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7 Things Happy People Do (and What They Don't Do)

Feeling better about your life is within your control.

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Decades of studies of happiness and emotional well-being have proven that experiencing greater happiness is within the control of almost every individual. There’s no magic cure for misery, but multiple cognitive, emotional, and physical behaviors can multiply your chances of feeling better about your life.

Things Happy People Choose Not to Do

  1. They don’t dwell on setbacks or unpleasantness. Ruminating on negative thoughts crowds out space for positive thinking while also creating grooves in the brain that allow negative thought processes to become the go-to track.
  2. They don’t stress out when things don’t go their way. Take a breath, consider your options, and then move forward. Stress and anxiety don't allow your brain to assess situations and generate elegant solutions.
  3. They don’t waste time or energy on resentment or envy of other people’s successes. If the Facebook feeds of friends or family just leave you frustrated with your own life, stop surfing them. Post what you want, if you still want to, and log off.
  4. They don’t jump to conclusions if things don’t turn out the way they want. This applies in relationships, on the job, or in life. Jumping to conclusions takes our thoughts to our less helpful and less healthy assessments and beliefs. Look deeper, reflect more, and seek out more effective solutions.
  5. They don’t catastrophize the complications or glitches they run into in life. No one’s life runs like a well-oiled machine 100 percent of the time. When you turn the proverbial molehill into a mountain, all you do is make your job harder and create more work for yourself and more negative thinking to combat.
  6. They don’t waste time trying to force a “perfect life.” When we learn to let go of the things that we can’t control, it frees up more energy to better shape the things that we can.
  7. They don’t spend as much time worrying about their own problems as they spend engaged in healthy interactions with others. An outward focus is key to getting out of your own way and experiencing the happiness to be found in everyday living.

Things Happy People Absolutely Choose to Do

  1. They focus on what is going right in life. Positive thinking generates gratitude and an appreciative state of mind. These two things both increase happiness.
  2. They give the brain time to reset, every day. Meditation gives our brains a chance to let go of negative thoughts and “erase” the damage that negative thinking can do.
  3. They practice awareness of the world around you. They stay grounded in the present rather than ruminating about the past because you can’t plot a course for the future if you can’t let go of your past.
  4. They debunk negative thoughts. When the brain is mired in negative thought patterns, you need to challenge those thoughts by testing them against reality. You can only control so much: Things like the weather and other people are beyond your reach. So let go of negative thoughts and faulty thinking that get in the way of your well-being.
  5. They create a strong social support network. The value of this can’t be overestimated: Every study of happiness points to the presence of a healthy support network as a key predictor.
  6. They focus on belonging. Once you develop your network or find your tribe, be willing to work out differences, practice forgiveness, and stay engaged in relationships.
  7. They take part in give and take with others to cement relationships and enhance well-being. A burden shared is a burden halved. Ask for support when needed and be willing to offer support in return.

They say that happiness is a choice, but sometimes it’s the result of multiple little choices that work together to buoy us and keep us afloat when challenges appear.

What brings you personal happiness? Share your thoughts and experiences as a participant in an online research project, Exploration of Personal Happiness across the Lifespan


Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2019). Well-being interventions to improve societies. In Sachs, J., Layard, R., & Helliwell, Global Happiness Policy Report 2019: Global Happiness Council.

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