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5 Characteristics of Happy People (And How To Develop Them)

Almost everything we do in life is for the sole purpose of feeling happy. 

Whether it’s playing video games, checking social media, switching jobs, or hanging out with your friends, all of the decisions we make are driven by the need for equilibrium and contentment.

But if every decision we make is for the sole purpose of being happy, why is it that most people seem to be trapped in an endless cycle of unhappiness?

The main difference between happy people and unhappy people is their habits. Habits form your identity, and your identity forms the worldview that you go through life with.

Developing the characteristics of happy people is not an easy task, because it often involves going against our brain’s immediate need for instant gratification. It’s these challenging, and often frustrating dilemmas that determine our level of happiness.

Being unhappy is easy. It’s easy to not take risks, not pursue your goals, and fall victim to bad habits.

The choices that will make you happy are much more difficult. They involve exerting self-discipline and doing things that you don’t want to do.  

That’s what happiness is all about. It’s not about how much money you make, or how famous you are, it’s simply a general sense of the choices you’re making and the direction of your life.

Tom Bileyu sums it up perfectly: “The most important thing in life is how you feel about yourself when you are alone.”

In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common characteristics of happy people and some of the daily habits you can start building in order to embody them.


What Are The Qualities of a Happy Person?

We’re always asking this question and unfortunately, usually coming up with the wrong answers.

Many of us pursue higher-paying jobs and buy nicer stuff in the hopes that we’ll feel happier. 

But happiness isn’t really about what’s on the surface. In fact, studies have shown that once you’re able to live a comfortable life, more money has a minimal impact on your overall happiness levels.

Happiness is more about who you are than what you get. That’s not to say that making more money won’t make you happier, but money doesn’t act as a band-aid that covers up the flaws in your character that leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Happiness research has exploded over the past twenty years. We have more insight into what leads to a high level of life satisfaction than ever before. 

Here are the five characteristics of happy people that we’ll be covering in this article:

  • Daily Gratitude
  • Regular Exercise
  • Good Relationships
  • Self-Awareness
  • Facing Discomfort

Let’s break down each of these individually and talk about ways in which we can all embody these traits in our day to day lives.


#1: They Express Gratitude

One of the most common characteristics of happy people is that they display gratitude on a regular basis.

As we go through life, it’s easy to get trapped by our brain and focus on all of the areas of our life that need repair. 

It’s human nature to focus on what we lack. We all want a nicer house, a better car, a more fulfilling job, better relationships, etc. There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve the areas of our life that need work.

However, there is something wrong with having a lack of perspective for all the positive things that you currently have going for you. 

Think about it. Are there some things you suck at? Are there certain areas of your life that could be improved? Absolutely.

But what about the good things in your life? 

  • Did you wake up this morning with a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in? 
  • Did you walk into a kitchen with a full pantry of food and running water? 
  • Were you born with zero birth defects? 
  • Are you able to attend college?
  • Do you have a secure job that allows you financial freedom?
  • Do you have two parents at home?
  • Do you have friends that genuinely enjoy your company? 

It’s amazing how many things you can come up with when you actually force yourself to ask the question, “What positive things do I have going for me right now?” 

Expressing gratitude doesn’t just shift our perspective, it also causes changes in our brain.

When we express gratitude, whether it be through a thank you note or a simple journaling exercise, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin. These happen to be the two neurotransmitters responsible for regulating our emotional state, and they make us feel really good.

Practicing daily gratitude strengthens the neural pathways in our brain so that we become aware of the positive aspects of our lives.

Habit Suggestion – Write down three things that you’re grateful for every morning 


daily gratitude as one of the characteristics of happy people


#2: They Exercise Regularly

Aside from the obvious physical benefits, exercise has some pretty incredible effects on your brain.

James Blumenthal is a neuroscientist at Duke University. In one of his most famous studies, Blumenthal compiled 156 adults who had been diagnosed with mild to moderate depression.

He divided the patients into three groups and assigned a specific treatment method to each group.

