Happiness Habits

My thoughts, advice and musings on how to create and maintain habits that will increase the happiness in your life.

I love my work training pharmaceutical sales people to gain greater access to customers to improve the lives of patients worldwide. However, I'm often taken aside by trainees who've recognised that the techniques I train on breaking down resistance and developing belief strategies to increase success are not unique to the pharmaceutical industry; these are techniques that can help anyone to achieve any goal. I'm frequently asked for advice on areas as diverse as quitting smoking; setting up a consultancy business; networking; and learning a new language. At the root of these requests are a desire for a greater happiness.

I have an intrinsic interest in happiness: what it means to people; how it can be achieved; how some people subconsciously sabotage their own happiness. My own extensive reading on the subject has led me to develop ten habits which can help anyone achieve happiness, and I plan to use this blog to share them with you. It would be great to hear what you think of them.

10 Happiness Habits for a Happier Life

Everyone, it would appear, wants happiness.  Lots of us try and measure it.  It seems that happiness has become something of a commodity, something that can be (easily) bought and sold.   Unfortunately happiness, when treated like this, doesn’t seem to want to play ball.  One moment it is there, but all too often that pleasure proves to be fleeting.

Lasting happiness is more profound. 

Philosophers, Poets, Musicians, Writers, Preachers, Psychologists and Scientists through the ages have meditated on, discussed, written about and studied happiness. Yet for many of us it remains elusive.

Aristotle, way back in 323 said “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and the end of human existence”.  It doesn’t get more important than that!

And he wasn’t the first to study happiness – not by a long way.   Confucius, Lao Tzu and Mencius wrote on the subject.  The major religions too have guidance on finding happiness dating back millennia.

The wisdom of the ages has much to teach us.  And modern science can nowadays explain in detail which happiness ideas are most useful.  The information is out there – but it is fair to say that it’s not very well distributed. 

Finding real happiness is though, up to a point, truly attainable.  We can all get happier and there is, theoretically, no upper limit.

The Science of Happiness and the practical steps we can all make to get happier is one of my great fascinations.

“How much happier can I really get?”

Modern psychologists have now confirmed what most of us have known for some time: Some people are just naturally very happy.  And on the flip side, some people are less so. 

The good news is your level of happiness is not fixed – you can do something about it.  You can make yourself significantly happier if you choose to.

Best of all, we are all, yes ALL of us, made to be happy beings!  We each carry a great capacity to be happy (albeit some more than others), we are primed to be happy.

Happiness is a natural human emotion.  It is there within us and can be tapped into through our actions and energies. If we choose to.

We simply need remove the baggage that gets in the way, set up patterns that help and BE happy. 

It would appear that a certain amount of our Happiness Quotient (HQ) is hardwired into us from birth.  It is inherited like our eye-colour from our parents and ancestors.

This level isn’t a specific amount of happiness; rather it is a range of happiness.  And most of us have a pretty average range of happiness: sometimes we are miserable and sometimes we are happy.

This inherited portion of our HQ makes up approximately 40% of how happy (or not) we feel.

A further 20% of our HQ comes from what’s happening to us right now in our life.  For example:  That promotion at work, that new sexy partner, that scratch on our car, that, massive queue of traffic, that divorce or bereavement … It’s what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.

Life is continually dealing us cards – some are good and some are bad.  Our current HQ is approximately 20% dependent on the hand we are playing right now.

The remaining 40% or thereabouts (and that’s A LOT) is down to us: our thoughts, labels, opinions, reactions and actions. It is down to HOW we invest our mind and time.

It is this 40% that we can work on. 

To a certain extent this will be about a search and expansion of our own self-knowledge.  And the understanding and accepting of what makes each of us unique.  It will also involve taking total responsibility and ownership of who we are and how we think. Of ceasing to be clones of others or conforming to models imposed on us by others.

I want you to think about happiness as being about “Progress”.  You will progress and build the foundations towards a happier life with a little discipline and focus.  After a while happiness will simply be part of who you are.

When we feel we are making progress we feel happy.  It is about becoming happier rather than having happiness, it never stops: it just keeps on flowing.

Increasing happiness does not, of course, mean we can eliminate pain, frustration and problems from our lives.  Nor does it mean we will live our lives in some kind of permanent state of ecstasy!

It does mean we will feel more gratitude, joy and love. It means that happiness will play a significantly bigger part in our lives and we will feel happy far more often.  It also means we cease to require external “things” to “make us happy” and instead happiness is just part of our lives. 

But is also means that we will experience the full range of emotions – and we will learn to accept and appreciate the value of all those beautiful dynamic feelings (even the unhappy ones).

The Pursuit of Happiness

One of the things that makes striving for happiness so frustrating is that when we do strive for it, happiness becomes even more elusive!

