimes get caught in terrible weather on my runs, which ruins the entire experience for me. As a result, I start screaming and cursing towards the sky, as if the weather is the sole cause of all my sadness. The truth is, I'm not always looking forward to my runs. In fact, I sometimes really HATE running. I'm sure everybody can relate here.

But the funny thing about exercising is that it almost never ceases to improve your happiness after having done it.

  • Even though the last part of a marathon is f*cking terrible, I still experience extreme happiness after having crossed the finish line (this goes for any race).
  • Even though you may feel too tired to hit the gym after a busy day at work, you will still feel better afterward.
  • Even when you want to stay at home and watch Netflix, you will still feel better after having exercised. Even if only for 15 minutes!

The thing is, exercising makes me feel awesome. I hope you understand how much it can potentially infuence your life.

Step 10: Good sleep is critical!

Now, this step might seem silly to you. How is sleep going to help me get out of this rut?

It turns out that sleep plays a gigantic role in our happiness. Even though you may not feel tired after sleeping only 5 hours for three nights in a row, you’ll be surprised by the potentially lasting effects of this sleep deprivation.

The USA is one of the most developed countries in the world. A worrying trend that developed countries are showing is that the workforce is becoming more and more sleep deprived. Phrases like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “work hard, play hard” are becoming more regular every day.

Anecdotally, sometimes when I mention I try to sleep 8 hours a day, I sometimes get strange looks from my colleagues. Like I’m some sort of loser that doesn’t know how to live life to the fullest.

“Sleep is for the weak!”

This kind of thinking is extremely flawed, and one of the reasons why chronic depression is on the rise. It shouldn’t surprise you now that depression rates are the highest in developed countries like the USA.

I’ve personally analyzed 1,000 days of my happiness and sleep habits over the last 3 years. I tracked my sleep every night and rated my feeling of happiness on a scale from 1 to 10. What I found out was very interesting:

  • I am constantly experiencing a social jet lag
  • I sleep much less than average on weekdays and have to make it up on the weekend days
  • I have only been truly unhappy on days where I was heavily sleep deprived

These were the biggest lessons I learned after analyzing my sleep and happiness.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your feeling of unhappiness is a result of bad sleep habits, but if there’s one thing that most people seem to neglect, then that’s sleep. Don’t make that same mistake.

sleep is critical for happiness how to be happy

Step 11: Avoid stress at all costs

"Here I am again... It's 03:30 and I can't sleep. I tried for a long time, with music, without music, tried a lot of exercises but nothing worked. I even got white flashes in front of my eyes again. So fucking weird. Got out at 01:45 to go for a walk again. I ended walking for 6 km and now that I'm back it's 03:30. And I'm still afraid to go back to bed, so I'm going to try and make use of my time. Tomorrow is going to be hell. January is turning out to be pretty awful already. What the fuck man. I feel pretty desperate... It's 04:00 now, gonna try to sleep again."

What you just read was an excerpt of my journal. I wrote this at the start of 2019, which was a very stressful time for me. My work was extremely busy, I worked late everyday and was constantly rushing to make my deadlines. It was a very stressful time.

As a result, my mind was constantly struggling to find peace. This resulted in quite a lot of sleepless nights, which were really terrible for my mental outlook. Even though my alarm was rining at 06:00 every morning, I still couldn't sleep. It's not that I wasn't tired - I was extremely tired - I just couldn't get the thoughts in my mind to calm down.

It was a vicious circle which I didn't manage to break:

  1. I knew I need my sleep, so I go to bed early and try to do everything right
  2. I can't sleep because I can't get the thoughts in my head to stop rushing around
  3. Now I'm stressed out because I know how much I need my sleep
  4. The stress in my head only increases
  5. Repeat this loop for a couple of times, and WHOOPS it's already 03:30...

Ever since this period, I made it a priority to avoid stressful periods like these. You see, I don't need to be constantly productive, on the road, or running around in order to be happy. In fact, I am happiest when I can just relax, play my guitar, spend good times with my girlfriend and go for a run once in a while. These are the things that make me happy. Feeling stressed isn't one of them.

If you've ever experienced a stressful period like I did before, then you might already know how much stress can affect your happiness. That's why I included this step as part of this how to be happy guide. If you want to find long-term happiness, you shouldn't accept stressful periods. So if you're currently in a job that stresses you out, try to find something less stressful. Money is not the key to happiness (more about that later)!

avoid stress how to be happy

Chapter 4: Aim for intellectual happiness

How to train your mind to be happy

If you're anything like me, you spend about 40% of your life on your job (including commuting, getting ready and other stuff). It's only logical that you try your best to make that time as pleasant as possible, right? It's therefore increasingly more important that your occupation is something that is pleasant and endurable.

