blog title graphic with modern pink and orange flowers on a beige background that says 6 simple and effective habits for happiness in life

Are you just starting your happiness journey? 

Even if you’ve been on the path of happiness for a while, building a foundation that helps accelerate your growth means you can be happier sooner than you think!

I had no idea what to do when I graduated with my doctorate. My mentor and I planned to work together, but she passed away unexpectedly just a few weeks after graduation. I had my cancer treatment coming up at the end of that month. The plan was to give me a month to recover. I couldn’t be around my kids while I was radioactive, so a bit of time was needed. The reality was that I needed to go back to work. At the same time, it was challenging to be positive – quasi requirements for a coach – when so much of my own life was mired in grief and disappointment.

My experience probably doesn’t surprise you. To grow something sustainable, you must start with the basics, which is also valid for learning happiness. We can make it easier for ourselves to build happiness when we choose supportive habits as the foundation. Here’s how to get started.

Get a Quick Win with Something Easy and Fun

Researchers believe that some happiness habits are more accessible to build than others. So rather than starting with whatever happiness habit is currently the most popular—meditation or self-care —you’re better off starting with more straightforward or fun habits.

The broaden-and-build theory suggests that experiencing positive emotions broadens your mindset and builds your psychological, intellectual, and social resources, allowing you to benefit more from your experiences. 

By starting with easy or fun practices, you may get a jumpstart in happiness and boost your sense of self-efficacy that propels you forward in the happiness-building process. Luckily, there are lots of these easier-starter activities online now.

One study showed that people who felt more positive emotions at the beginning of a happiness program reported more significant improvements at the end. By going after the more straightforward and accessible parts of happiness, you can build confidence and good feelings that may help you tackle the trickier skills later.

Which Habits Are Easy to Start With?

1. Savoring

One habit that researchers believe is relatively easy to build is savoring good things in your life (like a memorable trip or awe-inspiring concert) by continuing to reflect on them and share them with others. On the flip side, surveys suggest that learning mindfulness can be relatively tricky, as beginners may struggle and become cognitively depleted.

2. Fun

Another good way to start is with something fun. The Greater Good Science Center’s Science of Happiness course invited students to try out ten different happiness practices and (at the end of the course) reflect on their experience. The surveys showed that among those 10, students most enjoyed mindful breathing, awe exercises, gratitude journaling, and listing three good things. They found these practices to be a better fit—aligned more with their internal values and natural inclinations—than practices like forgiveness or self-compassion.

3. Be Present

In a 2012 study, people picked which activities to practice. They selected exercises related to setting goals, savoring the present moment, and recording gratitude more frequently than thinking optimistically, savoring the past, expressing gratitude to others, and recording acts of kindness. This evidence gives us some idea about which habits are the most enjoyable (or, at least, which ones we think will be most enjoyable).

So, when starting with happiness habits, try to begin with easy, fun ones—but don’t stop there. More difficult habits are valuable, too. 

Get more bang for your buck with high-impact habits

Some habits have a more significant impact on happiness than others.

I recently asked a group of clients about which well-being habits contribute most to their happiness. They said feeling positive about themselves and improving their self-relationship generates more happiness than the rest.

4. Optimism

Other research supports this idea. For example, researchers found that one group of habits that highly impacts happiness in the long run shapes what you pay attention to. This includes practices like anticipating good things in the future, paying attention to the positives rather than the negatives of a situation, and reflecting on good things that happened in the past.

5. Movement

One of the most important habits is movement. The focus isn’t necessarily to “get in shape” but to move your body instead of being inactive. The research suggests that healthy behaviors—like exercise—improve well-being, even among people who struggle to build other types of happiness habits. One study showed that a health enhancement program alleviated depression and increased life satisfaction faster than a mindfulness program among people diagnosed with depression. Although both programs were influential in the long term, the authors argue that positive health habits may more quickly increase well-being, while mindfulness may lead to more gradual but sustained improvements.

6. Variety

Using a greater variety of practices, regardless of the practices, may also be beneficial. For example, one study found that compared to a program including fewer types of happiness practices, a happiness program including more practices led to more significant increases in well-being. Other research suggests that the people in happiness programs who engage in more different practices show more significant happiness increases than those who engage in fewer practices. And people who engage in a diverse range of practices and engage in them in more situations seem to show the most benefit.

Creating any new habit can be challenging, so it’s worth considering which happiness habits to cultivate first. Once you’ve built a few of these habits, you’ll get the hang of it, and building other habits will feel more manageable. Use these tips to start on the right foot and you’ll have the resilience you need to weather any storm.