It is like those times when we REALLY try and get to sleep … sleep becomes impossible. Or when we are desperate to fall in love, we suddenly become repellent! (I exaggerate, but you get the idea)

Sometimes our own brain can be our own worst enemy!

The very act of trying to be happy seems to create anxiety and tension.  The very notion that we are somehow “underachieving” in our happiness seems to make us more miserable.  The grasping ambition for more happiness creates dissatisfaction and impatience.

Happiness experts have known about this for 2,500 years.

Therefore, counter-intuitively, I am not going to suggest you strive to be happier.  Instead we will explore things you can do and ways you can think that, almost as a by-product, make you happier. 

The Things That Don’t Work

Another difficulty in getting happier comes from being persuaded that certain things matter more than they really do in our quest for happiness (marketeers and others with a self-serving agenda will try and tempt you!) .  We are bombarded with adverts and images “promising” us happiness.  These are rarely true sources of happiness.

Plus, even when we have got the right answers we can sometimes resist making the changes that will bring us that happiness. Or we go to the other extreme and try TOO hard and the stresses of trying take the shine off.

We can often look in the wrong places.

What do you think will make you happier?

·       More money?

·       A better job?

·       Bigger house?

·       A baby?

·       Getting over that illness?

·       Fame?

·       Your parents being more attentive?

·       Looking younger?

·       Your child excelling in school?

·       New car/shoes/watch?

·       Losing weight?

If your answers look anything like this list then you’re in for a surprise.  None of those things brings a substantial increase in happiness.  What we BELIEVE brings us happiness typically only makes a small (and often transitory) difference.

There is clearly a difference between momentary (or brief) pleasure and a happy life.  Some people become pleasure addicts, constantly self-medicating on pleasurable or exciting things (shopping, sex, holidays, alcohol or adrenalin sports) to keep them going.  It is a strategy that can work up to a point. But there is a better answer. It’s probably just not what you expected.

Don’t be downhearted though just because your typical strategies aren’t working as well as they might – there are things out there that are proven to boost our happiness.  This article will explain 10 of these proven happiness boosters and shows how you can integrate them into your life.

I call them my 10 Happiness Habits.

The 10 Happiness Habits

The 10 Happiness Habits, as I call them, have been selected because they:

  • Are easily done by almost everyone (no significant intellectual, physical or financial requirements)

  • They are scientifically proven to work

  • They deliver maximum happiness for minimum effort

  • They can be broken down step-by-step and integrated into your life at your pace. You’ll feel happier almost instantly

I have divided the 10 Happiness Habits into two groups of five.  They are the foundation of your future happiness.

Five of the Happiness Habits are what I call “Daily Habits”.  These, as their name suggests, are things you can do every day with little disruption that are proven to give you a happiness boost.  They take very little time (in fact they are usually time neutral because often it’s about changing how you do something rather than adding something to your to-do list) – mostly little more time than making a cup of tea or cleaning your teeth.

The Daily Happiness Habits are simple, quick and effective.  They are mood boosters and build your happiness.  They require little explanation – but they can get forgotten about or we can resist the change in our lives necessary to embrace them.

(Don’t worry, I will help you integrate them into your life with plenty of tips!) 

The other five Happiness Habits are Long Term Happiness Habits.  These are a slower burn than the Daily Habits.  The Long Term Habits build over time to provide you with a centred, peaceful and contented happier life.  They do take more thought and a little more time before you reap the happiness boost – but they are truly worth it. 

The long term habits are Habits that you can dip in and out of however – just be sure to give them sufficient regular attention for them to work.  It is a bit like tending to your garden or your partner.  Tend to your long term happiness in the same way: not a once a year massive effort, instead by regular weeding, pruning, watering and nurturing (that’s a gardening metaphor not marriage guidance!)

 The Long Term Habits are somewhat more complicated than the daily habits and I will help you fathom out how they will work for you and I will help you break them down into simple steps.

It is through integrating the Long Term Habits into our lives that we truly build happier lives.  They aren’t about achieving an end point.  They are a process.

The 5 Daily Happiness Habits

The five daily Happiness Habits are:

1.       Physical Exercise

2.       Mental, Spiritual and Artistic Stimulation

3.       Connect with a Friend

4.       Do Something Good for Others

5.       Thankfully Reward & Congratulate Yourself

Let’s look at each of them in turn.

1.       Physical Exercise – Science is unequivocal: physical exercise is REALLY good for you!  You probably know that already!   It reduces stress and anxiety, cuts heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and hypertension.  It improves sleep, weight loss, cognitive ability, muscle tone and joint function.


Plus, physical exercise may be the single best short term booster of happiness there is.

So your first happiness habit is: on a daily basis take some kind of physical exercise.  In a nutshell: move more!

What sort of physical exercise is right for you?  Here are my tips, pick something that:

·       Fits your schedule & lifestyle - short bursts or longer sessions, budgets & costs, early morning, lunch-hour or later?

