13 Things Happy People Do Differently

People aren’t simply happy or sad, we’re both.

Sometimes at the same time.

Happy and sad are momentary experiences, just as hunger, melancholy, joy, grief or clarity are things you experience in a specific moment.

These things define a moment, not a person, so while happiness isn’t something you possess as you do with a shoe size or eye colour, it is something that you can cultivate more of.

It can also get you into trouble if you go about it in the wrong ways (by padding life out with the accumulation of stuff rather than filling it with moments of value, for example), and it’s something that I’ve been prodding at and digging into recently. It’s a rich, deep and misunderstood concept that I’ll be writing about further, but when you get down to brass tacks, happiness simply reminds you of all that’s good in the world right now, rather than focusing on all the bad things.

Happiness lends you a simpler way of looking at things.

We’re not setting out to be part of an inane, smiling, delusional cult of happiness here. I can’t think of anything worse or more irritating. But if happiness feels like something you’d like to experience more of, here are 13 things happy people do differently.

1. Practice gratitude

Being grateful and thankful doesn’t turn you into the kind of simpleton who would say “Thanks! I love ducks!” right after being pushed into the boating lake.

It does however, create thinking that tunes you in to the good things you have in your life rather than becoming more and more blasé about them. Practising gratitude focuses you on what life brings rather than what it doesn’t, and that’s where happiness comes from.

2. Prioritise nourishment

Nourishment is more than eating your vegetables and getting a decent night’s sleep. It’s about making sure your head, heart and body are kept topped up with the stuff they need not only to function, but to flourish.

If you’re not taking good care of yourself little else will matter.

3. Don’t pursue status

Your brain is wired not only to figure out where you sit in the professional and social pecking order against others, but to reinforce your position in that pecking order.

When you get wrapped up in establishing or maintaining status, the moment your place in the hierarchy drops you’re going to feel pretty horrible, like you’ve screwed up, that you’re no good or that others are better than you. Worse, it’s why some people behave like assholes.

Don’t get into the status game – there are no winners.

4. Separate success from outcomes

Your level of happiness is not dependent on reaching a goal or objective.

Your success and happiness have nothing to do with what happens, and everything to do with how you perceive your achievements, your value and how you’re engaging with your life.

Every time you make your success and happiness conditional on something happening, you’re missing point entirely.

5. Don’t reject or bury the bad

If you’re in the habit of brushing the bad stuff under the carpet, sooner or later you’re gonna trip up over that small hill that’s grown in the middle of the room and end up smashing your ego all over the place.

You can only ignore or shut out the bad stuff in life (and there will always be bad stuff in life) for so long.

Respect it. Integrate it. Welcome it. Learn from it. Accept it.

6. Stay out of the drama

Happy people don’t spend their time whining about how hard they’re having it, how everything’s going wrong, how everyone just needs to stop screwing everything up for you and how life would be so much easier if it wasn’t for everyone and everything they do.

Getting into all of the “he said she said” of the world will keep you down in the detail and drama and you’ll be excluding all the beautiful and extraordinary stuff that’s right there in front of you.

7. Dump the expectations

Inside that noggin of yours, your brain is doing its best to figure out what will happen next so that it can make sure you’ll be safe and sound.

So it starts creating expectations for how things will go, what you’ll do next and how you’ll do it. It creates expectations about what others will do and what that means for your world. It even creates expectations about what other people might expect of you, just so you can fit in, not draw attention and keep on staying safe, secure and certain in your environment.

Only, those same expectations will drastically limit your quality of life and resultant levels of confidence and happiness. So get rid of ’em.

8. Know what makes them tick

It’s redundant to talk about happiness unless you know something about what makes you happy. So what are the things that make you tick – the stuff that matters to you enough for you to do something about?

You’ll experience more happiness from doing the things that foster meaning, flow and contribution, so doing a little leg work to see what makes you tick goes an extraordinarily long way.

9. Don’t fight against their environment

So many people waste time and energy flapping their wings against the bars of the cage they think they’re in, they never figure out a better way to use that same energy.

If you struggle against your environment, your environment will win. Instead, put in some effort to create an environment that’s congruent with what matters to you – an environment that brings what matters to life.

10. Are connected

Feeling isolated is pretty darn sucky. It’s a bit like being alone in an attic while the zombie apocalypse happens in the world outside. You end up scared, stuck and listening out for sign of an undead brain-eater heading your way.

Okay, so it’s mainly the scared and stuck thing.

Feeling connected (to others, a project, a community, a family, a cause, etc.) gives you a sense of belonging, a sense that your life and your world are bigger than just you and that you’re part of a network that counts for something.

11. Notice the small things

I talk a lot about doing stuff that matters to you and creating value, and the temptation is to think that this is some big, grand, oh-so worthy endeavour.

Truth is, there’s wonder in the tiny things too. Holding hands. Sunlight through trees. A steamed-up bathroom. The way someone smiles. That song you love. Squirrels playing in the park. A car letting you cross the street. The first page of a book. Laughing out loud.

The small things matter massively.

12. Leverage their confidence

Everyone has confidence (that includes you), it’s just that we sometimes forget all about it. Confidence is simply having enough trust in yourself so you’re able to choose your behaviour with implicit trust in that behaviour.

It’s knowing that you can get on, make choices and do stuff, and deal with whatever happens.

Using it is freeing, simple and powerful. Confidence just works.

13. Know they don’t need to be happy all the time

Happy people don’t bank on feeling happy all the time. They know that it’s transitory, and they know that there are moments when it’s a choice. Thinking that you need to be happy all the time or that you’re owed happiness will put you on the road towards Missingthepointcompletelyville.

Happiness is as much an intention – a precursor to a moment in time – as it is an outcome.

How are you with this whole happiness thing?


  1. “It even creates expectations about what other people might expect of you, just so you can fit in, not draw attention and keep on staying safe, secure and certain in your environment.” Eek! Yes. Ugh. I’ve got a few of the things on this list squared away (gratitude, appreciation for small things, etc) but this particular bit really hit me. It seems like it would be so refreshing to be able to strip away all the paradigms that smother me when I walk into a room full of strangers, assuming none of them would want to be bothered talking to the likes of ME. I’m sure it’s kept me from a depressingly high number of interesting encounters….and maybe even a romance or two. Always something to work on……….

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