Six Habits of Happy and Successful People

You know who they are — those people who seem to have it all: successful jobs, happy personal lives. You wonder how they got so lucky.

Don’t put it all on luck. If you do, then the only way you can match them is to capture a genie and get three wishes or find the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Happy, successful people develop habits that lead them in the right direction. If you know what these are, you can pick up some, or all, and make changes in your life. Here are six of those habits of the happy and successful:

1. Be Generous

In 2008, researchers found that Americans who had more money were happier than those with less. Big surprise? Hold on — that’s not the end of the story. Happiness wasn’t linked to personal spending. Those folks with higher incomes were happier only if they bought other people gifts  and donated to charities.

More current research has traced this effect to the brain. A 2013 study looked at brain images while participants made charitable donations. Giving seems to activate the same part of the brain that manages desires for food and sex. It’s also the same area that is triggered when people give themselves rewards.

It doesn’t stop there. Another study also found that people who spend money on others are markedly happier than folks who don’t. The amount doesn’t seem to matter — it’s the intention and accomplishment that count.

But it’s not just about money, either. Social science investigations also indicate that giving your time promotes happiness. For instance, students who help friends with homework get an emotional boost.

What’s the connection between giving and happiness? It could be that we get used to possessions, no matter how nice they are. However, the results of generosity can be surprising and spontaneous. Hard to build up a tolerance to that.

2. Get It Done

You’ve probably known someone who always put off an important job until the last minute and then completed it with flying colors. Time pressure seemed to be a friend.

Yeah, most of us aren’t like that. If we keep putting something off, it just doesn’t get done. Successful people are typically not procrastinators. They buckle down and do the job.

For instance, research on students in doctoral programs found that procrastination had been a significant problem for many students who dropped out. Students who didn’t drag their feet were better able to deal with time issues and external pressure. These are tremendous skills, considering roughly half of students who enroll in Ph.D. programs never finish.

3. Get Moving

Want to be happier? Get some exercise. It doesn’t have to be excessive or intense, either. Just 20 to 30 minutes of regular low-intensity exercise are likely to reduce the chance of developing depression.

Researchers examined 30 studies spanning 26 years. Twenty-five of them found that exercise wards off depression. During exercise, the body releases chemicals that affect the brain, producing positive, energized and elated feelings.

Exercise will not only make you happier, but it can help make you more successful, too. Consider all the effects exercise has on your body that can help you achieve more. It reduces stress and helps you sleep better. Memory and concentration improve. Overall, you’re more alert.

If you can fit it in, a morning workout can get you ready to face the day. It helps wake you up and get your brain in gear. Even a short walk or some yoga stretches help.

But if you’re not a morning person, don’t use that as an excuse not to exercise. Moving is good for you, no matter when you do it. It’s more important to fit regular exercise in sometime than to drag yourself through a morning routine. If you hate it, you probably won’t continue.

Even if the exercise itself doesn’t thrill you, most people are happier after an exercise session than before it. But sticking with the exercise is necessary, so try to find something that you enjoy — or at least don’t hate too much.

4. Take Your Time

You might think that being both happy and successful means you must work at it 24/7. However, not working sometimes is actually a key to happiness. People who feel pressured by time constraints are less likely to have smiles on their faces.

Research shows this to be a major problem, regardless of whether people are married or employed. Having some time for yourself, without feeling like you should be doing something else, can boost happiness.

Perhaps this is connected to the ability to say “no” occasionally when others make demands on your time. It’s not always your responsibility to fill in, fix things and get stuff done.

And maybe some people are trying to find more time for themselves by getting you to pick up the slack. It’s good they recognize free time is an asset, but it’s bad if you help them out and punish yourself.

5. Be Patient

There’s a very powerful long-term research study from Stanford that indicates the importance of delayed gratification. Four- and five-year-olds were faced with a challenge. While alone in a room, they could eat a single marshmallow as soon as they wanted. However, if they waited until the researcher returned, they could get two marshmallows. Only about 30 percent of the kids held out.

So what? So this: The researchers tracked participants throughout their school careers. The children who didn’t wait had more behavior, attention and interpersonal problems. The average SAT scores of kids who delayed gratification were 210 points higher.

People who are more disciplined can push through challenges to get what they really want: success. They can’t control what’s going on around them, but they can control how they react.

6. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep

Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. That’s not happening. Almost one-third of them are getting six hours or fewer. The brain uses sleep periods to get rid of its metabolic wastes. If you don’t let the brain clean out, you’re more likely to feel woozy and have trouble thinking. That’s not going to promote success.

Sleep does, and nightly rest sharpens memory. Successful people know that, and have adopted certain sleep habits that help.

They may also know that a University of California-San Diego study reveals that sleeping an extra hour can increase earnings by 16 percent. For research participants, that averaged out to about $6,000 more per year. That’s like getting paid to sleep – count me in!

Get Started

Don’t try to change your nature overnight. It’ll be overwhelming and discouraging. Pick one habit to start with first — choose something you really believe you can handle. Once you’ve fully adopted it as part of your life, add another habit. Keep going until you’re where you want to be.

You might also choose to bypass some of these habits. That’s OK. Your goal is not to become a carbon copy of another person, but to be a happy and successful you.


This post first appeared at

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and blogger sharing advice on career development, leadership, and finding happiness and success at work and in life. Catch Sarah on Twitter @SarahLandrum and be sure to subscribe to the Punched Clocks newsletter for more great tips.

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