·       Fits your personality – sociable or loner, love or hate the outdoors, competitive or not?

·       Fits your environment –  rural or inner city, beach-side, park or mountain, weather & climate


Schedule it in your diary. Make that commitment! (A good time for any new habit is to schedule it in during “transition times”.  Transition times are those times in the day when you routinely cease doing one thing and shift to doing another eg. Getting home from work and immediately switiching the TV on.  This is a great time to slot in a new habit!  Build in some kind of “trigger” to prompt you: eg. Get home from work -> change shoes -> grab a smoothie -> go for a power-walk!)

Pick a time of day when you feel most energetic (if you can)

Listen to your body – and then push it a little bit more (but if it hurts you’ve gone too far!)

Ease up a little bit if you are a “competitive type” and enjoy the process as well as the goal

Remember this is about building happiness NOT sporting performance.  You should feel invigorated, refreshed and energised after your exercise, not exhausted!

Weight loss, sporting excellence and the body-beautiful are all well and good but I am not, necessarily, referring to that type of intense “workout”.

For a happiness boost simply get 10-30 minutes of reasonably vigorous physical movement into your daily schedule somewhere.

The options are endless…

…power walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, rollerskating, hiking, surfing, kayaking, rowing machine, ice skating, skiing, yoga, martial arts, tennis, Frisbee, fencing, ping-pong, soccer, aerobics, salsa, crossfit, softball, gymnastics, rock-climbing, calisthenics, dig the garden, belly dancing, netball, hula-hoop, orienteering, parkour, circus skills, vigorous sex!!

I generally like exercising – so this first habit isn’t difficult for me.  But we all have days when we don’t feel like it though.

Don’t feel like it? Then get in the “zone” by:

·       Acting “as if” you are ready to go! Simply pretend you feel like it.

·       Exercise somewhere pretty or pleasant

·       Visualise yourself flowing along beautifully at your chosen activity

·       Variety – mix up your exercise options

·       Trick yourself into starting (I’ll just put my sports clothes on, I’ll just do the warm-up…) Once you get going you’ll be away!

·       Get the right kit (feel like a pro!), get the right music

·       Remind yourself of the benefits

·       Recruit a workout buddy or join a group or club

·       Track your progress, set yourself a challenge (telling others about it also helps you stick to it!)

·       Put reminder notes up around the house

·       Get a bike – get a dog!!

·       Start a Pinterest board, follow inspiring Facebook pages on your chosen sport/activity

·       Change your daily routine if you find yourself skipping your first daily happiness habit too often

Remember 10 minutes is all you need to start feeling happier!  I’ve put a ping-pong table in the office and even on days when I don’t feel like exercising a 5 minute ping-pong while waiting for the kettle to boil can often turn into 30 minutes of fun exercise and connection with a colleague!

2.       Mental, Spiritual and Artistic Stimulation – just as your body needs to be stimulated regularly to feel happier, so does your brain.  So your second happiness habit is to daily stimulate your brain with something spiritual, artistic or intellectual.

Once again, all you need is 10-30 minutes of mental stimulation that fits your lifestyle, personality and environment.

What do I mean by “stimulate”? I mean actively do, learn about or engross yourself and your brain with an activity that makes you think and mentally challenges you.

There are many activities that could apply.  Reading for example.  But there is a world of difference between skimming through a glossy gossip magazine (not what I’m talking about) and reading a great work of fiction (more like it).  Pick something that really gets your brain working.

You could learn about or engross yourself in many fields:  museums, magic acts, genealogy, astronomy, stamp collecting, a foreign language, beekeeping, local politics, train spotting, computer programming, quizzes, chess, fishing, crosswords, ornithology, studying for a qualification, metal detecting, stock market investing, nutrition, DIY, teaching/coaching others, vegetable growing, local history, fundraising, religious pursuits, meditation, alternative health, philosophy, wine making, renaissance art, flower arranging, cookery, cartooning, classic cars, photography, painting, ceramics, knitting, creative writing, learning a musical instrument, poetry, jewellery making  etc

Explore whatever takes your fancy and make a start – you don’t have to pick the “right one”.  Make a start and see how it goes, one topic may lead you to another.  Just thinking of that list has got me interested in a couple of topics … I’ve always fancied beekeeping and broke off writing to read some online stuff on the subject!

3.       Connect with a Friend – this one is really simple and self-explanatory.  Your third happiness habit is to daily connect with and contact a close (or even not-so-close) friend.

Simply pick up the phone, write a letter (yes an old-school actual paper & pen letter), send an email, pop out for coffee with or visit a friend. 

A “Hey, I was just thinking of you – how have you been?” is all you need as a conversation opener.

We are social beings and connecting with a friend (or a variety of friends) is a proven happiness habit. And imagine how much you’d enjoy re-connecting with a long-lost friend!

