7 Secrets to Happiness

It’s true. No really. These easy habits can make you happier. (And when they do, we want to hear from you.)

You know the type: the friend who always seems to be happy, the co-worker who always has a smile on his face, or the cashier at the café who has a palpable sense of contentment. How do they do that? Well, we wondered, too. And we’re not the only ones. Turns out researchers have been studying this same thing and have figured out seven traits that these happy, optimistic souls tend to have in common. Don’t know about you, but around here, we’re trying a few of these and seeing if our happy meter rises. How about you do the same for one week and tell us how it turns out? Go to our Facebook page and share the results of your personal happiness experiment. But first, here are the seven habits of highly satisfied people…

They’re affectionate. Kissing, hugging, touching—according to Gretchen Rubin, who spent a year trying dozens of pleasure-boosting strategies while writing The Happiness Project, these behaviors were key. Of all the things she tried in an effort to bring more joy to her daily life, creating an atmosphere of tenderness among family and friends made the biggest difference. Connection, both physical and emotional, is the major determinant of happiness, she says.

They’re appreciative. Noticing the small pleasures in life and then being thankful for them is a proven way to increase your sense of well-being. “I do gratitude exercises daily,” says Ng Chin Lin, a plastic surgeon. “An example would be saying, It’s such a wonderful day, on a hectic day, or when I’m stuck in traffic instead of worrying that I’ll be late, I’ll say to myself, I’m so grateful I’m inside this air-conditioned car.

They’re organized. One of the most surprising engines of happiness, Rubin discovered, was simply making her house tidy. The sense of satisfaction and control that ensued never failed to chase her blues, even if it was just one small room or a cluttered desktop that she conquered. “The whole point of organization for me is to clear my head in order to be in the moment,” explains Douglas Merrill, a former executive at a technology company. “The less stuff that’s rattling around in my brain, the more I can focus on whatever I’m doing.”

They hang out with happy people. Just as smiles are contagious, so is the general spirit of happiness, according to a 20-year study published in the British Medical Journal. Researchers have found that good vibes tend to spread quickly within social networks, infecting everyone with a more positive attitude. All the more reason to join your work pals at the next happy hour outing!

They exercise outdoors. By doing so you get a double dose of happiness. Exercise produces feel-good hormones called endorphins and being outside increases one’s sense of vitality and being alive. Twenty minutes is all it takes reap the benefits. Karolynne Johnson, who works at a medical center, says just taking a brief stroll on campus boosts her spirits. “There are beautiful fountains and gardens,” she says, “and just walking from one building to another at work is enough to make me happy.”

They strive. Although there’s a fine line between satisfaction and stress, Rubin found challenge to be another significant driver of happiness. Having a personal goal and pushing toward it provided individuals with a sense of growth and accomplishment, she says.

They smile a lot. We saved our favorite secret for last: This simple gesture is actually contagious. Even if you force a smile, most people (strangers included) will respond positively and smile back, creating more happiness all around, note researchers who’ve made a science out of exploring what smiles mean.

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