How to Be Happy: 10 Habits to Add to Your Routine

Regardless of your version of true happiness, living a happier, more satisfied life is within reach. A few tweaks to your regular habits can help you get there.

Yes, it’s possible

Habits matter. If you’ve ever tried breaking a bad habit, you know all too well how engrained they are.Well, good habits are deeply engrained, too. Why not work on making positive habits part of your routine?Here’s a look at some daily, monthly, and yearly habits to help kickstart your quest. Just remember that everyone’s version of happiness is a little different, and so is their path to achieving it.If some of these habits create added stress or just don’t fit your lifestyle, ditch them. With a little time and practice, you’ll figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.

1. Smile

You tend to smile when you’re happy. But it’s actually a two-way street.We smile because we’re happy, and smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes us happier.While not completely foolproof, researchers have found that the link between smiling and happiness could be attributed to the “facial feedback hypothesis,” where facial expressions may have a modest influence on emotions.That does not mean you have to go around with a fake smile plastered on your face all the time. But the next time you find yourself feeling low, crack a smile and see what happens. Or try starting each morning by smiling at yourself in the mirror.

2. Exercise

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Regular exercise can help reduce stress, feelings of anxiety, and symptoms of depression while boosting self-esteem and happiness.Even a small amount of physical activity can make a difference. You don’t have to train for a triathlon or scale a cliff — unless that’s what makes you happy, of course.The trick is to not overexert yourself. If you suddenly throw yourself into a strenuous routine, you may just end up frustrated (and sore).

Consider these exercise starters:

Take a walk around the block every night after dinner.
Sign up for a beginner’s class in yoga or tai chi.
Start your day with 5 minutes of stretching.

Remind yourself of any fun activities you once enjoyed but that have fallen by the wayside. Or you could consider starting activities you always wanted to try, such as golf, bowling, or dancing.

3. Get plenty of sleep

Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep every night. If you find yourself fighting the urge to nap during the day or just generally feel like you’re in a fog, your body may be telling you it needs more rest.No matter how much our modern society steers us toward less sleep, we know that adequate sleep is vital to good health, brain function, and emotional well-being. Getting enough sleep also reduces your risk of developing certain chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, depression, and diabetes.

Here are a few tips to help you build a better sleep routine:

Write down how many hours of sleep you get each night and how rested you feel. After a week, you should have a better idea how you’re doing. You can also try using an app to track your sleep.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
Reserve the hour before bed as quiet time. Take a bath, read, or do something relaxing. Avoid heavy eating and drinking.
Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
Invest in some good bedding.
If you have to take a nap, try limiting it to 20 minutes.
If you consistently have problems sleeping, consider talking with a doctor. You may have a sleep disorder that requires treatment.

4. Eat with mood in mind

You may already know that your food choices have an impact on your overall physical health. But some foods can also affect your state of mind.

For example:

Carbohydrates release serotonin, a “feel good” hormone. Just keep simple carbs — foods high in sugar and starch — to a minimum because that energy surge is short and you’ll crash. Choosing complex carbs, such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains, can help you avoid a crash while still providing serotonin.
Lean meat, poultry, legumes, and dairy are high in protein. Protein-rich foods release dopamine and norepinephrine, which boost energy and concentration.
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish, have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects that extend to your overall brain health. If you don’t eat fish, you might consider talking with a doctor about possible supplementation.
Highly processed or deep-fried foods tend to leave you feeling down and so will skipping meals.

If you want to eat with your mood in mind, consider starting with making one food choice for your mood each day.For example, swap a big, sweet breakfast pastry for some Greek yogurt with fruit. You’ll still satisfy your sweet tooth, and the protein will help you avoid a midmorning energy crash. Consider adding in a new food swap each week.

5. Practice gratitude

Simply being grateful can give your mood a big boost, among other benefits. For example, a two-part study found that practicing gratitude can have a significant impact on feelings of hope and happiness.You might try starting each day by acknowledging one thing you’re grateful for. You can do this while you’re brushing your teeth or just waiting for that snoozed alarm to go off.As you go about your day, consider keeping an eye out for pleasant things in your life. They can be big things, such as knowing that someone loves you or getting a well-deserved promotion.But they can also be little things, such as a co-worker who offered you a cup of coffee or the neighbor who waved to you. Maybe it could even just be the warmth of the sun on your skin.With a little practice, you may even become more aware of all the positive things around you.

6. Give a compliment

Research shows that performing acts of kindness may also help promote your overall well-being.Giving a sincere compliment is a quick, easy way to brighten someone’s day while giving your own happiness a boost.Catch the person’s eye and say it with a smile so they know you mean it. You might be surprised by how good it makes you feel.If you want to offer someone a compliment on their physical appearance, make sure to do it in a respectful way.

7. Breathe deeply

You’re tense, your shoulders are tight, and you feel as though you just might “lose it.” We all know that feeling.Instinct may tell you to take a long, deep breath to calm yourself down.Turns out, that instinct is a good one. Research supports the fact that slow breathing and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress.
The next time you feel stressed or are at your wit’s end, work through these steps:

Close your eyes. Try to envision a happy memory or beautiful place.
Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose.
Slowly breathe out through your mouth or nose.
Repeat this process several times until you start to feel yourself calm down.

If you’re having a hard time taking slow, deliberate breaths, try counting to 5 in your head with each inhale and exhale.

8. Acknowledge the unhappy moments

A positive attitude is generally a good thing, but bad things happen to everyone. It’s just part of life.If you get some bad news, make a mistake, or just feel like you’re in a funk, don’t try to pretend you’re happy.Acknowledge the feeling of unhappiness, letting yourself experience it for a moment. Then shift your focus toward what made you feel this way and what it might take to recover.Would a deep breathing exercise help? A long walk outside? Talking it over with someone?Let the moment pass and take care of yourself. Remember, no one’s happy all the time.

9. Keep a journal

A journal is a good way to organize your thoughts, analyze your feelings, and make plans. And you don’t have to be a literary genius or write volumes to benefit.It can be as simple as jotting down a few thoughts before you go to bed. If putting certain things in writing makes you nervous, you can always shred it when you’ve finished. It’s the process that counts.Not sure what to do with all the feelings that end up on the page? Our guide to organizing your feelings may help.

10. Face stress head-on

Life is full of stressors, and it’s impossible to avoid all of them.There’s no need to. Stress isn’t always harmful, and we can even change our attitudes about stress. Sometimes, there’s an upside to stress.For those stressors you can’t avoid, remind yourself that everyone has stress — there’s no reason to think it’s all on you. And chances are, you’re stronger than you might think you are.Instead of letting yourself get overwhelmed, try to address the stressor head-on. This might mean initiating an uncomfortable conversation or putting in some extra work, but the sooner you confront it, the sooner the pit in your stomach may start to shrink.

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