4.       Do Something Good for Others – being kind, generous, giving and caring for others is also proven to make us happier.

Much has been written about the karma we receive from our random acts of kindness.  If you are kind for the sole purpose of making yourself feel better then it won’t work – instead seek out opportunities to help others wherever you can. Just because you can.  You’ll feel better!

I remember helping an old lady across the road once near my home – she walked at an almost unbelievably slow pace and I had to stop the traffic and gently usher her across.  A passing motorist saw me and then saw my girlfriend watching and waiting for me and shouted to her: “Marry him!” … I still get a feel-good glow from that simple moment!

Your fourth happiness habit is to make it a daily commitment to do something good for someone else!

This could be a conscious charitable donation, helping an old lady across the road, bringing cupcakes to work, pay a compliment, cook a meal for a sick friend, pay someone’s parking meter or toll, talk to a homeless person or buy them a sandwich, give an extra generous tip, donate clothes or spectacles to charity, write a positive online review about a local business, let someone into your lane on the motorway, talk to the shy person at a party, pass on your finished novel to another train passenger, freecycle, volunteer, pick up litter in the park, send someone flowers, hold the elevator, carry someone’s shopping, plant a tree, give up your seat on the bus, mow your neighbour’s lawn, be patient, leave a kind positive sticky note somewhere someone else will see it … etc

Being the kind person leads to you being a happier person, and kindness has a habit of multiplying (the Pay-It-Forward trend is a great example of this!). Be that person every day.

5.       Thankfully Reward & Congratulate Yourself – the fifth and final daily happiness habit is another simple one.

Taking a moment to gratefully appreciate and congratulate yourself for all you have done and who you are becoming is proven to boost your happiness.

You can do this at any point of the day but typically it is done towards the end of the day when you can reflect on your successes and progress.

You might reward yourself with a small treat, maybe keep a journal of your positive things or just simply take that moment to be at peace and feel grateful and happy.

It can really be a simple as “I had a great walk today before lunch, helped that gentleman with his shopping, called my Mum and made her laugh and learnt 3 new French verbs! That’s awesome! I am so lucky to have this life …. Time for a slice of that chocolate cake!”

Try your best to integrate all 5 daily habits into your life each and every day.  But don’t be hard on yourself or make it an onerous task as that’ll make it seem a chore and that erodes happiness!

Your 5 Long Term Happiness Habits

Happiness Habits six through to ten are longer term habits that we can all weave into our lives.  These take a bit more effort and application (arguably) than the daily habits but they are the foundations of a contented life.

They are:

6. Gain More Control over Your Life
7. Set Goals which allow for Flexibility
8. Develop Happy Personal Relationships and Networks
9. Do Meaningful Work with People that Matter
10. Evolve Your Optimum Lifestyle

Each of them is potentially a topic for a whole book – but they aren’t that difficult to grasp, and at least make a start on!

Let’s look at each of these:

6. Gain More Control over Your Life

What do I mean by “Gain more control over your life”?   Well, feeling a lack of control in your life can be the cause of much anxiety and unhappiness.  And at the root of this is often a lack recognition that everything we do is, in fact, a choice. Somewhere along the line, no matter what it is that we are doing that is making us feel happy or unhappy, we have made a choice to do it.

For example, imagine that you are unhappy with your job, yet on a daily basis you choose to get out of bed and go to work. While you are there you feel unhappy: your boss doesn’t appreciate you; you’ve been overlooked for that promotion; your work no longer fulfils you. You may feel that you have no control over these things, but let’s look at what you can control: You can choose to quit; you can choose to look for another job; you can choose to discuss your feelings with your boss; you can ask why you were not promoted and work towards acquiring the skills you currently lack; you can volunteer to work on more exciting projects... there are many ways of empowering yourself to take control of the situation. And the simple act of recognising the many choices available to you can give you a greater sense of control before you’ve even acted on these choices.  

Winning back control of the various aspects of your life demands planning, prioritising, discipline and often patience. Most importantly, it involves taking responsibility for your choices.

Getting more control over what is happening to you brings huge dividends in increased happiness.

As a start it can be useful to take a blank piece of paper and do an “audit” of the main areas of your life – these could be:

  • My Stuff (possessions, assets, things I own … clutter)

  • My Finances (debt, savings, investments, spending patterns, income sources)

  • My Time (how am I using my time?)

  • My Health

  • My Job

  • My Social Life

  • My Partner/Spouse  and our relationship

And then write out all the things going on within each area.  Begin to see how much complexity you have going on.  Get a feel for things that seem to be bossing you around.  Develop a plan to simplify.  To prioritise, to take back control and strip out the unnecessary and the burdensome nonsense that can clog up our lives. Look for areas of unhappiness, and brainstorm a list of options for dealing with those areas. Don’t censor yourself; some problems require creative solutions. Imagine if a close friend came to you with the same problem – what would you suggest to them? (It’s human nature that we’re often great at knowing how everyone else should solve their problems, even if we feel stuck with ours!)