  • Group 1 was treated with sertraline, which is the antidepressant drug commonly known as “Zoloft”
  • Group 2 was treated with a combination of Zoloft and exercise.
  • Group 3 was treated with exercise only. They performed 45 minutes of exercise three times per week.

The study lasted 16 weeks, and at the end of the study there was no clear winner in terms of the most effective treatment method. Medication was as equally effective as exercise, and vice versa. 

A total of 83 people were declared free from depression. However, something interesting happened as the researchers continued to monitor the participants after the study had concluded.

The researchers didn’t place any restrictions on the participants for the next six months, and made it clear they were free to continue the treatment on their own time or try out their own methods.

After six months, the researchers followed up with the 83 patients who were declared free from depression and the results were astonishing:

  • In the group treated with only medication, 38% of the patients had relapsed into depression
  • In the group treated with exercise and medication, 31% of the patients relapsed into depression.
  • In the group treated with exercise only, just 8% of the patients relapsed into depression.

This incredible study shows just how powerful exercise can be for living a happier and healthier life. One of the main reasons these results turned out the way they did is because exercise is widely recognized as a keystone habit.

Keystone habits are habits that tend to have a domino effect. Once implemented, they seem to impact several areas of our lives at once. Exercising regularly has an obvious effect on your physical appearance, but it also provides you with a sense of self-mastery.

It takes incredible discipline to consistently show up at the gym. And when you do show up, you have to get out of your comfort zone and push through the workout without quitting.

This kind of commitment to overcoming challenges and shaping a new identity for yourself is one of the key characteristics of happy people.

Habit Suggestion – Building an exercise habit is challenging. However, you can make it easier by choosing an activity that you actually like.

Sure, lifting weights and thirty minutes on the treadmill might be the most optimal way to get in shape, but you’re going to hate every second of it.

See if any of these alternatives exercise habits resonate with you. If they do, you’ll be more likely to stick to them:

  • Sign up for a dancing class
  • Find a tennis partner
  • Go on a morning walk
  • Play basketball a few times per week
  • Start a daily yoga habit


woman practicing yoga


#3: They Foster Good Relationships

Multiple studies have shown that developing deep personal relationships is one of the common characteristics of happy people. There’s a direct link between our level of social connection and our happiness, cardiovascular health, and even life expectancy.

In 2002, two of the pioneers of positive psychology, Martin Seligman and Ed Diener, conducted a study at the University of Illinois. 

They gave thousands of students a survey on their own personal happiness. Among those who scored in the top 10% on the survey, the most prominent characteristic that these students shared was strong relationships with family and friends and their commitment to making time for them.

We’re wired for social connection and have a deep-rooted desire to belong. Strong ties to the people around us satisfy this desire and connect us to some of our strongest emotions – happiness, contentment, and calm. 

The message that good, close relationships are one of the main characteristics of happy people is a message that’s as old as time.

So why is it so hard to take this advice, and so easy to ignore it?

Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick-fix. Something we can get that will make our lives good, and keep them that way.

The hard-work of tending to family and friends is not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong and never-ending.

Making your relationships a priority by carving out time each week for the people who matter is one of the best ways to raise your overall life satisfaction.

Habit SuggestionText or call one friend from your social circle every day


man and woman walking with dog


#4: They Are Self-Aware

Self-awareness is a buzzword that’s gained a lot of traction in recent years, especially due to people like Gary Vaynerchuk preaching about how important it is to achieve long-term fulfillment.

Why is self-awareness so important?

If you aren’t self-aware enough to know what kind of lifestyle is going to make you happy, how are you supposed to find happiness?

One of the reasons why we live in a society where depression and anxiety are at an all-time high is because we aren’t honest with ourselves about what kind of life will actually make us happy.

We hang out with people we don’t really like, and fail to cut ties with those who are bringing negative energy into our lives. We take a job that pays an extra 11,000 per year, even though we’d feel much more fulfilled in the job we’re currently in because the work is actually exciting.