Most people are not as lucky though. A survey by Mental Health America with over 17,000 respondents shows that only 21% of people in the US feel like they are paid enough at work. In fact, a lot of people simply hate Mondays, just for the simple fact that it's the start of a new workweek. If this is you, then it's very important that you find some kind of intellectual satisfaction from other sources. Something that triggers your mind. Some kind of challenge that you can look forward to. The proverbial mountain that you want to climb. Something that actually gives you satisfaction and that you can be proud of.

In short: something that makes you want to wake up in the morning!

intellectual happiness how to be happy1

Step 12: Discover your purpose in life

Having a purpose in life is one of the fundamental factors of happiness. Without it, you'll live your life less focused, less efficient and you'll often feel restless and stressed because you don't feel aligned with the things you do. This article is about different purposes in life, with actual examples and how you can define your purpose in life.

What are some examples of a purpose in life? There are a lot of commonly known purposes in life, like:

  • Providing for your family
  • Living a successful life
  • Making positive connections with others and enjoying those around you
  • Traveling the world
  • Fighting the declining condition of our planet
  • Etc

But what is YOUR purpose? You can't just copy & paste one of these purposes and call it a day. You have to find your own purpose in life.

My purpose in life is to live a long and happy life.

Sounds cheesy and anti-climatic? Maybe, but here's the thing:

Everything that I do is a result of my purpose in life. There are a lot of other things that I feel are part of my purpose in life, like:

  • Making others happy
  • Making the world a better place
  • Spending as much time as possible with the people I love
  • Challenging myself intellectually and physically

But I only truly care about these things because they will eventually result in my main purpose, and that is to live a long and happy life.

find a purpose in life how to be happy

Step 13: Do more of the things you are passionate about

What are you passionate about? If I were to answer this question as best as I can, I would give you the following answers:

  • Running (see step 9)
  • Playing music
  • Developing Tracking Happiness (the website you are currently on!)
  • Spending quality time with my girlfriend, friends, and family

What would your answers be? I want you to consider this question for a moment. Right? Okay, what did you come up with?

Want to know the easiest way how to be happy? Find the things that you're passionate about and just. do. these. things. more. often.

Sorry for the weird interpunction, but I want to make clear how simple the road towards happiness can be sometimes. For example, I know how much I love to run so I try to do it as often as possible. If you love to paint, why limit yourself to painting just once a week? If you love to go to the movies, why only go twice a month? If you love skiing, why are you not considering a move to Colorado?

Seriously, the answer to happiness doesn't always have to be a difficult answer. If you already know what you enjoy doing, why can't you simply do these things more often? What's keeping you from doing the things you're passionate about more often? Can you try to steer your life in a way that allows you to do more fun things?

In the end, you can only steer your life in the direction you want it to go yourself. Nobody will make these decisions for you. If you want something, you have to consciously work towards it.

do what makes you happy how to be happy

Step 14: The ability to be free and independent

This step shares some overlap with the previous step (#14). I believe one of the fundamental factors of happiness is the ability to make your own choices with a certain degree of independence.

What do I mean by that? We all need to be in control of where our lives are going. More specifically, we need to be able to make decisions without being constrained by factors that we can't control. For example, if my manager at the office is suddenly replaced by an absolute psychopath, I want to have the ability to walk away from it. Sure, we all need a paycheck to live our lives, I get that. But if you're currently living paycheck to paycheck, you don't have the ability to walk away from your job if the hypothetical shit starts hitting the fan.

Even if you truly love your job (more on that later), then you should still have some sort of financial cushion that will keep you afloat when things go bad. This is generally referred to as FU money. Now, I'm not saying that you should save every penny you can and live on a diet of rice and beans without ever taking a day off.

I want you to find a balance between saving for your freedom and living life now. Don't overdo it.

Having even a little bit of FU money places you well above the average. If it wasn't clear by now already, I'll say it again: it's not so much about the money, but much rather the ability to make your own decisions and a degree of independence. Having the ability to say no to certain things - like being forced to do something you don't like - is worth so much, you can't put a price on that.

independence how to be happy

Step 15: A fair trade between your time and your income

I personally don't love my job, and I'm okay with that.

Why? Because I also don't hate it. In fact, I feel like a valued employee and get to work on projects that I kinda like.

Would I do it for free, though? Hell no.

The truth is that in order to do more of step 14 and 15, we have to get money into our wallets. For 99% of us, this is conveniently done by trading our time and effort for a monthly paycheck. It's important to think about this trade for a moment. Do you feel like you're being fairly rewarded for your time and effort?

Personally, I feel like I'm rewarded quite fairly. Yes, I work hard and yes, I sometimes get too stressed due to my work (see step 11), but overall I feel happy to sacrifice these things for my monthly paycheck. Because that paycheck allows me to do the things that I love, save for the future and generally enjoy life without any worries.

Some time ago, I've asked 84 people on Reddit the following question:

How much happiness do you sacrifice by working, and do you feel like your salary justifies that?

I wrote an entire article about this little study, but here is a summary of the results.