Clutter is easy to see in our homes – but clutter doesn’t only exist as physical things, it can be thoughts, “obligations”, expectations, unnecessary commitments, routines, timewasting inefficiencies too.  Have a spring clean!

Are you working on or spending time doing things you don’t want to do for people you don’t really care about to impress people you don’t like or don’t even know? If so, stop it!

7. Set Goals which allow for Flexibility

The next happiness habit is to Set Goals which allow for Flexibility.  We are likely to achieve most and feel most motivated and happy when we are working on projects (both personal and business) that stretch us but are not so stretching as to cause us worry and stress.

In our search for happiness it is better to set goals that err, just, on the soft side – let’s make it more likely that we will succeed!  Also build in a few fallback options, some “slack” and flexibility.  Do not make your goals something to beat yourself with.

Here are my 5 top tips for goal setting –

1. Make the goal inherently satisfying and meaningful for YOU.  Try to avoid "extrinsic" goals that are about getting the approval of others or about avoiding "failings" as defined by others.  Own your goal, pick a goal that fits your personality and tastes. Be authentically YOU.

2. Make them "Approach" goals.  Pick something that moves you ever closer to a desirable outcome rather than away from a negative situation.  This tends to bolster enthusiasm and motivation as opposed to nervousness and distress.

3. Make the goals flexible.  Interestingly people who set themselves the goal of going for a run 2-4 times per week are more successful (and run more often) than either the person who aims for twice a week or the person who aims for 4.   Aim for something that allows you to do "the right tasks at the right time" - as you mature and grow allow your goals to adapt too.

4. Make them "activity" goals.  If you make the goal an end-point situational goal, you will only experience satisfaction on completion (rather than the process of achieving) and also you will tend to soon adapt to it and begin to desire "more".  Better to enjoy the ride. Better to "learn about a subject" than "pass an exam in a subject". Life is a journey, not a destination!

5. Make your goals harmonious.  If you set potentially conflicting goals you run the risk of getting frustrated.  For example: "Starting my own business" and "Spending more quality time with my family" MAY be conflicting (unless your new business is a work from home job and you are leaving a high pressure corporate job with a long commute).

8. Develop Happy Personal Relationships and Networks

The next happiness habit is to Develop Happy Personal Relationships and Networks.   Your choice of life partner is probably THE MOST important decision you can make regarding your happiness.

Very few things can bring as much happiness as a mutually loving wonderful relationship.  And few things can bring as much sadness as a dysfunctional one.

Choose a happy partner – if you can.  It really helps!  A chronically unhappy partner tends to make us unhappy, and it is often a sign of deeper relationship incompatibilities. You cannot ‘make’ anyone happy or unhappy; happiness is a personal responsibility and the result of personal choices. You can, however, commit to working together to increase your happiness as a couple. If your values and goals are truly aligned, this will rarely feel like ‘hard work’; on the contrary, it will be fun! Start today by getting your partner involved in these 10 proven Happiness Habits!

Keep communicating, look for things to compliment and appreciate, find new ways to learn and have fun together, become the best two person team you can be.  Have masses of great sex!

After your immediate partner your circle of friends can also provide much happiness.

Unless we are careful we tend to spend too much time with our not-so-close-friends and not enough time with our happiness-inducing-best-friends.

As a general principle: spend more time with the few friends that you truly love, that you feel inspired by, who uplift you and you feel happiest with.  And somewhat less time with the other friends.  A little time-per-friend audit are recalibration can make a big difference to your happiness!

And always go for quality relationships over quantity. Aim to spend approximately 80+% of your “friendship” time with the 4 to 6 people who really make you feel joyous.  Invest heavily your energy in this small circle of close allies.

9. Do Meaningful Work with People that Matter

The ninth happiness habit is Do Meaningful Work with People that Matter.  This is self-explanatory up to a point.

Find or design some meaning in your work.  This needn’t mean you have to work on some “greater cause” – you don’t have to be building a school for handicapped children in Africa to be doing meaningful work.

By meaningful I mean the approach you bring to your work, the direction not some kind of altruistic destination (though it could be part of it).

Do not wait for some kind of revelation about your current job.  You don’t have to discover some extrinsic reason or have an awakening.  You are in charge of the attitude you bring to your work. Bring and design meaning to the job you do right now, or look for it in your next job.

This is as much about changing your thinking about your job as changing the type of job you do.

Research has shown that about a third of people view their job as “just a job. A paycheck”.  About a third see their job as a “career”, meaning they see it as a way to get ahead and gain power and social status and self-esteem. And another third see their job as a “calling”, they fully integrate their work into their lives, harmonising their job with who they are.

