How To Be Happy: 25 Things That Happy People Do


25 Things That Happy People Do

by Terry Heick

Is the world changing? Urgently, yes.

What is the relationship between change and that happiness? That’s a kind of context for this post.

While not a post purely about pedagogy or education technology, if you think of one goal of learning as being the ability to live a meaningful life, and happiness being a kernel here, it’s not such a stretch. In fact, happiness, joy, curiosity, and purpose could be considered a significant part of what’s missing in formal education. Just as academia separates content from “real world” and authentic contexts, separating teachers and students from their human emotions–narrowing their reality to a set of indexes to be measured and “increased”–should be more than a little suspect.

Connecting & Happiness

Is happiness something that can be caused, or is it primarily the result of a fortunate genetic sequence that can only be adjusted in small degrees? Nature. Nurture. Social conditioning. Cortisol levels. Lead in the paint. Yoga. What a fantastic mess. I’ve written recently about my own struggles with anxiety. They’re not fun, and I’m going to write more soon about mental health in education–and society–soon. There’s a lot to this that is way beyond my expertise, but I do have experience to share, and questions to ask–most immediately, is there a pattern to happiness, and what does technology have to do with it?

The answer to the latter bit seems pretty clear–very little. Well, not so fast maybe. Technology can lubricate the processes that lead to habits and patterns of happiness–the things that happy people tend to do–but it’s not the the catalyst.

Connecting is the catalyst, and is timeless.

To what, when, and why–that’s the tech part that’s fluid. Technology shifts how we view ourselves–a little rectangle of a window to one version of ourselves we want the world to see. It also changes what we value. When our contexts change, we as participants in those contexts are forced to adapt even as we change the contexts. The tools we use to communicate, and our habits we use to do so are always new. They lose credibility as they age.

Take the rapid normalization of social and digital media. For many societies, these are no longer ‘emerging’ and ‘exciting’ ways to share information, whimsy, and thinking, but the new normal for doing so. Like it or not for many, technology is no longer a tool, but a standard. We refract our thinking towards and through technology so that technology itself becomes the schema for the world rather than the other way around. Not always, and not for everyone. But if our (apparent) contexts and values are fluid, what does that mean for us as participants in these contexts? And as causes and effects for human emotion–happiness, joy, and contentment? And is it causation or correlation? Studied as cycles, certain rhythms may emerge.

So below are 25 things I’ve noticed that might be considered causes of happiness–things that, no matter the prevalence of technology, rate of change, or scale of access to information, are timeless in their utility.

With Or Without Technology: 25 Things That Happy People Do

  1. They connect meaningfully with other living things.
  2. They are playful–in whatever form they choose, they create and take advantage of opportunities for “Deep Play” (see Diane Ackerman).
  3. They control their thinking. Thoughts become beliefs, and beliefs lead to behavior. Beliefs also lead you to seek specific data that that fits your beliefs. In that way, you literally construct your own reality–and thus happiness or suffering.
  4. They see like a scientist (with an open mind and objective analysis), think like a farmer (with reverence and interdependence), and behave like an artist (with creativity and disavowment of convention).
  5. They know that happiness is a muscle. Neurology shows us that thinking patterns lead to more of the same, so establish that neural pathway. Flex your happy muscle even if you’re not feeling it at the moment. You won’t smile if you’re not happy; you can’t be happy if you don’t smile.
  6. They practice visualizing the things they want to achieve (as a teacher–delivering a lesson, collaborating with another teacher, talking with an administrator or parent, etc.) The law of attraction makes sense. See different, seek different, attain difference.
  7. They find comfort in new experiences and ideas. They don’t just accept them, but see them as opportunities (usually out of their control anyway).
  8. They find value in substance, and whimsy in recreation. That is, purpose and meaning can drive their behavior, but their soul is still playful with the universe around it.
  9. They are brutally honest with themselves and those around them. (That said, they also know the difference between honesty and insecurity.)
  10. They adapt their thinking and behavior to an elegant and sustainable scale. Not too humble (which sparks nothing), not too broad (which burns recklessly).
  11. They embrace ambiguity. There is no one way to see, understand, or do anything.
  12. They accept that the world, while flawed, is likely ‘better’ than it’s ever been. This is hugely debatable and another post of its own, but this is a thought that keeps creeping up on me recently. Yes, we have a long way to go, but the modern focus on equality and acceptance and social justice, while insufficient, is a trend whose value can’t be overstated.
  13. They trust others. Yes, people let you down sometimes; yes, people hurt you, but there is joy in human connections that can’t be found anywhere else in the universe. (See #1.)
  14. They serve others, and love ‘differences.’ Diversity. Change. They honor fear and (mild) anxiety, but understand that a fundamental law of the nature of all things is change.
  15. They believe in their own ability to positively impact their environment.
  16. They eat well–food that nourishes their bodies, and reflects their respect for the earth, and their own future.
  17. They exert themselves physically, whether through work, exercise, yoga, sports, etc.
  18. They honor the complexity of things. They assume that they don’t understand. When you assume that you do, you’ll lean towards judgment. When you assume that you don’t, you’ll lean towards analysis. One leads to suffering, one leads to something closer to wisdom.
  19. They make things–and wildly original things. There can be joy in execution (other people’s ideas), but creating something out of nothing is a uniquely human–and humanizing–concept. The more fully human you are, the more of an opportunity you’ll have for contentment, happiness, and joy.
  20. They restore things.
  21. They know that living is in the moment–everything else is an illusion. (And even living in the moment is problematic depending on how you’re constructing that moment through your own perceptions–see #2.) So find the texture in each moment. Within that texture is design, nuance, purity, and love.
  22. They grasp the various legacies they are a part of, and the ecologies that need their sense of living citizenship.
  23. They stop seeking and start accepting. Then, from a position of acceptance, they begin to see what they really need.
  24. They embrace the journey, not the triumph and suffering that happen along the way.
  25. They don’t seek happiness. They know that happiness is not a cause or condition, but an effect–the resonance of an alignment between your behavior and your belief system as a human being.

Humanizing Ourselves: 25 Things That Happy People Will Always Do; Humanizing Ourselves: 25 Things That Can Make You Happy; 25 Things That Happy People Do image attribution flickr user hdtpcar

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