Guru and self-help experts peddle their own keys to happiness, but there’s no big secret or easy fix to finding satisfaction in life. What does exist are many insights into human happiness found by researchers over the past decades. It turns out that happy people do things differently than others. Fortunately, these habits and traits can be picked up for yourself. Here are fifteen things happy people do:
- They Don’t Value Money Over Everything Else
Everyone knows the saying that “money doesn’t buy happiness,” but that’s not necessarily true. Financial security makes everyone happier, as does making a decent salary that allows for occasional luxuries. There is a limit to just how much happiness can be bought, however, as researchers from Princeton University discovered. The closer someone’s salary is to $75,000, the happier they are. Once they go over that cap, they don’t gain any more satisfaction in their day-to-day life.
That goes to show it’s possible to have a fulfilling career without focusing solely on getting a raise or big bonus. Happy people know to value things aside from money, as there are diminishing returns when it comes to making lots of it.
- They Surround Themselves With the Right People
The most content people often surround themselves with like-minded individuals while cutting out the negative people. It’s not an easy thing to let go of a friend, but if they bring you down or hold you back, it’s a necessary action if you want to be happier.
Why is being around happy people important? Every positive person in a network causes a ripple effect that makes his or her contacts happier. That’s what researchers at Harvard Medical School found after looking at 20 years of data from 5,000 people.
“We’ve found that your emotional state may depend on the emotional experiences of people you don’t even know, who are two to three degrees removed from you,” said professor Nicholas Christakis, who co-authored the study.
- They Know How to Smile
There are many ways to handle a stressful situation. It turns out that forcing a smile — whether it’s genuine or not — reduces stress, lowers heart rate and causes more positive feelings than when not smiling. Those people who always seem to have a smile on their face have the right idea.
- They Give to Others
We’ve established that money only buys happiness up to a certain point. Giving, rather than buying, is a surefire way to feel better. Most people say they would be happier with a free $20 in their pocket rather than $5. That’s not surprising. People also say they’d prefer to spend the money on themselves rather than someone else. That’s also not surprising.
However, in a University of British Columbia psychology study, researchers gave students either
$5 or $20. The experimental group was told to use the money to buy a gift or donate to charity. In the end, students who did that were happier than those who spent the money on themselves.
Altruism, as many people have suspected, is a great way to find satisfaction whether you’re donating vast amounts or just lending a helping hand.
- They Express Gratitude
The words “thank you” are more than just good manners. Saying thanks to someone and being grateful reduces stress and improves relationships. Showing appreciation also has an effect on the person you’re thanking, so pass it on to others.
- They Unplug From the Internet
Browsing through social media is a favorite pastime on the Internet, but there is a downside when it comes to regularly checking up on your friends. With everyone attempting to portray their own lives as being satisfying and interesting, people who use sites like Facebook often tend to be sadder.
A University of Michigan study reported that, “rather than enhancing well-being, as frequent interactions with supportive ‘offline’ social networks powerfully do, the current findings demonstrate that interacting with Facebook may predict the opposite result for young adults — it may undermine it.”
They also found that the more a person used the site, the less satisfied with their own life they became. This is part of the reason why truly happy people don’t let themselves be affected by others and don’t seek validation online.
- They Listen to and Learn From Others
When trying to predict how something will turn out, such as a date or a job interview, people draw from their own experiences to make an educated guess. That’s a useful tool, but research from Harvard University shows that learning from someone else’s experience is usually more accurate.
“You are better off knowing how much someone else enjoyed it than knowing anything about the experience itself,” said Daniel Gilbert, the study’s author. “Rather than closing our eyes and imagining the future, we should examine the experience of those who have been there.”
- They’re Quick to Forgive
It’s human to hold grudges. Forgiving someone when they’ve wronged you is difficult, and many people tend to hang on to anger or resentment. However, people who forgive others enjoy a number of benefits for their generosity. Different research has found that people who forgive tend to have more friends, better self-esteem and fewer health issues. Keep that in mind the next time you’re considering forgiveness.
- They Value Experiences
Everyone likes owning nice things, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that warm fuzzy feeling from a new purchase quickly fades. What truly lasts are the memories and satisfaction from an interesting experience, such as a vacation or making new friends.
That happiness from a big new purchase only lasts about six to eight weeks, according to a San Francisco State University study. The feeling people liked the most, according to Professor Ryan Howell, was “feeling truly alive.” As he said, buying a new computer isn’t going to give anyone that feeling, but having a great experience will.
- They’re Positive
Being told to “think positive” sometimes sounds like meaningless new age words, but happy people know there is power of positivity. Over time, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, positive thoughts can build up and accumulate. These positive thoughts and feelings come together to make lasting improvements in a person’s life, such as greater health and greater feelings of purpose and mindfulness.
The downside is that getting to the point of positivity isn’t easy, as positive feelings tend to come and go quicker than negative emotions.
- They Stay Active
Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle when working long hours can be trying. It’s worth making some time to get in some exercise, though, as working out regularly leads to greater long-term happiness. Those who don’t exercise are twice as likely to be unhappy, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Getting active doesn’t have to be time intensive. It can be simply walking, swimming or playing a sport with friends. It can feel like a chore at times, so it’s important to find an activity that’s fun.
- They Take Risks
When it comes to finding happiness, you can’t sit back and expect good things to happen. Taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone is one way to feel better. Researchers in Germany surveyed 20,000 people and found that the people who take more risks had higher satisfaction in their lives. The study also found that people are less likely to take risks as they get older, but don’t let that stop you from finding your happiness.
- They Set Goals
Parents love to hammer the idea of setting goals into their kids’ heads, and it turns out these parents actually know what they’re talking about — although setting goals is just the first step. In order to really see benefits, these goals can’t only be written down and left alone. Accountability is what really helps.
A study by Dominican University found that participants who not only set some goals for themselves but also sent weekly progress reports to a friend were able to accomplish more than the people who wrote down their goals and only kept it to themselves. This shows the importance of strong social networks and meaningful relationships as a way to build happiness. Here’s a PDF of the study’s results.
- They Find Balance
To see how much humanity has changed in the past 80 years, just look at the things that make us happy. A survey conducted in a small British town in 1938 found that knowledge, security and religion were the three most important things that led to happiness. Today, in the same town, only security remained the same. Leisure and good humor filled up the other two spots.
When you think about it, leisure being part of the list in this day and age makes a lot of sense. In the late 1930s, backbreaking work with little off time was the norm. Today, work may have gotten less physically demanding, and vacation time may have increased, but many people are still working long hours with little time for themselves. As happy people know, it’s all about finding the right balance of work and play.
- They Get Enough Sleep
There’s a connection between a good night’s sleep and being happy. Also, external events that affect someone’s happiness leads to a drop in the quality of sleep. That’s what researchers at Cornell University discovered after interviewing middle-aged participants in a study. The happiest people received the best sleep, but even the most positive people could be adversely affected by events. Good sleep has also been linked to limiting the effects of aging and improving overall health. A little beauty rest can really go a long way!
Happiness can be elusive, but it’s not impossible to achieve. By figuring out what works to make yourself happy, life often becomes much better.
What else makes you happy? Share in the comments!