These splits were fairly constant no matter what the job was!

Who felt the happiest? Those who described their work as a calling.  Find that calling within you, find that meaning!

Meaning at work is for everyone regardless of the type of work they do, their qualifications or their social status.  It is about mindfulness and generosity.

Ask yourself:

  •      Who do I work for? Who am I serving with my work? Who am I making a positive difference to? (I don’t mean your boss!)

  •      What attracted me to this work in the first place? What can I do now to rekindle that passion?

  •      Why do I do this? Why does it truly matter to me that these people are served?

  •       How will I serve and bring them value?

By asking these questions you start to write your own mission statement.  If you are a waiter in a café, what sort of waiter are you, who can you help, whose life can you light up, why does that matter, how will you stand out and deliver your unique awesome service?

Conversely, the answers to these questions could also reveal an incompatibility between your current values and the work you do. Perhaps the values of the company you work for have changed over time, or perhaps your own values now differ. If your work no longer speaks to your values, it can be very hard to keep up the same passion and dedication. In this case, it may be time to explore a new company or vocation which does!

You spend your working life with your colleagues so it is no surprise that they can have an impact on your levels of happiness. Seek to work with people that matter to you, people whose values and goals correlate with yours; your allies.

Surround yourself at work with people who you:

  •        enjoy spending time with

  •        have mutual respect for

  •        enjoy collaborating with

  •        trust

  •        can learn from

Build great networks based on these qualities with your colleagues and also find one or two wise mentors to whom you can turn to.  Then when the time is right, be a mentor for others you care about.

This meaning and this vocational network builds over time as your work develops. It is potentially a great source of happiness.

10. Evolve Your Optimum Lifestyle

The final happiness habit is Evolve Your Optimum Lifestyle.  This is almost an amalgamation of the other 9 habits.

This is all about being the Captain of Your Ship.  Take control of your happiness by designing the right lifestyle for you – step by step.  Set the right goals, work on the right projects, connect with the right people and take care of yourself on a daily basis as you do so.

Once or twice a year ask yourself some of the big strategic lifestyle questions:

  •        Am I living in the right place?  (where you live is so important!)

  •        Am I living with the right person for me? (even more important!)

  •        Do I feel in control?

  •        How is my work and non-work time split – is it right for me?

  •        Have I time for healthy exercise?

  •        How relaxed do I feel?

  •        How do I feel about my surroundings and home?

  •        How well am I maintaining my most rewarding friendships?

  •        How well am I expressing my creative side?

  •        Am I travelling enough, or too much/little?

  •        How well am I contributing to the lives of others?

  •        How do I feel about my finances?

  •        How well is this lifestyle working for my partner and family?

  •        What positive influence am I exposing myself to (art, literature and culture rather than social media, scare stories and gossip!)?

For each of these topics, if you feel dissatisfied, begin to read and research how to improve your situation.  There are masses of help available to you. 

Excuses Why These 10 Happiness Habits Won’t Work

Let’s look at some false but often expressed excuses why this selection of 10 habits won’t work for you:

  •        I am too busy to do these habits

  •        They are too difficult

  •        It is too much of a risk

  •        It takes too long

  •        There will be a big family drama

  •        I don’t deserve happiness

  •        I can’t afford it

  •        No one will help me

  •        It has never worked for me before

  •        I’m just not strong enough to make these changes

  •        If it was that easy, how come everyone isn’t super happy already

And now let’s demolish each of these excuses one by one …

1.       I am too busy:  When it comes to the really important things in life, are we really too busy?

  • Wanting a baby?

  • Falling in love?

  • That awesome opportunity at work?

Somehow, these things get done, don’t they? Because we prioritise them. Prioritise your happiness!

Also, we don’t need to see these Happiness Habits as “takers” of time.  Many Habits are not additional things to fit in, rather they are alternative things to do, e.g. 20 minutes more exercise combined with 20 minutes less garbage TV. Others are simply different ways to tackle the day or week, different approaches or different tactics.  They are, if anything, time saving!  You will stop wasting time on miserable things and typically discover a more productive efficient you.

2.       Too Difficult: Nonsense! You have the ability.  Nothing here is beyond you.

For example; when I refer to “physical exercise” I mean something as non-taxing as an invigorating walk (I don’t mean powerlifting, rowing the Atlantic or climbing Mount Everest).   It is the same for all the 10 Habits – simply modify the habit for your current lifestyle and experience.

This excuse has nothing to do with a particular level of difficulty.  It is simply you labelling something “difficult” to give you an excuse not to do it.

I accept that the introduction of any new habit can be somewhat difficult to get used to.  That’s what learning and growing feels like.  The first time you rode a bicycle you wobbled a bit.  Maybe you are just wobbling – remember that a wobble is part of the fun! Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Similarly, think about why you are telling yourself it is too difficult. Is it because you don’t enjoy it? Do something you do enjoy instead! Don’t like running? Go to a dance class! Maybe it’s because you’ve set yourself too difficult or unachievable goals to measure your progress. Dial back a bit, set smaller goals, and pat yourself on the back for the progress you’ve already made!

