How to be happier: 16 things happy people have in common

Updated: Jul 23

As a psychotherapist and psychiatrist, I have noticed some common themes among the people who seem the happiest. And when I refer to happy people, I'm not just talking about people who seek a constant stream of short-term pleasure (sometimes referred to as "hedonic" happiness). We all know this tends to backfire after a while.

I'm talking about people who seamlessly balance short-term enjoyment with seeking a more profound sense of meaning, purpose, and joy in their lives (sometimes referred to as "eudaimonic" happiness). Here are some of the lessons I've learned from people who are happiest:

1. Take action.

Happy people spend less time thinking and more time taking action. It's easy to become overwhelmed by all the "what if's" and overthink our every move. But try to resist this and start moving in the direction of your goals despite all the worries and doubts.

2. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness refers to the practice of staying focused on the present moment without judgment. Happy people look a lot like a young child playing with their favorite toy: engrossed in what they are doing, with everything else in the world momentarily pushed to the side. When you find yourself drifting into the past or future, take a moment to return your focus to the present.

3. Prioritize growth.

Growth is an essential part of living a satisfying life. Happy people know that human beings are not meant to stay stagnant but instead derive much value by making progress towards what matters to them. Whether through learning, creating, practicing, or exploring, you can work on finding ways to flourish.

4. Embrace discomfort.

Happy people recognize that we cannot grow, change, or otherwise make progress in our lives without some discomfort. Instead of resisting that discomfort, they dive into it wholeheartedly. Remind yourself that discomfort is an inevitable part of life and a sign that you are moving towards your goals.

5. Allow failure.

The only way to avoid failure is to remain firmly planted within our comfort zone. Happy people understand that to live a full life, they must stretch beyond this comfort zone. By reaching beyond our comfort zone, we are bound to make mistakes. But try to allow these mistakes to teach you instead of discouraging you.

6. Take responsibility or let go.

There are so many ways in which we don't have control over our lives. Happy people look for ways they do have control, no matter how small their role may be. When they encounter something they genuinely have no control over, they let go, stop trying to change it, and move towards acceptance.

7. Practice gratitude.

Finding things to be grateful for is not always easy. But, happiness increases when we find joy in the moment and stop trying to chase the next big thing. Practice expressing gratitude for the little things that most people may not even see.

8. Connect with others.

Human beings are social creatures who are hard-wired for connection. It is important to recognize the value of these social connections and cultivate healthy relationships in your day-to-day life. When you aren't feeling your best, reach out and lean on your social connections rather than isolating and going it alone.

9. Practice self-compassion.

Happy people understand that harsh self-criticism is usually more harmful than motivating. It is important to view yourself with kindness and avoid holding yourself to an impossible standard. Remember that you can work on yourself and love yourself simultaneously.

10. Make space for all emotions.

Happy people understand that we can't be happy all the time! While we all have to deal with the pain of difficult emotions, it is important not to layer suffering on top of your pain by resisting, ignoring, or try to get rid of these emotions. Paradoxically, acceptance of these challenging emotions allows us to heal faster and experience the joys of life more fully.

11. Work on physical health.

To be our best mentally, we have to care for ourselves physically. Happy people understand that our bodies and minds are intricately connected. If you want to increase your happiness, focus on getting regular physical activity, improving nutrition, and prioritizing sleep.

12. Prioritize what matters.

It is easy to be distracted by the constant stream of urgent requests we get in our lives. However, if you want to be happier you must identify what is important to you and prioritize those things so that they aren't always pushed aside for whatever is most compelling at the moment.

13. Set boundaries.

Boundaries are crucial for healthy relationships, and healthy relationships are vital for happiness. It is important to work on communicating and expressing your needs to build deep, respectful, and mutually beneficial relationships.

14. Take breaks.

Making time to do nothing ensures that we will be more productive in the long term. We slow down, lose focus, and burn out when we don't take time to recharge our batteries. Try to remind yourself that rest (especially guilt-free rest!) is essential to happiness.

15. Get distance from thoughts.

Happy people understand that our brains are wired for threat detection. As a result, we naturally look for the negative in every situation, and we are always on the lookout for ways we might fail. Fortunately, our over-active threat detection system isn't always right. If you can work on gaining some distance from your thoughts, you can often overcome this negative bias and make a more realistic appraisal of any situation.

16. Accept help.

Happy people don't allow feelings of guilt to stop them from accepting help. Try to view kindness as something that can be freely offered and even beneficial for the giver. And remember that you can always pay forward any gifts you receive.

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