Happiness begets success, not the other way around. Don’t take it from us—take it from science. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor at the University of California, Riverside and the author of The How of Happiness, has dedicated her life to studying human happiness and asserts that “happy individuals are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.”
Yes, that is a lot of benefits—and you can have them all for yourself. No matter where you are in life, these are easy hacks to locate the positivity and become happier, each and every day.
1. Stop giving reasons for everything.
That’s the biggest key to happiness, according to Stanford engineering professor Bernard Roth and author of The Achievement Habit. For example, giving reasons for being chronically late to meetings or explaining your inability to spend more time with family as being too busy at work are indications that your priorities are out of whack, and realigning them will lead to greater happiness. “Reasons are often just excuses,” he writes. “We use them to hide our shortcomings from ourselves. When we stop using reasons to justify ourselves, we increase our chances of changing behavior, gaining a realistic self-image, and living a more satisfying and productive life.”
2. Stop saying “should.”
I should really work out tonight, I should really eat better, I should spend more time at home. The word implies reluctance and guilt. Start saying “want” instead of “should.” The positive language will help you clarify and prioritize what you really want to be doing at the moment—and it can help you see healthy behaviors you’re not psyched about (you really do want to be eating better) in a motivating way.
3. Be grateful.
It’s simple, and it works. The next time you’re feeling blue, think of five things in your life you’re thankful for. It’ll turn around a dark moment and possibly your entire day.
4. Shift your “happiness paradigm.”
Redefine what happiness means to you at the present moment—and realize you can be happy now. “Guys especially get the formula for happiness wrong. We think, “If I can work harder right now, I’ll be more successful, and then I’m going to be happier,” says Shawn Achor, author of the book The Happiness Advantage. “And it turns out, that’s not true—partly because every time we hit a goal, our brain changes what success looks like, so happiness is on the opposite side of a moving target, and we never get there. But if guys can create happiness in the present, they can actually dramatically improve their success rates long-term.”
5. Work out—if just for 7 minutes.
Studies have shown that exercise can be just as effective against depression and anxiety than antidepressant medication. There’s a physical component (exerting yourself causes the brain to release dopamine) plus, “when you exercise, your brain records a victory. You’ve been successful. And it creates this cascade of success. So you start developing more positive habits,” says Achor.
6. Thank someone.
“Writing a two-minute positive email to somebody you know, praising them or thanking them for something, increases your social support dramatically,” says Achor. “And it makes you happier while you’re writing that note.”
7. Pretend you’re old and looking back on your life, and give yourself some advice.
The best advice in life comes from people who have, well, lived more of it than you. So put yourself in your grandfather’s or grandmother’s shoes, and try to imagine what sage wisdom they might bestow on you.
8. Make a simplicity list.
Write down five or 10 things that are most important to you in life that you want to accomplish. Boiling things down creates clarity and will get you started on a plan that much faster.
9. Work on your happiness perception.
Tal Ben-Shahar, author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, says that’s about realizing that happiness is the goal to where everything else leads. “It’s about finding the overlap among the three questions, ‘What gives me meaning,’ ‘What gives me pleasure?,’ and ‘What are my strengths?’” Determining those things, and focusing on them even for a slice of your day, will boost your mood long term.
10. Set goals that are means, not ends.
“For sustained happiness, we need to change the expectations we have of our goals: rather than perceiving them as ends (expecting that their attainment will make us happy), we need to see them as means (recognizing they can enhance the pleasure we take in the journey),” says Ben-Shahar. “A goal enables us to experience a sense of being while doing.” Pick goals that involve growth and connection instead of acquisition.
11. Write down three good things that happened each day.
In your job, career, and life. It may sound corny, but it’s scientifically proven to work long-term. “Over a decade of empirical studies has proven the profound effect it has in how our brains are wired,” says Achor. “Your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives. In just five minutes a day, this trains the brain to be more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for professional and personal growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them.” It’s an exercise that has staying power: One study found that participants who took time out to do this were less depressed and more optimistic—even after they stopped the exercise.
Few things contribute to depression more than viewing a temporary condition as a terminal calamity. Things are rarely as bad as they seem.
13. Concentrate on small, manageable goals.
Feel like you’re always on the verge of losing control? Define and claim your territory. “One of the biggest drivers of success is the belief that our behavior matters; that we have control over our future,” writes Achor. “Yet when our stresses and workloads mount faster than our ability to keep up, feelings of control are the first things to go. If we first concentrate on small, manageable goals, we regain the feeling of control so crucial to performance.”
14. Create a 20-second rule.
Achor recommends reducing a “barrier to change” by 20 seconds—make a potential good habit 20 seconds easier to accomplish, or a bad habit that much more difficult. Achor found that moving his guitar 20 seconds closer to his desk resulted in him practicing more.
15. Make a date.
Make sure that you’re budgeting plenty of time for social interaction with friends and family. In a famous study, scientists studied the wellbeing of 1,600 Harvard undergrads over a period of 30 years. They found that the happiest ten percent of the students were the ones who had the strongest social relationships—and that was a more accurate predictor of happiness than GPA, income, SAT scores, gender, or race.