Life is difficult from time to time.  Instead of holding on to useless habits, why not embrace some useful ones? Remember you are looking at these Habits with the eyes of someone who hasn’t adopted them yet, bringing with you some of your limiting beliefs and filters. But your beliefs are not unchangeable, and with the evidence of each new achievement, your beliefs will adapt. Little by little, your new Habits will challenge your limiting beliefs, which will ultimately change your life. Go on, you can do it!

3.       Too Risky: Being yourself involves zero risk.  Living authentically is not a gamble. It is the route to happiness.

Literally everything you do involves some risk – the risk of missing out, the risk of having regrets, the risk of stagnating, the risk of another year of not feeling joyous …

And who said risk is a bad thing?  It can be stimulating and exciting!

4.       Takes Too Long: If this is about elevating your life, who cares how long it takes? You have a lifetime!

This is a process, not a final destination.  The first day you begin a daily Happiness Habit you start that process – and you’ll begin to feel happier!

All that we talk about here is How to live your life to increase your happiness. You are already living your life. You are already spending this time. Why not spend it happier? 

Every emotion and every thought is only ever experienced in the present moment.  Happiness is only ever felt right now.  No more time is needed than the time you already have.

And change – that moment when we feel a shift – takes place in an instant.  The rest is easy, the future is coming anyway, one step at a time. (You might be feeling that shift right now).

I sometimes ask people I am coaching two questions:

  • “How old will you be in 5 years’ time if you make a start on these Happiness Habits today?”

  • “How old will you be if you don’t?”

The message is you don’t save time by avoiding making a positive change in your life!

5.       There will be a big family drama: You don’t belong to your family.

A quote from Samuel Butler the novelist: “I believe that more unhappiness comes from this source than from any other - I mean from the attempt to prolong family connections unduly and to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so.”

Living the life of your own choosing involves the willingness to respond to your inner feelings rather than the well-meaning opinion of others.

You are here to live your life.

Being your authentic self will tend to earn you more respect than it does reproach.  It may be true that some drama will occur, but don’t let it be your drama – if others are fearful on your behalf or for themselves, then calm and reassure them.  But don’t take on that fear yourself and use it as an excuse.

6.       I don’t deserve to be happy: The voice in your head telling you this is lying to you.  Don’t believe everything you think.

There are many reasons you may think this. Perhaps you had a difficult childhood, or relationships where you felt obliged to put others' happiness before your own. Low self-esteem is a powerful de-motivator. But it is fixable!

It’s important to remember that this is simply a belief. It can be changed at any time, and as this particular belief serves no positive purpose, it should be changed ASAP!

The great thing about happiness is that it does not have a limit, and it is not reserved for a particular 'type' of person. One person’s happiness does not prevent another from being happy. If anything, happiness creates happiness (and the same with unhappiness, in fact). It spreads and multiplies. Your happiness can make others - even strangers - happier.

Need proof? Picture this. You go into a coffee shop and smile a cheerful ‘good morning, how are you?’ to the waiter. The waiter feels pleased and provides great service, with a complement for your new jumper. In gratitude you leave a good tip, before sending a text to a friend thanking her for going clothes shopping with you. The friend feels valued and your friendship is strengthened. Meanwhile the waiter donates his tip to the local school fund, collecting for a new library. The school children learn the value of charity and kindness; the chain goes on and on. All this happiness from a smile!

Now consider the alternative. You stomp into a coffee shop, scowling at the man who pushed past you through the door, and bark an order at the waiter. The waiter senses your tension and approaches nervously, spilling coffee on your new jumper. You yell at the waiter, causing him to burst into tears. You curse your friend for ‘making’ you buy a jumper you only wore once, and text her to say what happened. Your friend apologises, feels guilty and decides to spend less time with you. Everyone is miserable, and the schoolkids get no new library! A little dramatic, but you get the idea!

Ask yourself, which scenario would you rather be part of?

The point is, while your happiness or unhappiness is your responsibility, it also affects those around you. If you can help your loved ones to be happier by making yourself happy, it’s a win-win!

7.       I can’t afford it: This is effectively a cost neutral plan and in many cases you will find your new happier life costs you less (no more “retail therapy” to ease the pain of an unfulfilling life).

Many things that we think bring us happiness and that we indulge in to make us happier don’t work and cost us money (shopping, treats, drugs, doing jobs that are meaningless but require expensive travel, house prices & clothes … an endless list of expense!).  You will naturally find yourself craving these expensive desires less and less as your intrinsic values and goals are increasingly satisfied.

True happiness is to be found within. Away from the external baubles of a bling-society.

