"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Those very words were immortalized in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. The founding fathers believed happiness was an unalienable right.
Happiness - it is everyone's birthright. So if happiness is the right of every person on this planet, why does it seem like it is so elusive? The truth is, happiness isn't something you can go out there and conquer or buy. Happiness is something that you must cultivate every single moment of every single day. But don't worry. While it takes work, if you slowly begin to develop habits that promote happiness in your life, you will eventually be living in a constant state of happiness. Now when I say happiness, I don't mean you're totally blissed out all the time. Rather, the happiness I speak of is a state of joy, contentment and equanimity from which you live, no matter what else is happening on the surface.
How can you cultivate this state of being, you wonder? So glad you asked! Here are some helpful habits of happy people that you can begin to cultivate in your life, and with practice - you too can be happy.
1. Honor your body
Eat Healthy. Exercise Regularly. So simple and so true. The food that you eat directly impacts your mood and energy level, so pay attention to what you're putting into your body. The more effort you make to feed your body healthy and nutrient-rich food, the more energy you'll have and the healthier you'll feel. Add some regular exercise to that, and you're set. Exercise gives you endorphins, and we all know how those make us feel: Happy! Exercise also helps with stress reduction which can also lead to a generally happier life.
2. Be Present
The phrase "stop and smell the roses" is always a great reminder to pause, take a breath and be present. So often people are living in the past or thinking about all the things they need to be doing in the future. Pause for a moment and ask "how often are both my feet fully planted in the present?" Even at this moment, are you reading the words with all your attention? Or do you have a list of to-do's running through your head, and email and social media updates calling out for your attention right now? While it sounds simple, being fully present is a practice that takes effort as well. The mind likes to run wild. Often, it can feel easier to let the mind worry about all the things you have to do or about the things that you haven't done. Don't worry, that's just a habit, and you have the power to retrain your mind and give it new habits that will help you be happier in the long run. Try this; whenever you find your mind focusing too much on the future or dwelling too much in the past - recognize it, pause, take a breath and think "be present." See what happens!
3. Keep Good Company
The company that you keep is also an important factor in cultivating joy. Often people speak of the importance of surrounding yourself with good friends who are uplifting. This is true - you definitely want to do your best to surround yourself with positive people. You also need to stay aware of the company you keep with regard to the thoughts that are in your mind- the things you tell yourself. If you are constantly keeping the company of bad thoughts (if you don't think highly of yourself, for example), you can surround yourself with positive people, but it won't matter if you don't think positively yourself. Something that can help with this is positive affirmations. Take note of any negative thoughts you have about yourself and flip them into a positive affirmation. For example, if you think: "I can't do it", you can flip it and say "I can do whatever I set my mind to." Then repeat these affirmations to yourself. With time, you create new pathways in the brain and, instead of thinking negatively, your mind thinks more positive thoughts.
4. Take Responsibility
When you think of responsibility you may think, "Ugh! Responsibility? That's such a burden." It doesn't have to be, though. One habit happy people have is that they take responsibility for their lives. Whereas it can feel easier to blame others or situations for your unhappiness, such "buck passing" doesn't make you any happier. Rather than living in a state of mind where you are a "victim," take responsibility for your life. Happy people also don't sweat the small stuff. They recognize what things are within their control to change and what things aren't. And, most importantly, they don't worry about it. For example, all you may be able to change in the moment is your attitude, and sometimes that's all you need to do to feel happier.
Science is finally catching up to what sages and seers have known for 1000s of years. Meditate! Meditation helps still the mind and teach it new ways to relate to the world. The mind does not have to be your nemesis - it can be your friend. Through meditation, you can learn how to befriend your mind, and in doing so, live a much happier life. Research is also showing that meditation can lead to physical changes in your brain that make you happier. If you do decide to try meditation, start small. Just as you wouldn't sit down at the piano and attempt to play a symphony on the first try, you don't need to try to meditate for 3 hours on the first attempt. Try meditating for just 5 - 10 minutes at a time. Over time and with practice, you can build up your ability to meditate longer.
6. Nurture Relationships
With all the different ways to connect with people via social media these days, it can be easy to think we're more connected than ever. That said, studies show that happy people take the time to nurture relationships with close friends. Beyond just posting on someone's Facebook wall, pick up the phone - call someone. Even better, invest in seeing people in person. Budget willing, invest in actually going to visit your close friends in person. Studies show that spending time with people in person has a significant, beneficial effect on well-being. “There’s a deep need to have a sense of belonging that comes with having personal interactions with friends,” says John Cacioppo, Ph.D., the director of the Center of Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Nurturing positive relationships over time will lead to long-term well being and happiness.
Americans’ Changing Lives, a long-term research project, has discovered a wealth of benefits associated with altruism: “Volunteer work was good for both mental and physical health. People of all ages who volunteered were happier and experienced better physical health and less depression,” reported Peggy Thoits, the leader of one of the studies. Research also shows that people who give - e.g. their time or money - experience a euphoric state as a result that has been termed as a "helper's high." Whether it's a financial contribution to support a cause you care about, or whether it's a contribution of your time through volunteering - however you give, you will experience feelings of joy as a result. Your giving could also be as simple as spending money on other people - e.g. buying a small gift for a friend, picking up the tab at dinner or maybe giving a bouquet of flowers to someone you love. The more you give, the happier you will likely feel.
8. Dream Big - Be Practical
When asked by the Guardian what people's top 5 regrets were at the end of life, a hospice nurse responded:
Dream big! Be Practical! What this means is; don't limit yourself or your dreams, but turn them into a reality by making small, achievable goals. Over time, your dreams will become reality. When you dream big, you open your mind to a more optimistic, positive state where you have the power to achieve virtually anything you desire.
9. Get Enough Sleep
The more you can wake up at the same time every day, the better. While many studies show that successful people wake up early, what matters most is that you're waking up at the same time each day. This helps with regulating your circadian rhythm and gives you more energy. Additionally, when people do not get enough sleep, they tend to experience lack of clarity, bad moods and poor judgment. “A good night’s sleep can really help a moody person decrease their anxiety,” says Dr. Raymonde Jean, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. “You get more emotional stability with good sleep.”
10. Cultivate Resiliency
As the Japanese Proverb goes: "Fall 7 times, stand up 8." Studies have shown that happier people are those that know how to bounce back from failure. Sure, they might fail several times, but they get back up every time. Everyone falls down at sometime in their life, what differentiates a happy person is that they have built up a reserve of resiliency over time. One way to build up an inner reservoir of strength and resilience is by reflecting upon what you're grateful for each day. Keeping a gratitude journal can be a very practical way to do this.