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12 Things Happy People Do Differently -- And Why I Started Doing Them

09/26/2013 08:07 am ET | Updated Nov 26, 2013

A lot of people have midlife crises. Me, I had a quarter-life crisis a few years ago, when I turned 24. There was no impulse purchase involving a red Mustang or electric guitar, but as my iPhone alarm woke me up bright and early for work one morning in my two-bedroom NYC apartment, I pondered, "Do I have everything -- or nothing at all?"

My gut said that there had to be more to life than the rat race of what I was doing (IT consulting). But I just wasn't sure what it was or who I could turn to for wisdom outside of "the Matrix."

I decided to embark on a journey to find out. I quit my job, minimized my expenses, went to Hawaii and got very serious (in a wild sort of way) about discovering what made me tick. I found out there are a lot of people like me -- young, energetic, intense, purpose-driven, but frustrated with the status quo and a little freaked out about our prospects for the future. I decided to dedicate my life to seeking out the wisdom we need to create extraordinary lives with a deep sense of purpose in a world of immense uncertainty.

Early on, I stumbled across this quote from Dan Millman [1]:

I'd always believed that a life of quality, enjoyment, and wisdom were my human birthright and would be automatically bestowed upon me as time passed. I never suspected that I would have to learn how to live -- that there were specific disciplines and ways of seeing the world I had to master before I could awaken to a simple, happy, uncomplicated life.

That about summed up where I was and what I was discovering. I couldn't just wait for happiness and satisfaction to find me; I was going to have to make my own. So I've been doing that and coaching others on how to do the same ever since.

One of the coolest things I found early on is that studies conducted by positivity psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky point to 12 things happy people do differently to increase their levels of happiness. Here are a dozen things that any of us -- at any age or stage of life -- can start doing today to feel the effects of more happiness in our lives [2].

  1. Express gratitude. -- When you appreciate what you have, what you have appreciates in value. Kinda cool right? So basically, being grateful for the goodness that is already evident in your life will bring you a deeper sense of happiness. And that's without having to go out and buy anything. It makes sense. We're gonna have a hard time ever being happy if we aren't thankful for what we already have.
  2. Cultivate optimism. -- Winners have the ability to manufacture their own optimism. No matter what the situation, the successful diva is the chick who will always find a way to put an optimistic spin on it. She knows failure only as an opportunity to grow and learn a new lesson from life. People who think optimistically see the world as a place packed with endless opportunities, especially in trying times [3].
  3. Avoid over-thinking and social comparison. -- Comparing yourself to someone else can be poisonous. If we're somehow "better" than the person that we're comparing ourselves to, it gives us an unhealthy sense of superiority. Our ego inflates -- KABOOM -- our inner Kanye West comes out! If we're "worse" than the person that we're comparing ourselves to, we usually discredit the hard work that we've done and dismiss all the progress that we've made. What I've found is that the majority of the time this type of social comparison doesn't stem from a healthy place. If you feel called to compare yourself to something, compare yourself to an earlier version of yourself.
  4. Practice acts of kindness. -- Performing an act of kindness releases serotonin in your brain. (Serotonin is a substance that has TREMENDOUS health benefits, including making us feel more blissful.) Selflessly helping someone is a super powerful way to feel good inside. What's even cooler about this kindness kick is that not only will you feel better, but so will people watching the act of kindness. How extraordinary is that? A side note is that the job of most anti-depressants is to release more serotonin. Move over Pfizer, kindness is kicking ass and taking names.
  5. Nurture social relationships. -- The happiest people on the planet are the ones who have deep, meaningful relationships. Did you know studies show that people's mortality rates are DOUBLED when they're lonely? WHOA! There's a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from having an active circle of good friends who you can share your experiences with. We feel connected and a part of something more meaningful than our lonesome existence.
  6. Develop strategies for coping. -- How you respond to the "craptastic" moments is what shapes your character. Sometimes crap happens -- it's inevitable. Forrest Gump knows the deal. It can be hard to come up with creative solutions in the moment when manure is making its way up toward the fan. It helps to have healthy strategies for coping pre-rehearsed, on-call, and in your arsenal at your disposal.
  7. Learn to forgive. -- Harboring feelings of hatred is horrible for your well-being. You see, your mind doesn't know the difference between past and present emotion. When you "hate" someone, and you're continuously thinking about it, those negative emotions are toxic for your well-being. You put yourself in a state of suckerism (technical term) and it stays with you throughout your day.
  8. Increase flow experiences. -- Flow is a state in which it feels like time stands still. It's when you're so focused on what you're doing that you become one with the task. Action and awareness are merged. You're not hungry, sleepy, or emotional. You're just completely engaged in the activity that you're doing. Nothing is distracting you or competing for your focus.
  9. Savor life's joys. -- Deep happiness cannot exist without slowing down to enjoy the joy. It's easy in a world of wild stimuli and omnipresent movement to forget to embrace life's enjoyable experiences. When we neglect to appreciate, we rob the moment of its magic. It's the simple things in life that can be the most rewarding if we remember to fully experience them.
  10. Commit to your goals. -- Being wholeheartedly dedicated to doing something comes fully-equipped with an ineffable force. Magical things start happening when we commit ourselves to doing whatever it takes to get somewhere. When you're fully committed to doing something, you have no choice but to do that thing. Counter-intuitively, having no option -- where you can't change your mind -- subconsciously makes humans happier because they know part of their purpose.
  11. Practice spirituality. -- When we practice spirituality or religion, we recognize that life is bigger than us. We surrender the silly idea that we are the mightiest thing ever. It enables us to connect to the source of all creation and embrace a connectedness with everything that exists. Some of the most accomplished people I know feel that they're here doing work they're "called to do."
  12. Take care of your body. -- Taking care of your body is crucial to being the happiest person you can be. If you don't have your physical energy in good shape, then your mental energy (your focus), your emotional energy (your feelings), and your spiritual energy (your purpose) will all be negatively affected [4]. Did you know that studies conducted on people who were clinically depressed showed that consistent exercise raises happiness levels just as much as Zoloft? Not only that, but here's the double whammy... Six months later, the people who participated in exercise were less likely to relapse because they had a higher sense of self-accomplishment and self-worth.

So there you have it. No new flashy car or leather jacket needed -- just simple, scientifically-grounded wisdom for long-term happiness. These are all things you can start implementing today -- with or without a career change -- so I hope you pick one thing and commit to rocking it.

In my upcoming blogs, I'll share more wisdom on all these topics and more. In the meantime, you can come see how my own wisdom-seeking efforts (and those of some other really cool purpose-driven peeps) are proceeding at Sensophy.com.

Footnotes:

  1. Millman, D. Way of the Peaceful Warrier. H.J.KRAMER, 1984. Print.
  2. Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Press, 2008. Print.
  3. Tiger, Lionel. Optimism: The Biology of Hope. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. Print.
  4. Loehr, James E, and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press, 2003. Print.