The Happiness of Habits

In preparing for this post, I read a lot of articles that said things like:

  • “25 Habits that Will Make You Happier”, and
  • “Top 10 Habits of Happy People”

From my research, I think it’s safe to say that good, healthy habits will help you be happier.  And obviously, the opposite is true, too—bad habits will systematically gnaw away at your happiness.  

But why do habits make us happy?  What is it about these details of our daily routines that help build happiness?  

1. Habits Free our Minds

Habits give our minds more free-space.  Over time, activities that once required thought and concentration become routine.  Once the routine becomes habit, our bodies operate on autopilot, which frees up our brain power for creativity, learning new skills, analysis of complex problems, and other activities that require deep, focused brain power.

Habits enable us to preserve valuable time and energy for more difficult tasks.  Remember how difficult learning to drive seemed to be?  Trying to remember how early to put on your turn signal or how many mirrors to look in and when before making any moves on the road?  Has anyone else ever felt exhausted after driving a stick-shift? 

What about learning a new musical instrument or learning to dance?  At first, we are so focused on where different parts of our bodies go and when.  But, when we practice enough, we build muscle memory.  The activities that once took so much effort become habits

As these tasks that once exerted so much mental focus and physical fatigue become habitual, they also become pleasurable and exhilarating!  It’s almost like your mind and body are utilizing habits to make you happier!

2.  More Than Just Things We “Do”

In addition to the habits we have of things we do: make our bed, brush our teeth, say our prayers, we also have habits of how we think and how we feel.

Our emotions are habitual.  What we perpetually think—about ourselves and the world—is a learned habit.  When you wake in the morning, do you wake up happy?  Or are you irritated by the sound of your alarm or the voices of your children? 

When you look in the mirror, do you think positively about yourself, or do your eyes and thoughts gravitate towards the parts of your body you don’t like?  These are learned behaviors that, whether good or bad, have become a habit. 

Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all inextricably linked.  Thus, our habitual thoughts and feelings determine our actions.  For this reason, it is vitally important that we establish good, positive thought and feeling habits. (To learn more about this read, “Personality Hacking”.)

“Good habits are hard to form and easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to live with…If we don’t consciously form good ones, we will unconsciously form bad ones.”

Mark Matteson

Establishing habits of positive thinking, expressing gratitude, and practicing empathy, will help make you a happier person, who is easily capable of scattering sunshine as you go about your day.

3.  Build Self-Worth

Good habits naturally reinforce positivity and happiness.  When we consistently do, we learn we consistently can.  In other words, accomplishing a number of small, even seemingly insignificant routines every day builds confidence in our ability to act, produce, and contribute. 

These small habits build confidence in ourselves as we see ourselves as productive and dependable. 

By now, most of us have seen the University of Texas at Austin Commencement Speech by Navy Seal Admiral William H. McRaven, in which he says, “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.”

Why?  Because these small habits, like making your bed:

  • Give you a small sense of Pride
  • Encourage you to do another task
  • Reinforce the belief that the little things in life matter
  • Provide hope that even on the worst days, tomorrow will be better.

Read the complete speech here:

Or watch here:

 As routines become habits, we may stop recognizing all the good that we do every day.  It’s definitely worthwhile to stop every now and then and remind yourself of all that you do.  Celebrating your successes will help dispel depression and build self-worth.

4. Line the Pathways to Our Goals

Whether they be for a week, a year, or 10-years, goals help us break down our lives into manageable bites. 

Consistently setting, re-evaluating, and completing goals allows us to see patterns in our lives, recognize and overcome weaknesses, and become the best version of ourselves.  Goals enable growth. 

Inevitably, when we set a goal, unknown (or known) weaknesses manifest to hamper our progress.  It is only in recognizing, overcoming, and possibly adjusting our goals, that we overcome those weaknesses. 

It is through the development of and consistent adherence to smaller goals that allows us to achieve our larger goals.   Habits are the building blocks of our goals. 

We may have a goal to become more spiritual.  To achieve that, we have to adhere to the habits of reading scripture, praying, or meditating. Or, we may seek to become healthier.  In pursuit of such a goal, we may establish new habits of eating better, exercising, getting better sleep, etc. 

It is in the combination of these smaller habits, that we achieve our goals.

Habits through repeated actions Sean Covey

Why Habits Make Us Happy

Yes, I agree with what countless others have said before me: habits will help you be happier. 

Whether those habits are making your bed, following a schedule, or reading every day, anything that encourages good health, positivity, and the betterment of ourselves and others will help you increase your happiness. 

Habits magnify our happiness by providing clarity of mind, reinforcing positivity, building self-worth, and helping us achieve our goals—such small things to help us attain such grandiose and desirable attributes.  What new habit is going to help you achieve greater happiness today? 

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