Gretchen Rubin knows a lot about happiness.
She spent an entire year, using herself as a test subject, to determine what makes us happy and how we can be happier in our everyday lives. The results of her year-long journey are chronicled in the #1 New York Times and International bestselling book, The Happiness Project, which has sold 1.5 million copies in North America alone.
In her follow-up book, Happier at Home, she explores how to make your home a happier place. She dedicated a full school year to concentrate on the factors that matter for home, such as possessions, marriage, time, parenthood, body, and neighborhood.
Now Gretchen is working on a book about habits and the strategies that help us make and break habits. I recently interviewed her for my upcoming Sticky Habits Course where she shared many of the strategies she’s uncovered in her extensive research.
If you’ve read Gretchen’s books, or any research on happiness and how to be happy, you probably know that happiness involves certain habits. Yes, we all have a happiness “set point” — with some of us being more naturally sanguine than others. But this set point only accounts for 50% of our happiness levels. The rest is pretty much in our control. We have the ability to profoundly impact our own happiness through our own thoughts, behaviors, and habits.
Through her research and writing, Gretchen has developed some fundamental principles around happiness. She calls these “The Eight Splendid Truths About Happiness.”
Here are Gretchen’s eight truths and the habits of happiness you can apply to these principles:
First Splendid Truth
“To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”
Gretchen recommends you seek out and practice actions and habits that you know make you feel good. If you know exercise makes you feel good, develop the habit of exercise. If spending time with friends makes you feel good, then be proactive in making these connections and spending time with friends regularly. Proactively increase the number of “feel good” habits,thoughts, and choices in your life.
Also, spend time thinking about what makes you feel bad. Is it a relationship issue? Are you avoiding a doctor’s appointment? Are you spending too much time watching TV? Take action on those “feel bad” situations by addressing them or replacing them with positive, feel good habits or behaviors. Proactively minimize the number of these negative situations that diminish your happiness.
Gretchen suggests you ask yourself, “Is there some major element in my life that just feels wrong to me?” Could it be your job, a relationship, the city where you live? If so, do something about it. If you aren’t living authentically, happiness will elude you.
Second Splendid Truth
“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”
Many happiness studies have shown that serving, supporting, and helping other people is one of the main sources of happiness. We feel purposeful and joyful when we do something that lifts others up. And the joy we feel in serving further adds to the happiness of those around us. When we are happy, those around us are generally happier as well.
Begin to practice habits of service in small ways in your life. One of the best places to start is within your own family. Make a habit of spending more time with your children, of doing something surprising for your spouse, or calling your parents more often. Practicing these habits of service will make you happier.
Third Splendid Truth
“The days are long, but the years are short.”
Any particular day might feel tedious, boring, or uneventful. We often spend our days fretting about problems, feeling anxious or guilty, thinking about the future, or wishing for something better. But each day is our life. Right now is the only moment we own. And before you know it, a year has passed, five years, twenty years . . . and then life is over.
Create the habit of viewing your days differently. Consciously notice the beauty around you. Focus intently on the task at hand. Look at the world through a child’s eyes, as though everything is new and exciting. Don’t give up one precious day to negativity or mediocrity. View each day as a gift, and you are the happy recipient who gets to enjoy it to the fullest.
Fourth Splendid Truth
“You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.”
If you allow your thoughts to focus on the negative, on everything that’s going wrong in your life, you will conclude you are unhappy. But if you begin with the premise that you are happy, and that happiness is your foundational state of mind, then you can put life challenges and difficulties into perspective. You can still be a happy person while dealing with the realities of life.
Practice the habit of positive thinking and gratitude. Focus on how many things you have to be happy about, and mentally relive or experience happy moments and feelings. Allow your mind to soak in the feelings of happiness so it’s your fallback position, even when times are tough.
Fifth Splendid Truth
“I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature.”
Authenticity is critical to one’s happiness. You must accept and embrace who you are — your personality, interests, skills, and inclinations. You can be happy just as you are, without becoming who you think you should be or living up to the expectations of others.
Practice the habit of knowing yourself completely, of finding out what you most want in life and what’s most important to you. What do you believe? What are your values? Without all of the roles that define you, who are you really? Once you know that person, celebrate your true self by creating your life to support your nature.
Build new habits that reflect your authentic self and make life decisions based on what you want for this true self.
Sixth Splendid Truth
“The only person I can change is myself.”
So much unhappiness comes from trying to make others bend to our will or become the people we want them to be. This might work for a while, but eventually it leads to resentment, pain, anger, and perhaps the dissolution of the relationship.
Practice the habit of accepting people as they are. Allow them to express themselves fully without fear of judgment or recrimination. As you give others the freedom to be authentic, you will see how much more they enrich your life and how much happier both of you will be.
If changes need to be made, look to yourself first. What can you do differently? How can you shift your mindset? You are the master of your own happiness.
Seventh Splendid Truth
“Happy people make people happy, but I can’t make someone be happy, and no one else can make me happy.”
Just as we can’t change other people, we also can’t force them to be happy. And they can’t force us to be happy. Happiness comes from our own choices and behaviors and the way we choose to think.
You can support and serve others to help them. You can be happy yourself, and your happiness might lift them up. You can be your true self so that others experience your authenticity and freedom. These things might or might not impact the happiness of others, but you can’t control that.
Release the bad habit of trying to make someone happy. It is a futile effort that will undermine your own happiness. And release the desire to have someone else make you happy. They can’t. Only you can.
Eighth Splendid Truth
“Now is now.”
This goes back to the third truth. The present moment is all you have, and if you aren’t happy in the present moment, you aren’t happy. Mindfulness habits like meditation and yoga can help you stay present and aware in each moment. Practice the habit of refocusing your attention on what you are doing right now as often as you remember.
Life is comprised of millions of “nows,” so make them count.
You can learn more about Gretchen’s “Eight Splendid Truths About Happiness” and other happiness and habit related topics at her site, The Happiness Project.
Want to learn more about the skills of creating new habits for life?
Learn the scientifically-tested methods for incorporating positive new behaviors and replacing old, negative habits with The Sticky Habits Course.