Based on interviews with the world’s leading happiness researchers, these happy habits make the biggest difference in happiness & health.

Read on for our list of happy habits, and check our list of top healthy habits here.

10 happy habits for a happier life

After over 200 episodes of The Feel Good Effect podcast, and dozens of interviews with happiness experts, we’ve pulled together this list of science-backed, life-tested, actionable habits you can incorporate into your daily life for more happiness and health.

These are tiny happy habits that make a big difference, and represent small shifts that create big change in your life – after all, we wrote the book on small, feel good habits!

And the best news is that none of these habits require a huge time commitment or a significant financial investment.

Happy Habits: Mind

1 | gratitude

Gratitude is one of those things that’s often misunderstood, so let’s break down what gratitude actually means.

Gratitude is not about thinking positively all the time, practicing “toxic positivity”, or ignoring negative emotions.

Rather, gratitude is simply being able to see the good within all the other bad, chaotic, stressful things that happen in life.

It’s training your brain to notice the good that is there all the time.

Our favorite gratitude expert, Dr. Rick Hanson, teaches that gratitude is fundamental to happiness, and having a gratitude practice is a habit of happy people.

Want to add this happy habit to your daily routine?

Here’s how to get started with gratitude habit:

  • Start a simple gratitude journal: Write down 3 things you are grateful for right when you get up or before bed
  • Write gratitude notes: This interview with gratitude expert Gina Hamadey has more tips on this simple yet meaningful exercise
  • Go for a gratitude walk: Turn off all your distractions and really notice the beauty around you, gratitude for your body, and for the air you breathe.

2 | flexible thinking

I talk about the power of flexible thinking is covered in my book, The Feel Good Effect, and how it’s a fundamental thinking habit for a happy life.

Flexible thinking is essentially the opposite of all-or-nothing thinking, and allows you to see the multitude of possibilities rather than thinking in terms of extremes.

Specifically, rather than seeing things as black or white, or all-in or all-out, happy people are able to see the middle ground, the grey area, and often pick a choice somewhere in between that works best for them, particularly if the extremes aren’t sustainable or don’t work for them in real life).

3 | self-knowledge

This one may come as a bit of a surprise, but knowing yourself and making decisions from that place is a cornerstone habit of happy people.

When you know what you like and don’t like, what your values are, and how you want to feel you are able to create a truly happy life for yourself.

When it comes to defining ‘healthy’, what really matters is finding a definition for yourself (which really requires knowing about yourself).

To begin cultivating this habit, start a daily practice of slowing down and asking, ‘what do I need right now?’

This practice comes from happiness expert Dr. Kristin Neff’s guide to fostering self-compassion.

Other expert interviews about cultivating a self-knowledge habit:

Happy Habits: Move

4 | movement

It’s true, happy people have some kind of movement or exercise practice.

Movement as a habit doesn’t necessarily have to be a daily exercise routine, but happy people do move their bodies consistently and in a way that feels good for them.

In our interview with exercise and movement expert, Dr. Kelly McGonigal she noted that, just “three-minutes of movement can change your mood toward happiness.”

That’s pretty remarkable!

Think about this habit in your own life.

If a movement habit is something that hasn’t happened yet, it may be because of inflexible thinking or feeling like it counts or doesn’t count.

Try reframing movement or exercise as a happy habit instead.

Stretching, moving, walking, yoga, axe throwing or really anything that moves your body – it all counts! 

5 | nature

Time in nature can definitely improve happiness, and so starting a habit of getting outside is a great place to start when focusing on happy habits.

This might mean going outside and taking a simple walk – it doesn’t have to be a 5-mile trek in the mountains if that’s not accessible to you.

You could even take it one step further and bring some plants inside your home & workspace; any connection with nature has been shown to improve happiness. 

If you can find your way to the water, beach, mountains, or to any place where you feel connected & grounded – that time in nature can be restorative and is also connected to happiness.

6 | self-compassion

Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness that you would show a loved one, which is essential to happiness, according to self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff.

When you can treat yourself with kindness and realize that making mistakes is truly just part of being human, it is so connected with happiness. 

Self-compassion is my #1 recommended happy habit to take on, and there is lots of information about how to do that in the Feel Good Effect book.

Happy Habits: Connect

7 | growth

Growth is something happiness expert Gretchen Rubin talks about in several recent interviews, including Making Good Habits Stick, Inner Order and Outer Calm, and The 4 Tendencies.

The feeling of growth or progress is fundamental to human happiness.

Self-improvement doesn’t have to be self-punishment or a way you’re not living up to another set of impossible standards, but it can be a feeling of growth in your life and knowing that you are not stagnant.

Creating a habit around growth could look like starting a hobby, volunteering at a school or church, taking on a new project outside of work, or taking on a new role within work.

There are so many ways we can feel growth within our lives – but if you’re not feeling it right now, think about what kind of habit could support a feeling of growth (whether it be professionally or personally).

8 | connection

We all know that a lack of connection is an unhealthy habit.

As things begin to open back up, we have a chance to (re)develop some of our connection habits.

This could be connecting with yourself or connecting with your community, friends, or other meaningful relationships. 

If you are feeling a lack of connection, think about tiny habits you could adopt to help foster it in your life.

Whether it’s sending a text to a friend on a regular basis, using apps that allow you to leave voice messages – great if talking on the phone just isn’t a sustainable habit.

Ask yourself what your daily habits are that support connection and where you want to focus your energy.

Happy Habits: Fun

9 | play

Yes, fun and play are connected to happiness, and an important happy habit to focus on.

Maybe play comes really easy to you and you are able to prioritize it and make it multiple habits.

If it is a little harder for you, it could be combined with other habits – like being in nature, going on a hike, playing on the beach, or being in the water. I

t can look different for everyone and might be something to think more about how you could include play into your happy habits.

10 | rest 

Cultivating a habit of rest is fundamental to happiness.

Always working, moving onto what’s next, and not giving yourself any downtime is not conducive to happiness.

You can use the 4-R daily routines to create habits around rest, creating good habits around sleep hygiene, getting to bed on time, napping, taking an entire weekend day off, or closing out of social media for days at a time.

Happy Habits: Make it Your Own

All in all, happy habits can look a lot of different ways, but without habits around these happiness fundamentals, they will likely not happen.

Habits help you make these 10 things happen automatically and happen more regularly in your daily life.

If you feel overwhelmed at where to start – think about how you feel & how you want to feel.

And then look for the bridge between the two.

Then pick one thing or just a handful of things, and let those first few things be guided by what habits are going to be supportive of that type of happiness in your life.

More Happy Habit Resources

The Feel Good Effect: Reclaim Your Wellness by Finding Small Shifts That Create Big Change

The Secret to Becoming for Resilient with Dr. Rick Hanson

Create an Active Gratitude Habit with These 4 Simple Strategies with Gina Hamadey

Feeling Disconnected? Here’s How to Connect & Belong with Sebene Selassie

A Self-Care Practice for Courage, Hope, & Healing with Alex Elle

Making Inspiration a Habit and Reclaiming Creativity with Morgan Harper Nichols

3 Minutes of Exercise Can Redirect Your Brain toward Happiness: Here’s What to Do with Dr. Kelly McGonigal

Want to Make Good Habits Stick? Here’s How with Gretchen Rubin

Inner Order, Outer Calm, & Decluttering with Gretchen Rubin

The Secret to a Happy, Healthy Life with Gretchen Rubin

How to Use the 4-R Framework to Create Sustainable Daily Mini-Wellness Routines

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