Small habits can lead to big life changes.
Everybody wants to feel a little bit happier, but figuring out how is sometimes a bigger task than we bargain for, especially when life is so busy and putting joy on the to-do list seems out of the question. Luckily happy habits can be quite simple to integrate into your day. It just takes a little persistence.
So, what makes for a happy habit? A straightforward definition would be any action that you can incorporate into your day that makes you feel good.
It doesn’t have to be extraordinary. After all, think about all of the things that make you happy. They probably are small, personal moments: enjoying lunch in the park, reading a book before bed or the first bite of a home-cooked meal. In the grand scheme of things, they’re pretty simple.
Happy habits hit the spot in much the same way. They should be habits that feel good and probably don’t require a whole lot of effort. Happy habits are happy because you find some kind of pleasure in them.
Some ideas include:
- Start the day with some exercise.
- Cook a meal.
- Call a friend.
- Give a compliment.
- Explore your purpose with a mantra.
- Make your bed.
- Read for at least 10 minutes per day.
- Create a to-do list that you’ll actually finish.
- Try something outside of your comfort zone.
- Spend some time outside.
- Complete a breathing exercise.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Set deadlines to boost your productivity.
- Find some time to journal.
- Take your vitamins.
- Practice gratitude. A journal can help with that!
- Find a workout that feels good.
- Put your phone away while you unwind before bed.
- Wear sunscreen.
- Ask a question! It may seem scary, but it can help you grow!
- Declutter your desk.
- Assign priorities to your daily tasks.
- Set (and crush) a short term goal.
- Practice saying “no” when you’re overburdened or out of bandwidth.
- Set a stopping point of your day. Prioritizing your bedtime routine can help you get enough sleep.
How to find your happiness
Happiness is different for everybody — which is what makes these habits a bit more special.
When you think about what kinds of tasks bring you joy, a few things might jump out at you (stretching in the morning or finding some device-free time during the day), but you may also have to dig a little deeper to find a more personal meaning of happiness.
For example, making your bed might feel more like a chore than a happy habit, but the feeling of accomplishing something first thing in the morning is a good feeling! In a lot of ways, happy habits can feel like eating your vegetables. They might not be fun in the moment, but they pay off in the long run. They bring joy, even if the feeling is a bit delayed.
When choosing a happy habit to add to your daily routine, think of your “why.” What is it that you want to accomplish and how is this habit contributing to that? You might even surprise yourself with what you come up with. Sometimes the happiness is already there, and you just had to search a little to find it. For some, that could be an organized space and others it might mean finding time to be creative each day.
However you do it, make sure you work to make the habit stick.
Creating the habit loop
Scientists describe the way habits form as a “loop.” First, there’s a trigger that tells the brain to let the action happen, then there’s the routine and finally, the reward, which your brain likes and helps to keep the habit going.
This loop is why it can be so difficult to break bad habits. Whatever reward your brain gets — whether that’s a boost of serotonin or a hit of nicotine — will make it want more. Luckily, the same science applies to happy habits.
It just may take some time to build them up. Here’s how to do it:
We typically fail at creating new habits because we take too much on at once. The great thing about happy habits is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to do something that makes you feel good. If exercising makes you feel good, but committing to a daily workout routine seems difficult, start by taking a walk every day. You’re more likely to do that and keep it going. Then, eventually, you can work your way up to working out three times a week and then daily.
Set a reminder
Remember that you have to start somewhere. As much as we would like good habits to come naturally, they usually don’t. Put a note in your planner or phone until the habit becomes a normal part of your day. On average it takes about two months to form a habit, so don’t feel defeated when it doesn’t stick. Even the smallest of habits that you’re likely to forget about during the day — such as practicing gratitude or offering a stranger a compliment — could use a reminder so that it’s fresh on your mind.
Get rid of friction
Try your best to overcome the things that get in the way of you and your happy habit, says psychologist Dr. Wendy Wood, who wrote “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick.” Her own personal example of this is sleeping in the clothes she wanted to wear to her workout in the morning. It made getting up and getting out the door a little bit easier to manage.
Let’s face it: Habits are hard, even if they make us happy in the end. You might think that’s enough in itself to be rewarding, but it’s okay to acknowledge that doing something good for yourself needs a little praise once in a while. Whether you’re taking time to reflect on the progress you’re making or celebrate with a treat, make sure you pat yourself on the back. It’ll make it easier to keep going.