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7 habits of happy people; Giacomo Bagnara

Big Ideas

7 Habits of Incredibly Happy People

Surprisingly, it can be the little things that have an outsized impact on our day-to-day happiness levels.

While happiness is defined by the individual, I’ve always felt it foolish to declare that nothing can be learned from observing the happiness of others.

In our day-to-day lives it is easy to miss the forest for the trees and look over some of the smaller, simpler things that can disproportionally affect our happiness levels. Luckily, we can go off more than just our intuition; there are lots of studies that aim for finding the right behavior that leads to a happier life. Below, we take a look at some of the more actionable advice. 

1. Be Busy, But Not Rushed

Research shows that being “rushed” puts you on the fast track to being miserable. On the other hand, many studies suggest that having nothing to do can also take its toll, bad news for those who subscribe to the Office Space dream of doing nothing.

The porridge is just right when you’re living a productive life at a comfortable pace. Meaning: you should be expanding your comfort zone often, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed. Easier said than done, but certainly an ideal to strive towards.

Feeling like you’re doing busywork is often the result of saying “Yes” to things you are not absolutely excited about. Be sure to say “No” to things that don’t make you say, “Hell yeah!” We all have obligations, but a comfortable pace can only be found by a person willing to say no to most things, and who’s able to say “Yes” to the right things.

You should be expanding your comfort zone often, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed.

2. Have 5 Close Relationships

Having a few close relationships keeps people happier when they’re young, and has even been shown to help us live longer, with a higher quality of life. True friends really are worth their weight in gold. But why five relationships? This seemed to be an acceptable average from a variety of studies. Take this excerpt from the book Finding Flow:

National surveys find that when someone claims to have 5 or more friends with whom they can discuss important problems, they are 60 percent more likely to say that they are ‘very happy’.

The number isn’t the important aspect here, it is the effort you put into your relationships that matters. Studies show that even the best relationships dissolve over time; a closeness with someone is something you need to continually earn, never treat it as a given. Every time you connect with those close to you, you further strengthen those bonds and give yourself a little boost of happiness at the same time. The data show that checking in around every two weeks is the sweet spot for very close friends. 

3. Don’t Tie Your Happiness to External Events

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. —C.S. Lewis

Self-esteem is a tricky beast. It’s certainly good for confidence, but a variety of research suggests that self-esteem that is bound to external success can be quite fickle. For example, certain students who tied their self-esteem to their grades experienced small boosts when they received a grad school acceptance letter, but harsh drops in self-esteem when they were rejected.

Tying your happiness to external events can also lead to behavior which avoids failure as a defensive measure. Think of all the times you tell yourself, “It doesn’t matter that I failed, because I wasn’t even trying.”  The key may be, as C.S. Lewis suggests, to instead think of yourself less, thus avoiding the trap of tying your self-worth to external signals.

4. Exercise

Yup, no verbose headline here, because there is no getting around it: no matter how much you hate exercise, it will make you feel better if you stick with it. Body image improves when you exercise (even if results don’t right away). And eventually, you should start seeing that “exercise high” once you’re able to pass the initial hump: The release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria over time.

So make it one of your regular habits. It does not matter which activity you choose, there’s bound to be at least one physical activity you can stomach.

5. Embrace Discomfort for Mastery

Happy people generally have something known as a “signature strength” — At least one thing they’ve become proficient at, even if the learning process made them uncomfortable.

Research has suggested that mastering a skill may be just as stressful as you might think. Researchers found that although the process of becoming proficient at something took its toll on people in the form of stress, participants reported that these same activities made them feel happy and satisfied when they looked back on their day as a whole.

As the cartoon Adventure Time famously said, “Suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something,” and it’s true, struggle is the evidence of progress. The rewards of becoming great at something far outweigh the short-term discomfort that is caused earning your stripes.

Struggle is the evidence of progress.

6. Spend More Money on Experiences

Truly happy people are very mindful of spending money on physical items, opting instead to spend much of their money on experiences.  “Experiential purchases” tend to make us happier, at least according to the research. In fact, a variety of research shows that most people are far happier when buying experiences vs. buying material goods.

Here are some reasons why this might be, according to the literature:

  1. Experiences improve over time. Aging like a fine wine, great experiences trump physical items, which often wear off quickly (“Ugh, my phone is so old!”). Experiences can be relived for years.
  2. People revisit experiences more often. Research shows that experiences are recalled more often than material purchases. You are more likely to remember your first hiking trip over your first pair of hiking boots (although you do need to make that purchase, or you’ll have some sore feet!).
  3. Experiences are more unique. Most people try to deny, but we humans are constantly comparing ourselves to one another. Comparisons can often make us unhappy, but experiences are often immune to this as they are unique to us. Nobody in the world will have the exact experience you had with your wife on that trip to Italy.
  4. We adapt slowly to experiences. Consumer research shows that experiences take longer to “get used to.” Have you ever felt really energized, refreshed, or just different after coming back from a great show/dinner/vacation? It is harder to replicate that feeling with material purchases.
  5. Experiences are social. Human beings are social animals. Did you know that true solitary confinement is often classified as “cruel and unusual” punishment due to the detrimental effects it can have on the mind? Experiences get us out of our comfort zone, out of our house, and perhaps involved in those close relationships we need to be happy.

7. Don’t Ignore Your Itches

This one is more anecdotal than scientific, but perhaps most important.

