What separates the world's happiest people from the rest of us?
About one-third of the U.S. population describes itself as "very happy," according to the polling agency Harris Interactive--a higher number than I think many of us might expect.
These are the people in your office who are upbeat and eager no matter what unexpected challenges come their way, and the ones who seem to get genuinely excited over the smallest opportunities and kindnesses. They're the folks in your social circles who endure hardship with smiles on their faces and who seem hard-wired always to look on the bright side.
Studies show that half of happiness is determined by genetics, and a little under 40 percent is governed by the impact of external events. You own the 12 percent of the package that's left, however, and it turns out that the choices you make within that sliver make all the difference between being happy or not. Happier people realize this, and as a result they make seven key choices every day.
1. They choose to exercise.
There are many happy people who aren't in great physical shape, so how does this make sense? The explanation is that you need only seven minutes of exercise a day if you're exercising for the sake of happiness. That's enough to make your body release endorphins, the neurotransmitters responsible for that famous "runner's high." They might not even call it exercise, but happy people find at least a small period of time each day to devote to moving around.
2. They choose to spend time outside.
Just 20 minutes a day outside is enough to elevate your level of happiness. You can even combine this with choice No. 1 and take your short exercise break outside. A simple walk at lunch or even a little time in the backyard, on the patio, or at a nearby park makes the difference. They might not even realize its impact on their happiness, but happy people make it a point to get outdoors.
3. They choose to focus on their families.
Three-quarters of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2010 said that their family was "the most important, most satisfying element of their lives," according to a U.S. News report on the study. So, bury the hatchet with your brother-in-law and focus on your parents, children, or siblings if you want to be happier. Happy people might not always want to, but they find at least a few minutes every day (often much more) to do things to improve their family relationships.
4. They choose to make time for friends.
Friends are the family we choose for ourselves, and at least some small amount of social time with them every day is necessary if you want to improve happiness. Even just checking in with friends for a few minutes on the phone or a 10-minute conversation or activity together can make a difference. If you're truly among the busiest people among us, merge this with choices No. 1 and 2, and exercise outside together. Happy people might not always have as much time as they'd like, but they find a way to interact with friends.
5. They choose to find meaning in their work.
It's uniquely American in that work satisfaction can make or break our happiness, but as an entrepreneur, you probably think about this choice all the time: Part of happiness comes from using your gifts and talents every day to make some kind of difference. Happy people might not have found their dream job or their true calling--heck, they might not love their work--but they find a way to put their daily tasks in perspective and to take pride and joy from what they do.
6. They choose to contribute to their communities.
Being part of a community gives you a sense of belonging and helps improve your sense of self-worth, even as you work to define who you truly are. Thus, every day, truly happy people find a way to share something with their broader communities--going beyond their families and groups of close friends. Happy people might be involved with professional associations, church groups, athletic organizations, or something else, but they make sure to find some way to share with them every day.
7. They choose to get enough sleep.
It's true: Lack of sleep will ruin your life. If you don't get enough shuteye, you'll be more likely to be irritable, your judgment gets impaired, and your libido suffers, all of which affect your overall happiness. Happy people might be no less busy than the rest of us, but they squeeze something else out of their lives if necessary. They give up television watching, Internet surfing, or simply worrying about things they can't affect--and they choose to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep every day.
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