I sorted each of the 84 replies into one of three categories.

  1. You like your job: you feel like your salary more than justifies your sacrifice in happiness, if there's any at all.
  2. You tolerate your job: you would never work for free, but the salary you earn makes it just tolerable.
  3. You hate your job: You work a soul-crushing job, and the money you make does NOT make up for it...

I then plotted each category in a simple bar chart.

The biggest group of respondents "tolerated" their jobs (46%). This tells me that they are okay with their job, but only because they are fairly rewarded for their sacrifices.

What matters most here is how you feel about your job? If you think you're unfairly rewarded for your time and effort or you simply hate your job, then you could probably be happier by looking for something else. Of course, this is easier said than done. However, if you want to know how to be happier, then your job is obviously a part of your life that you can't ignore.

If you're anything like me, you spend about 40% of your life on your job (including commuting, getting ready and other stuff). It's only logical that you try your best to make that time as pleasant as possible, right?

If you're currently unhappy because of your job, don't be afraid to look for something else. Life is short. Don't waste it by sacrificing too much of your time for a job that you hate.

work how to be happy

Step 16: Get out of your comfort zone and travel the world

When I first moved out to a foreign country – away from the safe boundaries of my quiet life – that’s when I found out who I truly am. This probably sounds cliche and cheesy, but stepping out of my comfort zone allowed me to develop in a way that I still feel very grateful for to this day. Without my usual support network, I was forced to make every decision myself. This opened my eyes as to what I was capable of and what I had to do in order to steer my life in the best direction possible.

It was a slow but fascinating process. It all started with a general dislike of what was expected of me, and therefore an urge to take control of my own life.

When I was completely detached from my comfort zone – on the other side of the world – that’s when I really found answers to a couple of big questions:

  • What I truly value in life
  • Who I really am
  • What I want out of life
  • What I DON’T want out of life

These things have nothing to do with what others think of me. That’s because I was completely free from any external factors that had previously influenced these answers. It’s usually when we find ourselves completely alone – without being able to fall back to a safe haven – that we truly develop as a person. It’s really simple when you think about it.

You only know who you are, what you’re capable of and what you want out of life when you’re seriously tested. A lot of us (me including) spent their entire youth just going with the flow. We don’t question the choices that we make or the ones that are made for us. We simply nod and move in whatever direction our teachers, parents, and friends want us to go.

As a result, almost everybody will reach a phase (usually in their twenties) where you need to make your own choices. You’re alone now, without a support net, and nobody is going to decide your next step for you. I actually think the harder this reality hits, the better we come out of it. It’s like testing a beam for its maximum load. We can only know what we’re capable of when we are tested to our full capacity.

That’s why I recommend everybody to step outside their comfort zone for a sustained time, without the opportunity to re-enter it when you want to “call it quits”. As cheesy as it sounds, this experience has resulted in the biggest amount of personal development that I’ve gone through in my life so far. As a result, I now know how to be happier in my everyday life.

This is why I urge you to get out of your comfort zone and travel the world on your own. Don't think about all the reasons why you shouldn't go. Think of the one reason why you SHOULD go instead.

traveling how to be happy

Tracking my happiness shows me how to be happy

That's it. Those are the steps that I think are most important when you're wondering how to be happy. As a final tip, I want to mention here that I've been tracking my happiness for over 5 years now. What does this mean? It means I spend 2 minutes every day to reflect on my day:

  • How happy was I on a scale from 1 to 10?
  • What factors had a significant effect on my happiness?
  • I clear my head by jotting down all my thoughts in my happiness journal.

This allows me to constantly learn from my own happiness. By looking back at my happiness journal, I can see what exactly made me happy and how much it influenced my life at the time. This is how I purposefully try to steer my life in the best direction possible. It's how I've learned how to be happy.

And I believe you can do the same.

You can be happier. Discover how with my free template!

  • Track your happiness every day
  • Learn more about what makes you happy
  • Receive my custom template for free

Closing words

There you have it. Based on years of personal research, this is my ultimate guide on how to be happy. By following the steps inside these 4 chapters, I'm sure you will find ways how to be happier.

Having said that, I now want to hear from you! What is missing from this guide? Have I missed steps that you think are just as crucial to be happy or not? I'd love to hear what you think about it in the comments below!

Who runs Tracking Happiness?

My name is Hugo, and I'm from the Netherlands. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering, a passion for data and statistical analysis and am an expert in happiness.

I've tracked my happiness every day for 5 years in a row. And I'm now using my knowledge to inspire you to prioritize your happiness. You see, I'm a strong believer in what gets measured gets managed. I want to show you what I - and many others - have learned while tracking our happiness.

My Happiness Essays have reached thousands of people around the world and have been shared in many places.

With my data, I have inspired hundreds of others to also track their happiness. And I'm hoping this number will only grow more!

Hugo Tracking Happiness Snapshot

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