When the Guardian asked a hospice nurse for the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, one of the most common answers was that people regretted not being true to their dreams:

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

As they say, there are seven days in the week, and “someday” isn’t one of them.

How about you?

What specific mindsets or habits keep you happy?

More Posts by Gregory Ciotti

Comments (92)
  • sascha kwiatkowski

    Dreams=Goals, My Dreams are mostly materilistic objectives, which when i think about them are not true achievents thus i feel as i havent got a dream!!! where do i find these dreams are they deep within, or do i create them, but creation without inspiration is no dream at all!! plz help

  • Mickey Hadick

    I’m very happy that you quoted Adventure Time. In its own absurd way, that show grapples with lots of big ideas. And Jake exemplifies what it means to be happy with who you are, and Finn is the embodiment of the pursuit of happiness.

  • Dennis Turner

    Compelling quote from CS Lewis. A lifelong project in a sentence.

    • Gregory Ciotti

      “A lifelong project in a sentence.”

      Perfectly stated!

  • Tiana Kai

    Very insightful post! I wholeheartedly agree and try to focus on what drives me internally more than external pressures or the whole YOLO thing.

    Also, I gave up spending money on “things” three years ago and feel happier and less pressured. After leaving my home in Miami and moving to Colorado and now in Florence, I realised that I spent way too much on clothes and shoes, most of which I don’t even wear anymore. I rather go on a ski vacation than worry about the next designer bag. If I can have both, great, but the priorities are there.

  • Angelina Sereno

    <3 This! I just got back from 5 months backpacking across Southeast Asia. It seems that experiences are far better than things!

    Thanks for this… reminders are always good!

    Follow the journey:

  • Kevin

    Great article! I think it’s “cruel and unusual” punishment though.


    Doing good and helping out others is a HUGE part of being happy. Also being content with what you have is vital to happiness. I am suprised you missed these two.

  • lauralivesey

    Great post Gregory! I’ve been a big believer in purchasing experiences vs. things both for myself and for others as gifts for a few years now, and I haven’t come across this interesting idea that the benefit in experiences is that we take longer to get used to them. That makes a lot of sense that they provide more happiness because we get to enjoy the savouring as we process and remember and even feel a little bit uncomfortable if it’s a new thing we’ve experienced. All of this is also a nice pattern interrupt to kick our brains into the present moment. Great distinction!

  • Khan Hannan

    Really nice post. I do some, but need to make sure I make a point of doing all of the 7 points. Thanks for the post.

  • Sirish Vaddiraj

    Very insightful ! Simple ,yet powerful ideas to show where happiness comes from and how one should position themselves to understand and capture the moment! There is nothing like ‘missing a bus’ esp. when it comes to eagerly awaiting the next one, there is hope and it’s real ! I remembered my quote on one of the Fb pages ” happiness is like chocolate , the more we eat ,the more craving it gives !

  • jvrunion

    well done…nice read

  • Francisco

    This is great. Not onnly because of the article itself, but because it boosts a lot of things inside my mind. Thank you.

  • Jessica Alcantara

    Spending on experiences is all we are, finally the only things our soul own, are moments….

  • fertilizerhappens

    Great article. I would add “keep an open mind”. The moment we no longer consider new ideas and accept the possibility that there are other ways of viewing reality, that is the moment we stop growing and start receding from the world. Never fear exploring a subject that challenges you to examine your current beliefs and prejudices about the world around you.

  • Andreas Ursin Hellebust

    Thanks for a great and truthful article 🙂 I hope people who needs it reads it 🙂

  • Paige Dearing

    Find ways to laugh every day. Nothing lifts spirits like a full-belly laugh! Make it easy by following people on Twitter that like to share funny videos, or memes.

  • KK

    Just follow the basic rule. Help and get helped….. walk on straight path … coz for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction..
    No Doubt you will feel good..

  • auriole

    One thing that I find constructive is to adopt the mindset that ‘tomorrow is a chance to make a better day’. If the day is good, I will then tend to take a moment to appreciate and plan for a better day tomorrow. If the day is not so good, I take the opportunity to reflect on why and try to turn that around when the next day comes. I believe this keeps me in a positive frame of mind and that helps me achieve a sense of joy and contentment.

    • Dee

      Your photograph Auriole depicts you as a very young lady; however, you are much wiser than your years.
      60 year old in beautiful Northern Michigan.

  • Bob Holmes

    This post totally rocks. Thanks Greg! Keep pounding out genius.

  • Jasmine Heikura

    The best written article on happiness and well-being that I have read in years! A big thank you for writing it!

  • Renan Cardoso

    This post is way better than any self help book of how to be happy. This was really helpful for me. Thank you, and be happy Gregory.

  • Rose

    I really enjoyed reading the post. Your kind of writing is really addictive. Keep on your amazing work.Already subscribed to SparringMind.
    The last sentence made it.

  • Lisa Colon DeLay

    Nice article. Very helpful. Feel happier already. You rock.

  • Julio Frias

    I love this article and much needed at this point in my life!

  • Ricco

    nice article…. i totally relate…. i freelance from home and there’s times where i need to get out and regroup…. luckily i have a 64′ ford falcon convertible that i jump in and drive… oh and i live by the beach… so everything in my head just clears up… and by the time i get home…. i’ve come up with a few solutions to my design problems!

    • Renata Adrienn Bajko

      All my problems would disappear if I would live near the seaside. Here I come, beach!

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