Danny Baker has spent a good deal of time learning what it means to be truly happy, and he would like to share what he has learned.
When I was suffering from depression and bipolar disorder, I became, so to speak, a student of happiness. I talked to doctors, therapists, my parents and my friends; I read self-help and personal development books; and I analyzed the behaviors of athletes, artists and entrepreneurs who lived successful, fulfilling lives, all in an attempt to try and improve myself and find the contentment that had been so eluding me. Over time, I learned a lot, and now that I’m happy, healthy and stable—and have been for the past two years—I feel qualified to write about what I believe are 25 + 1 characteristics of highly happy people.
1. Happy people tend to be able to let go of their anger
As the saying goes, holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. The only person it hurts is you.
2. Happy people tend to be humble enough to be able to learn from others and accept constructive criticism
If you listen to the most accomplished athletes, artists and entrepreneurs in the world speak, one thing you’ll notice that they all have in common is that they are extremely teachable. They take on board what their coaches, their teammates and their critics say, and never stop trying to improve themselves. When we open ourselves up to learning, we give ourselves a chance to fulfill our true potential, and when we apply this attitude to our career, our relationships and our health, we tend to live much richer, happier lives.
If you’re suffering from a mental illness, this is a particularly important characteristic to note. When you see a therapist, they’ll often tell you what you’re doing – if anything – that’s contributing to your illness (since this is part of their job). If you aren’t humble enough to listen with an open mind, or if you’re too sensitive to hear constructive criticism, then you won’t get much out of therapy, and it will be very difficult for you to recover.
3. Happy people tend not to victimize themselves or ruminate on things that go wrong
I developed my bipolar disorder from a doctor’s negligence. I was 21 at the time, and was prescribed an antidepressant that wasn’t meant for someone so young, which had a freak reaction with my brain and led me to develop my illness. When I first heard the news, I knew I had two choices—I could have a pity party and ruminate about how incompetent my doctor was and complain about how much my life sucked that I now had bipolar disorder; or, I could just accept that it happened and channel all my energy into doing everything in my power to recover so that I could go on to live a happy, healthy life. Straight away, I chose to do the latter. Bad things happen, and feeling sorry for ourselves won’t get us anywhere. We need to move on and try to live the best life we can, instead of doing nothing and forever feeling like a victim.
4. When faced with a challenge, happy people tend to fight, as opposed to take flight
Happy people understand that running away from their problems is a race they’ll never win. As such, when they’re faced with a difficulty, they confront it, fight it, resolve it and move on from it. It’s the harder road to walk, but it’s worth the extra mileage.
5. Happy people let themselves dream
Happy people have aspirations, believe they can achieve them, and then work hard to see them come true. Unhappy people, on the other hand, tend to convince themselves that their dreams will never come true, or quit trying to realize them early on in their pursuit.
6. Happy people tend to surround themselves with positive people
To varying extents, we are all influenced by the people around us. If we surround ourselves with positive, inspiring people, then we tend to feel positive and inspired. If we surround ourselves with negative, downbeat people, then we tend to feel negative and downbeat – and those are the people we need to distance ourselves from.
7. Happy people tend not to care about what others think of them
You need to make decisions in your life that are best for you, and if you let yourself be influenced by the prejudices, misconceptions or irrelevant opinions of others, it has the potential to seriously impact your happiness. For example, I’ve come into contact with thousands of people with depression through my Depression Is Not Destiny Campaign, and on a daily basis I see people who don’t ask for help because they’re afraid of being judged. I understand how debilitating the stigma surrounding mental illness can be, but it’s important to realize that not seeking help will leave you trapped in depression. And not getting treatment when you need it is not prioritizing your happiness.
When people ask me how to free themselves from what others think of them, I always quote something Dr Seuss said that’s forever stuck with me: “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter”. I really do believe this, which is why I’m not phased by what others think of me.
8. Happy people tend to live a healthy lifestyle
You’ll meet few happy people who don’t make a point of eating well, sleeping well and exercising frequently. It’s almost a law of nature.
9. Happy people tend not to bullshit themselves
Happy people tend to be very honest with themselves. If they make a mistake or don’t do something to the best of their ability, they take responsibility for their actions and vow to do better next time. On the other hand, unhappy people tend to shirk responsibility and blame other people or other circumstances, and as a result remain stuck in the mud.
