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24 Things Happy People Never Forget to Do

Happiness isn't just a trait you're born with, it's a choice. These simple habits of happy people are guaranteed to get you there.

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Happy and healthy

While it’s widely agreed that stress can cause poor health, Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Adult Development study—one of the world’s longest studies, which began during the Depression in 1938—found the opposite is also true. Happiness promotes good health, and the quality of our relationships is key. “How happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” Waldinger says. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.” Don’t miss these 13 things psychologists wish you knew about happiness.

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Drink plenty of water

The human body is around 60 percent water, and it’s important to keep it that way. The negative effects of dehydration range from plain old bummers, like stress and difficulty concentrating, to physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. Drinking water regularly keeps the mind clear and the body energized. If you have trouble remembering to sip water throughout the day, try drinking full glasses on a timer to keep your fluids in fighting form.

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Eat well

Loading up on junk food may satisfy cravings, but eating foods low in nutrients leaves you feeling cranky and sluggish. Work nutrient-dense foods into your diet, such as brain-boosting seafood, organic greens, and antioxidant-rich sweet potatoes. A nutrient-rich diet will not only improve your mood but also can help normalize blood sugar levels, making your energy more balanced. Beyond a fridge full of fresh fruits and veggies, here are 13 things happy people have in their homes.

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Get some exercise

Whether you prefer a morning jog, lunchtime yoga, or pumping serious iron after work at the gym, getting daily exercise of any kind will go a long way toward improving your mood. Along with boosting self-confidence and appreciation for what your body can accomplish, physical activity spurs the release of endorphins. A surge in these hormones ramps up feelings of happiness and relaxation, and that helps dispel feelings of stress and anxiety. Don’t miss these 6 ways exercise makes your brain better.

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Follow a morning routine

The stress of a groggy, chaotic morning can linger well into the afternoon, but with a solid routine, you can take control of your mental state throughout the day. In addition to the usual hygienic rituals, spend a few minutes planning out your day, setting goals, and meditating. These gentle, mindful tasks help center your mind and give you confidence to tackle the day head-on. Try these other 22 tricks for a happier morning routine.

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Cut yourself some slack

Big goals take a long time to accomplish, so it’s easy to feel dismayed when results aren’t immediate. It’s important to reward yourself. Break up the monotony of long-term planning by indulging in the occasional treat. It doesn’t have to be a food treat, either. Reward yourself with a good book or movie or take time off work to head to the beach—you’ve earned it. When you fall into a pattern of overeating or lose the habit of regular exercise, just get started again—don’t waste energy berating yourself. Here are 12 health benefits of being kinder to yourself.

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Get enough sleep

Along with giving most of us some much needed downtime, a full night’s rest restores all the systems of the body and keeps our brains working at maximum capacity. Lack of sleep not only makes your workday harder by diminishing concentration and focus, it can also sour your mood, causing irritability and grumpiness. Lack of sleep on a regular basis has serious health implications; it’s associated with conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, which can lead to a shortened life expectancy. Here are 20 things you do before bed that sabotage your sleep.

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Express gratitude

Write a thank-you note to someone who did you a favor, keep a gratitude journal, or just take time each day to meditate on things you’re thankful for. Taking time to give thanks for what you have really does keep you from dwelling on what you lack. A randomized, controlled study in Psychotherapy Research looked at about 300 people seeking mental health services; one group was treated with therapy alone; another group was treated with therapy and journaling, with a focus on their deepest feelings about things that were causing them stress; and a third group was treated with therapy and “gratitude” journaling. At the end of treatment, the gratitude group reported significantly better mental health than the other two groups. This is what a gratitude journal really looks like.

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Focus on experiences

Money can’t buy happiness, but it might be able to buy happy memories. Instead of spending on new gadgets or clothes, indulge in an experience. Take a day trip, go to a concert, or try something new. Sure, retail therapy is effective but it’s also short-lived, while experiences work their way into your memory, encouraging happy thoughts for years to come. Check out these 18 one-of-a-kind adventures to add to your bucket list.

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Happy couple laughing together

Turn that frown upside down

If you’re feeling blue, try to think of a pleasant memory and flash those pearly whites. The simple act of smiling can give a short-term boost to your happiness and help ward off negative feelings. And if you’re not feeling happy, fake it ’til you make it; it works. A study published in the journal Psychological Science showed that smiling lowers the body’s response to stress and even lowers heart rate.

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Look on the bright side

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Happy people tend to look for the silver lining in even unpleasant situations, and that can help reduce stress and depression. Instead of focusing on the worst-case scenario, tackle challenges head on. Break it down into achievable steps and visualize what success will look like. Try these other 50 tiny changes that will make you a happier person.

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Appreciate your partner

The secret to happiness may not be what you have in your life, but who. In a survey of over 200,000 people, researchers from the London School of Economics found that the number-one thing that increased people’s happiness was being partnered in a good relationship. Whether you say it with a lunchbox note, a text, or face-to-face with a hug, appreciating your partner encourages happiness. Here are 40 creative ways to say I love you.