Yet ‘I can’t afford it’ is a frequent excuse.  I can’t afford to study, I can’t afford to leave this job, I can’t afford to live somewhere more beautiful … And of course there may well be a grain of truth initially at least in these fears.

BUT, there is no truth at all in these fears over a slightly longer time frame.  Goal setting and planning is key. The Long Term Happiness Habits are just that: longer term plans that you begin working on now and they gradually integrate themselves into your life.

I’m not suggesting you jack in that well-paying city job and at the same time move to an ocean front property while keeping your three kids in private schools, upgrade the Range Rover and become an organic beekeeper immediately!

It is step by step process – 5 daily habits right now and then gradually work on the 5 longer term habits.

Remember, being you is free.  It is being all the other stuff that costs us money!

8.       No one will help me: Rubbish! The world is full of people who will jump at the chance to help you if you need or want it.

Quite simply, the ball is in your court to access these resources.

Open your eyes, ears and mind to the abundance of opportunities and support out there.  It is all there for you!

It is like when you order a new car; say a green Volkswagon Golf … and then every day you spot another green Golf.  And another and another. 

They were always out there – you just start to notice them.

Your brain switches on its radar for green VW Golfs.  Do the same for support and help:  Networks, mentors, guides, teachers, books, websites, tutorials, professionals, friends, examples, role models … you’ll spot them. And another and another! You’ll be surprised at just how much people want to help. And remember to pay it back when it’s your turn!

9.       It has never worked for me before: You are not your past. In fact your past doesn’t exist, it’s just your story.

Am I suggesting that EVERYTHING will work out for you EXACTLY as planned? – No.  But you will learn and grow as you move forward. And you may develop different goals as your life unfolds. But why not make your happiness significantly more likely?

If you live by the “rules” of the past, you risk ruining your life based on patterns that didn’t work.  You risk repeating a faulty recipe. Those rules haven’t led you to happiness yet; why would work in the future?

And if you haven’t yet experienced great happiness, isn’t it time you added it to your repertoire of life’s great adventures?

10.   I’m not strong enough: Another lie.  You are, in fact, EVERYTHING enough.

This excuse can, potentially, be part of a self-strengthening circular lie. A pattern that prevents you from achieving your happiness goals.

E.g. “I’m not strong enough to achieve this and I’m not achieving this because I’m not strong enough”

How do you know?

In fact, You are the perfect You – nobody can be a better you than you. 

This is a fear-based objection, and these are usually groundless. The way to conquer it is to act. Be brave and stop this old unhelpful thinking, bravely adopt new thinking.  You are everything enough right now.  Notice that. Take action – small steps if need be, but take action and you’ll weaken the lie.

And notice that once you question this lie about lacking the necessary strength, the fearful pattern breaks and this excuse loses all its force. You are already acting: therefore, you are already strong enough!

11.   If it was all this easy, how come everyone isn’t doing it? Confusion, fear, choices, habit, routine, comfort zones, denial, peer pressure and all the same excuses as yours!

Many people are unsure about what actually brings them happiness.  They look in the wrong places and pursue things that are unfulfilling (from a happiness perspective).

Then, even when they are aware of the real sources of happiness, they fear making the changes or they experience their brain making some of the 10 excuses above.  And as we’ve seen, these excuses are not valid, but they may seem like they are.

Other people may be reasonably content already.  Most people will tend to choose certainty over happiness.  Some people will only make changes when the pain of staying stuck is overwhelming, or when circumstances force them out of their comfort zone (deaths, illnesses, redundancy etc).  If they are moderately happy and are certain of being moderately happy tomorrow (as far as they can tell), they would prefer to not make any changes even if that that could lead to absolute joyous happiness.  They deny themselves that happier future and settle for unfulfilled comfort.

And that’s OK.  I just hope that it’s not you!

We are all creatures of habit – we have routines and habits already. Breaking those habits (addictions?) can be moderately tricky.  Even when we know they are unhelpful:  Giving up smoking, leaving that toxic relationship, stopping overspending, stopping overeating, gambling, quitting that dull tedious job.  They all have their challenges, especially if you have low self-esteem (see excuse number 6).  But YOU can do it!

Some people can be swayed by the opinion of others.  We have a need to conform.  And if your circle of friends is not particularly happy we can find ourselves, almost as if by osmosis, becoming like them.

We tend to become the average of the 5 people we spend most time with.  Our income, our views, our politics, our tastes, our hopes, our worries and our level of happiness tends to be pulled towards the average of the group.

If we notice this, we can at least do something about it if we want to change it: i.e. resist it and plough our own furrow, or change our group!

What Next?

I hope this guide has helped you see how you can begin to make changes to increase your own happiness. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think of the guide; whether there is anything missing; and how you put it into action!

Get in touch: ianpchamb@gmail.com