These simple errors in judgement are a direct result of a lack of self-awareness.

There are people reading this article who would feel much better about their career if they left their corporate job and began to pour all of their energy into building a business that revolves around their passion.

There are other people reading this article who would feel much more fulfilled if they stopped pouring 12 hours per day into their business and decided to start spending more time with their friends and family.

There’s no right way to find happiness, there’s only right for you. But it all starts with being self-aware of the choices that will actually make you happy.

When you are completely in tune with your thoughts, emotions, and desires, that’s when you can start the process of building the lifestyle that will bring you fulfillment.

Habit Suggestion – Each day, write in a journal and ask yourself these three questions:

  • Am I happy with the current direction of my life?
  • What’s the most glaring area of my life that needs to be fixed?
  • What is one habit that I can start doing every single day to improve this aspect of my life?


self awareness as one of the key characteristics of happy people


#5: They Embrace Discomfort

One of the most common characteristics of happy people is that they’re always making progress in key areas of their lives. And no matter what you’re trying to accomplish, discomfort always pops up on the road to improvement.

There’s no such thing as growth without discomfort. 

Stagnation, on the other hand, is easy to accomplish. It’s easy to duck responsibilities and neglect improving key areas of your life that need work. The pain-staking, private work of fixing your shortcomings is treacherous and scary, which is why miserable people end up running from it their entire lives.

A while back, I decided to do something about my social anxiety. It was the most difficult, fear-inducing journey that I’ve ever been through. 

For months, I forced myself out of the house and gave out compliments to strangers, sparked conversations, and even undertook the terrifying challenge of approaching girls that I felt attracted to. 

Each day I had to go to war with myself. I had to fight against firmly ingrained habits and a solidified worldview that had taken me through the first twenty one years of my life. 

Looking back, it was in that discomfort that I found myself. It was the art of handling it that taught me there was more out there for me. 

I haven’t won the battle against my social anxiety, it’s one that I’ll be fighting forever. However, because I was willing to put myself out there and embrace the discomfort associated with fixing it, it no longer stops me from doing what I want to do.

Your life really comes down to one question:

Are you going to spend your life running from discomfort and accept your situation, or embrace it so you can mold yourself into the person you want to be?

That’s the million dollar question that determines the level of happiness and fulfillment you achieve in life.

If we over indulge in the things that make us feel happy, such as video games, drugs, sex, television, social media, we’re often left with a sense of emptiness because we’re always chasing the feeling of happiness.

However, if we pursue meaningful aims such as building a business, improving our performance at work, or transforming our social skills, all of these feats require getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

You’re not going to feel comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger if you’re a natural introvert. You don’t feel comfortable when you’re waking up early and putting in 12-14 hour days to get your business off the ground.

Pursuits like these give your life meaning and purpose. The trade-off is that they’re not going to give you that immediate gratification that your brain is wired to seek

Habit Suggestion – Do one thing every day that forces you out of your comfort zone. If you don’t know where to start, this article will give you some inspiration  – Comfort Zone Challenges That Will Change Your Life


key characteristics of happy people - facing discomfort


Final Note On The Characteristics of Happy People

Developing the characteristics of happy people is not an easy task.

It takes discipline to maintain close personal relationships and form deep social bonds. It’s difficult to force yourself out of your comfort zone on a daily basis and keep up an exercise habit.

It might feel a little weird to write down three things you’re grateful for every morning, and it’s hard to deploy self-awareness and be honest with yourself about the current direction of your life.

But who said being happy was easy? 

Attaining the feeling of happiness is easy. Turn on Netflix right now and watch your favorite show. Grab a bowl from your pantry and fill it with ice cream. Technically, these actions will release the chemicals that tell your brain that you’re happy.

But that’s not what you’re after, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. You want to take on challenges and become the best version of yourself. You want to get comfortable taking risks and develop bulletproof self-esteem.

We all want these things, but very few have the courage to take the action necessary to make these characteristics a part of their identity. 

Do you want to be one of the few or one of the many?

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