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Go to work

In the same London survey researchers found that having a job directly increased happiness, particularly if it was something that felt important, meaningful, and needed. Those who disliked their jobs could still get that happiness boost by helping others in their community or by enjoying a rewarding hobby. If you are in a bad job, just don’t stick with it forever; that’s one of the 18 things happy people never do and you shouldn’t either.

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Get regular mental health checkups

You get an annual physical at your doctor’s each year because you know it’s important for your long-term health, so why is it so many people don’t prioritize their mental health in the same way? Getting a mental wellness check was another top factor for people who reported being the happiest, according to the London survey. Unsurprisingly, untreated depression and anxiety were linked with being miserable. Here are 9 signs you should think about seeing a therapist.

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Surround themselves with other happy people

Happiness is contagious and you can “catch” it from your friends, says Diane Passage, a life coach. This is not to say you should cut your mother from your life because she complains too much, but do be sure to have a balance of positive and negative people around you. Look out for “emotional vampires,” she says—meaning people who suck the energy and joy right out of the room. “Negative relationships can be more damaging to a person’s success and happiness than you think,” she explains. “Worrying about negative opinions, being rejected, or not fitting in can stop you from living life to your fullest and finding true happiness.” Here are 11 ways to finally stop comparing yourself with others.

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Only check the news to once a day

If you pay attention to news stories 24-7, you know that we live in a terrifying, evil world and we’re all going to die a painful death soon. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but news outlets run shocking headlines because they get more clicks so take a moment to think about what the constant barrage of bad news is doing to your mood. “It is crucial to be aware of global, local and personal events but you don’t want to get stuck in a default mindset of fear, anger, and negativity,” Passage says. “If you want to be happy, limit your news intake.” Check the news once a day, plus experiment with what format is best for you. For example, just listening to the news and not seeing images may not be as jarring.

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Make a list of their priorities

Time is its own form of currency and how you spend yours can make all the difference to your happiness, according to a study published in Social Psychology & Personality Science. You can spend it, save it, budget it, or blow it, but you definitely have a finite amount of it. Genuinely happy people know this and make a conscious decision to prioritize their time for beloved people and important events. Happy folks in the study said they did things like taking a lower-paying job with shorter hours, hiring a house cleaner, and booking vacations in advance to make sure they left time for what was really important. Learn 50 more similar strategies that life coaches won’t tell you for free.

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Schedule tech-free time every day

Scrolling through social media, answering emails, binge-watching Netflix, and playing games on your phone may all give you a good feeling, but that feeling shouldn’t be mistaken for true happiness, according to the Social Psychology study. At best, your tech is putting your brain on pause and at worst, it is interfering with the kind of real-life connections that bring true happiness. Happy people recognize this and make time every day to cut lose, choosing instead to talk to loved ones, enjoy a home-cooked meal, or spend time on a fun hobby. Hint: This is one of the 20 things happy couples do after work.

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Learn something new

School isn’t just for kids! Picking up a new skill or a bit of knowledge won’t just make you better at trivia night, it’ll also make you happier, according to data from a recent Gallup poll. People who took educational opportunities wherever they could find them reported being happier.

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Talk with a mentor

Fact: The world is filled with people who are smarter than you. But that’s actually good news, as one could turn out to be your mentor. People who had at least one mentor throughout their life were two times more likely to report “thriving,” according to the Gallup poll. And it’s never too late. Find a mentor at your job, your church, or within your community and learn from their wisdom. (Then, don’t forget to pass it forward by mentoring others.)

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Have hot, steamy sex

That having sex increases your happiness won’t be news to anyone. Endorphins released during orgasm can have you feeling like you’re walking on air for hours afterward. What might surprise you is how little sex it takes to make a person happy, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. The researchers found that couples who have sex at least once a week were the happiest, and having sex more than once a week did not increase happiness. Don’t miss the real reason sex is better in hotels.

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Volunteer once a week

Happy people volunteer to help others and volunteers, in turn, are happier than other people, according to a paper published by Harvard Health. Chalk it up to the “happiness effect.” PTA, community garden, Big Brother Big Sister, church programs, food bank—whatever you choose, finding a way to help others once a week leads to long-lasting happiness, even more so than getting a raise, the study found. Even better, this is the type of happiness that pays forward, as your good works will help increase others’ happiness. Feeling lonely? Volunteering is one of the 15 most effective ways to connect with others.

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Take a walk outside in nature

Taking a walk is a great way to boost your mood, but to get the full effect make sure you’re taking that walk outdoors—and the more dirt, trees, plants, and animals you see, the better, according to a Japanese study. People who walked in nature reported lower blood pressure, less depression, and more overall happiness than people who strolled for the same amount of time in a city, the researchers found. And the benefits didn’t come from the heart-pumping action of exercise; slow walkers benefitted just as much. If you needed another reason to head outdoors, here are an addition 15 good reasons to take a 15-minute walk.

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Take responsibility for their own actions

Admitting you made a mistake may seem like the opposite of feeling happy, but people who take responsibility for their lives are happier than their passive peers, says Jackson Carpenter, a life coach. “The most common mistakes my clients make is that they stake their happiness on someone else’s action rather than their own,” he says. “Stop trying to control others and use that energy to take control of your own life.” And, P.S., blaming others is one of the 15 things confident people never do and you shouldn’t either.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.