4 Daily Habits Of Truly Happy People

Fortune Well August 14, 2023

Lifestyle

4 Daily Habits Of Truly Happy People

The happiest country in the world is Finland, according to the 2023 World Happiness Report. But short of moving across the ocean, experts agree there are ways to improve your own happiness regardless of where you live. 

“Happiness is a habit,” says Talia Soen, CEO and Founder of Happy Things, a platform that helps you build those habits with daily activities. 

Soen claims happiness has not always come easily for her. Her oldest brother has a much higher baseline of happiness, and as she reflected on that difference she decided to start an app as a way of improving her life based on the science behind happiness. 

“A lot of people think of happiness as something unrealistic or out there and difficult to grasp,” she says. “We’re trying to break it down into something really teachable and approachable.”

Many experts agree, there are steps you can take to achieve happiness independent of life circumstances. Here’s a look at the habits they say happy people tend to engage in. 

 

Cultivating a positive mindset

Soen goes by researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky’s definition of happiness which says “The experience of joy, contentedness or positive well-being combined with the fact that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.”

Soen believes there’s something to be said for finding happiness in the little moments in life. 

“It’s really true and it’s about being mindful and incorporating those things actively in our daily life and not just waiting for them to happen,” she says. 

One way to actively cultivate happiness is to start a gratitude journal. Experts agree that a meditation practice helps many to recognize and revel in the parts of their lives that bring joy, both great and small. 

Similarly, a positive mindset has been shown to increase happiness. 

“It’s an evolutionary mechanism for us to focus on the negative because it keeps us safe, but that also increases our stress cortisol which has negative effects,” Soen says. 

Meditation is one way to learn how to shift your mindset, but Soen has never had much luck on that front. Instead, she finds she’s able to reach meditative states while running or practicing yoga. 

“So it’s not necessarily sitting in a dark room with candles,” she says.

 

Reducing stress

Lack of stress could be a defining factor in your level of happiness. Soen says that spending time in nature is shown to reduce stress. But even if you don’t have time or access to the great outdoors year-round, you can mimic the benefits of outdoor time by listening to nature sounds, for example. 

Stress is also shaped by how much time you have. Dr. Laurie Santos is a psychology professor at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab podcast, examines the science behind happiness. She says there’s a concept known as time affluence, where people who have free time report feeling happier. 

Time affluence is the opposite of time famine, she says, “where you’re literally starving for time and research shows that if you self-report time famine, that can be as big a hit on your well-being as if you self-report being unemployed.”

A 2021 study published by the American Psychological Association showed there is such a thing as too much free time, but also showed that less than two hours of daily free time equated to lower levels of happiness. It concluded that two to five hours of daily free time was ideal for optimal happiness. 

Another common source of stress is money. “If you really are struggling financially, if you can’t put food on your table or keep a roof over your head, then yes, definitely increasing the amount of money you have will make you happier,” she says. 

However, an often-cited 2010 study found that happiness plateaus after you reach $75,000 a year.

“There’s some nuance from some recent studies, but I think what the data really shows us is that money is having much less of an effect on our happiness than we think,” Santos says.

 

Exercising

You don’t have to train for a marathon to get the hits of dopamine and endorphins that experts say equate to happiness. 

“There are a few studies looking at happiness and exercise and one of the most compelling ones compares getting a half hour of cardio exercise a day with, for example, taking an anti-depression prescription,” Santos says. “But a lot of these studies basically show that we really do affect our happiness levels by moving our body a little bit more.”

The science behind why this is remains unclear, but some researchers suspect that exercise improves brain function which can assist with certain mental disorders, leading to more happiness. And many studies show that even short bursts of exercise can achieve this effect. 

And as Soen mentioned earlier, getting the exercise outdoors can offer a double whammy. 

“Listening to nature sounds and breathing fresh air has been found to support happiness,” she says.

 

Socializing

The United States is experiencing a loneliness epidemic, equating the feeling of being lonely to a health danger similar to smoking. A March announcement by the Surgeon’s General warned of serious health risks for those in the community who feel isolated. 

The opposite is true then that having friends, family, and other strong social ties through your career or volunteer work is essential for happiness. 

The World Happiness Report defines this social support factor as having someone you can rely on or reach out to in times of need. 

“Every available study of happy people suggests that happy people are more social,” Santos says. “They spend more time with their friends and family members, and they’re just around other people more often. And so I think there’s such a clear connection between having more social connections and feeling happier. And that’s one of the reasons the loneliness epidemic is so problematic.”

Soen’s app cultivates this type of happiness by suggesting users go to lunch with a coworker or text an old friend. 

“It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality,” Soen says. “Having even two or three people in your life that you feel will be there for you. So that you can turn to providing you that support system, is something really important.”


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