How to Use Habits to Increase Happiness

Wake up. Drink coffee. Smile. Face the day.

That’s my morning on repeat.

And despite the fact that our cortisol levels are highest in the morning, and that most people dread their days because of the too-much-to-do-so-little-time-syndrome, you can still wake up and be happy.

It’s all about how you create and maintain daily happiness habits. Sure a great morning routine helps, but it’s really about how you weave positive habits throughout your day to keep you productive AND happy. Because those two things together is a force to be reckoned with.

I am in the process of re-reading the book The Power of Habits and, well, it’s a powerful read. I suggest you pick up a copy for yourself because it may very well change your perspective about the things that you do every day. Habits are unconsciously intertwined into everything that we do from when we brush our teeth to how we tie up our garbage bags. They are so powerful that they place the highest influence on our happiness. And we all want to be happy/ier so why not start with our daily habits?

Let’s dive in.

How to Use Habits to Increase Your Happiness

1 - Make Sleep a Priority

When you actually get 7-9 hours of great sleep, how do you really feel? Amazing, right?  So why are so many entrepreneurs burning the midnight oil and jeopardizing great sleep just to get another task done or project over the finish line? Once and awhile it’s needed and forgivable, but many of you (ahhhhm) fall into sleep deprivation as a form of honor. Well, you’re losing out on a lot of opportunities, productivity, and creativity because of it.

According to science, sleep deprivation ...

  • Prevents your immune system from staying strong = you get sick more often

  • Increases your risk for heart disease = death

  • Makes you moody = no one wants to be your friend

  • Affects your memory = what are we talking about again?

  • Increases your risk of accidents = car accidents

  • Makes you more likely to gain weight = no beach bod

All this to what ... put in a couple extra hours of work?!

Not worth it.

To be happier you need a great night's sleep almost every night. So make it a habit that at dinner time you start prepping for bedtime. No caffeine, blue lights or sweets. Instead, have camomile tea, turn off electronics, throw on a weighted blanket, and read. Do that every night and you’ll be well on your way to much happier days.

2 - Use Your Strengths Everyday

In the book, The Happiness Advantage Shawn Achor explains that "When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups.” Well after the experiment was over their happiness stayed high because they were using their strengths on a daily basis.

“Exercise a signature strength every day to increase your happiness.” ~ Shawn Achor

3 - Maintain a Growth Mindset

Zero-sum thinking, a cognitive bias that thinks that one person’s loss is another one’s gain, is the foundation of the fixed mindset. Someone who believes their talents are fixed traits view failure as the result of a lack of basic abilities. When they fail, they give up or they place blame or they default into victimhood. Not too charming or fun, and certainly not a happy mindset to have.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, is someone who believes that, with effort and dedication, they can inherit any new skill or talent. It’s the eternal optimist. Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, argues that the growth mindset "will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life”. A growth mindset is more desirable because it allows individuals to view obstacles and detours as an opportunity for growth and learning, which ultimately reduces stress and increases happiness.

4 - Accept Those for Who They Are

One of my best friends was giving me marriage advice before my big day around household chores.  At the time, I was still heated about how my fiance never cleaned up his dishes. I asked her “how do you guys deal with that chore?” Her response was perfect; “I used to get mad at him about his dirty dishes than one day I just stopped nagging. I would clean up (really it only took 10 extra minutes every day) and shut up. It only took a few days for him to realize my acceptance (if his messiness) and before I knew it, he was helping out.”  If we give the people around us a little space to be themselves, to forgive them for their blunders and quirks, long term we will be happier.

“Acceptance is a choice—a hard one most definitely, but a choice nonetheless.” ~ Anonymous

5 - Plan Ahead so Not to Be Rushed

Ever meet the parent who was always late, anxious and constantly rushing? Guaranteed they weren’t organized. It’s very likely she signed her kid up to every-single-activity, ignored her own needs and constantly felt guilty about the crappy lunches she made (we’ve all likely been here a few times). It becomes a problem when it starts to become the norm and weighs heavily on their stress levels. So, why is she always rushing?

She never plans ahead. She never puts things into her calendar. She never says NO to anything. She compares herself to other parents. She caters to her kids and business without being mindful of her own needs. And she never leaves gaps of time in her day to slow-the-F-down. If you looked at my calendar you’d be surprised at the space held every afternoon for whatever I choose. Between 3-5pm I rarely book meetings, take calls, or schedule tasks. It’s the time left open to take care of myself or to start dinner, or make lunches, or prep the boys' ball hockey gear. With this open window, it allows me to slow down. I rarely feel rushed because of it.

“If you can prevent stress from happening by planning, you’re going to be much better off. Because once the stress is there, it doesn’t matter how good you are at deep breathing or meditating — you’re going to be affected by it.” ~ Dr. Robert Epstein

Make it a daily habit to plan ahead. And remember to leave margins in your day for you things.

6 - Prep Prep Prep!

And to coincide with the plan ahead is prepping!

Coffee, lunches, school bags, gym clothes, meals, meeting agenda, etc.

Prepare everything as much as you can the night before.

Every night between 6:30-7:30pm I am preparing for the next day. I start with lunches. Since I am already cleaning up after dinner, I take this time to put together the snacks (and the main meal if it’s not a hot one) for our lunches. Then I review our calendar to see if we are home for lunch (Dan and I work from home). If we are, I prep salad and pre-cook our protein. Then we (kids especially) get our morning breakfast set up. Now I clean everything up and get our morning coffee ready. From there, I make sure our clothes for the next morning are laid out (including workout gear or meeting clothes) and finally tidy up. So by bedtime, the house is clean and the morning ‘rush hour’ is already planned.

At 8 pm, once the kids are in bed, I review my calendar for the next day to see if there are any meeting agendas I need to create or review and to double check where I need to be and when.  I put out my pen and notebook next to my bed to make sure I have a space to write any reminders or ideas that come to me in the night. .. so that I don’t lie awake worrying about forgetting it.

Preparation as part of your daily habit will reduce your anxiety and stress load and increase your happiness.

7 - Treat Your Mind/Body Like a Kingdom

After all, it is a kingdom and the only one you’ve got.

Eating well, sleeping well, surrounding yourself with great people, giving yourself space to relax, and allotting time for the things you want to do ... all help maintain your mind and body. A healthy vessel makes for a happy human. Start each day by giving your mind and body the fuel it needs to get going: motivational videos, a happy song, good food, meditation.

All the things mentioned above ARE habits. Yes, even the way we think!

If you can break a bad habit, and replace it with a good one (As we know, that cycle takes at least 21 consistent days in a row) then you are on your way to a happier life.

Remember, happiness does not stem from how much you earn, how many friends you have, or how many likes you get on a damn Instagram post. It comes from deep within your soul/heart/mind.  Happiness is the ultimate success, which many of us fail to truly understand. And happiness is utterly self-defined.

You can create the life you want to live, all you have to do is use habits to increase your happiness.