The Habits of America’s Happiest People

The bottom line is that we often complicate the notion of happiness. We tend to think of happiness as something that’s unobtainable, far away, and out of reach.

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In 2019, documentary filmmaker Michelle Wax traveled to all 50 states to find out how Americans achieve happiness. 

Michelle focused on what she calls “internal happiness,” a mindset that exists regardless of external circumstances.  

She interviewed more than 500 self-described happy people to learn exactly how they had found the elusive concept of true happiness. 

“It was pretty wild because there were people saying the exact same phrases and they were living on opposite sides of the country, with completely different backgrounds, completely different circumstances,” says Wax. “They were saying the same types of phrases and, really, ways of creating their own happiness. It was powerful.”

Her entire trip is documented in the film American Happiness.

 Keeping It Simple 

Michelle Wax’s literal pursuit of happiness paints a different picture than what we normally think of when we think of being happy. 

The bottom line is that we often complicate the notion of happiness. We tend to think of happiness as something that’s unobtainable, far away, and out of reach. 

In reality, happiness isn’t just something that happens to us, it’s also something created by us.

Sure, there is a degree of luck involved and not everyone starts off which the same advantages. 

But at the end of the day, the fact is that there are a number of tweaks you can make to improve your happiness levels almost immediately. After that, it’s a matter of building habits that put you on the road to long-term happiness. 

Below are 3 ideas that kept appearing in Michelle Wax’s interviews.

Take Stock of What Actually Makes You Happy

Many of the people in Wax’s documentary highlighted the importance of self-awareness. 

A lot of times, the things we think make us happy wouldn’t actually make the list if we were to write them out. So that’s what we’re going to do. 

You can think of this as a “happiness audit.” Make two lists: one of the things that energize you and bring you happiness, and another of the things that drain your happiness. 

Physically writing these things down is key; it makes them real and holds you accountable. 

An exercise like this only works if you put effort into it. Instead of writing something like “work” on the drain list, dig deeper and write down specific things or aspects of your work that you don’t like. 

Both of these lists should be aspects of your life that you can control; that’s the focus here. 

Becoming aware of these two things, sources and drains of happiness, is really the first step towards making any sort of real change.

Once you have the lists, you can begin to tailor your day-to-day routine to include more happiness sources and eliminate some happiness drains. 

Even though exercises like this might seem silly and redundant, they are powerful. You won’t realize it until you give it a try. 

Check Your Mental Diet 

The food we consume is our nutritional diet. The content we consume is our mental diet. 

Let’s be honest, for most of us, our mental diet is absolutely filled with junk food. 

As a society, we spend a lot of time on social media. Most of that time is spent arguing or becoming upset at some of the outlandish opinions of people we’ve never even met. 

This has a massive impact on how we feel. 

One of the best things you can do is to simply put down your phone. Easier said than done, we know. 

Another option is to populate your social media with more positive content.

Are you interested in the ocean? Follow marine biologists and oceanographic researchers. Do you love gardening? Follow botanists and fellow garden enthusiasts. You get the idea. 

This tactic will also connect you with other people who share similar interests; another key part of being happy. 

Start Your Day the Right Way

Starting your morning on a positive note is one of the most impactful things you can do to develop day-to-day happiness.

This can look different for everyone, but in general you want to stay away from your phone, drink water, and maybe do a quick stretch. 

If you want to take it a step further, completing a quick gratitude exercise as soon as you wake up can have a profound effect on the way you feel for the rest of the day. The same goes for meditation

There is no one size fits all solution here, but the bottom line is that most of us start the day the wrong way. If you really want to be happy, take a close look at your mornings. 

For more on the science of happiness, check this out.

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