10. Happy people tend to be genuine
When you’re not fake, and you’re honest, down to earth and self-deprecating, you tend to draw similar people towards you – and aren’t they the sort of people you’d like to be surrounded by?
11. Happy people often do volunteer work
Having been heavily involved in volunteer work over the years really helped me recover from depression. It helped me realise that even though I was suffering, there were many people around the world who were far worse off than me. Being aware of this always helped me focus on the positives in my life – such as the fact that I had food, shelter and access to healthcare – as opposed to the negatives. As such, I never developed a “victim mentality”, which like I said in Happy Characteristic #3, dramatically aided my recovery.
12. Happy people tend to take time out to enjoy the little things
Every week, I make a point of doing the little things that I know put me in a good mood – like playing basketball, going to the beach, or reading a good book. These little things add up to make a big difference.
13. Happy people tend not to worry about things that are beyond their control
Few things come more naturally to us than worrying, but once we learn not to stress about things that are out of our hands, it frees up a lot of energy that can be spent on something more positive. Whenever I find myself worrying, I ask myself if what I’m fretting about is within my control or not, and if it’s not, I push it out of my mind. This can be very hard to do at first, but with practice, you do get better at it.
14. Happy people usually aren’t too proud to ask for help
Pride is often self-improvement’s kryptonite. I think a lot of people think asking for help or advice is “weak”, but I don’t think that makes any sense. Like I said above, if you listen to the most accomplished athletes, artists and entrepreneurs in the world speak, one thing you’ll notice that they all have in common is that they are extremely teachable – and teachable people have no qualms about asking for and receiving help or advice, because the only thing they’re fussed about is improving themselves. They don’t let their ego get in the way of that.
If you’re suffering from a mental illness, this is another particularly important point to note. All refusing to ask for help will do is keep you a prisoner of your sickness. So if you don’t like the idea of that, then you need to eat a slice of humble pie and reach out for assistance.
15. Happy people never speak badly about themselves
If you were to talk to your best friend in the same way you talk to yourself, would your friend be OK with that? Or would they be hurt, offended or angry? If it’s some variation of the latter, then you need to work at being much kinder to yourself. For me, this involved getting therapy.
16. Happy people don’t get so obsessed with making a living that they forget to make a life
Making money’s important, sure – but don’t work so hard at filling your bank account that you forget to enjoy your life. When you’re too career-focused, you often neglect other things that matter – like your family and your health. Part of being happy involves leading a balanced life.
17. Happy people tend to set goals and work hard to achieve them
When we don’t have goals, we tend to get unfocused. It’s good practice to set goals for yourself, and every night before you go to sleep, you want to be able to say to yourself, “I did things today that moved me closer towards achieving them”.
18. Most happy people do not make excuses
When we make excuses not to do things that we know are good for us, then we’re not giving ourselves the best chance to be happy. Let me give you an example—being a very active mental health advocate, I constantly witness people say things like, “I know exercise is good for me, but it’s impossible for me to do because I don’t have any energy”. Now don’t get me wrong—I sure as hell know that depression can make you feel extremely lethargic and zap all your energy—but saying that it’s “impossible” isn’t exactly true, either. Out of the thousands and thousands of people I’ve met with depression, I’ve never encountered anyone who literally spends 24 hours a day in bed. At the absolute, absolute, absolute minimum, they get up and go to the bathroom a couple of times a day. And if you can walk to the bathroom, then you can walk down the street or around the block—and studies show that even a little bit of exercise like this can lift your mood. Now, I’m not saying it’s easy—walking about the block can be a real challenge for someone in the throes of a debilitating depression—but it’s not impossible, either. So ruthlessly eliminate excuses and don’t sell yourself short. You can do it, and you do yourself a great disservice by convincing yourself you can’t.
19. Happy people congratulate themselves when they do something good
To continue with the above example, if you do manage to go for that walk around the block, then give yourself a pat on the back. Self-affirmation in this context is a healthy thing, and it can motivate you to repeat the action again.
20. Happy people tend to learn from their mistakes and from difficult times
As the great Michael Jordan famously said, “I have failed over, and over, and over again in my life … and that is why I succeed”. Mistakes—and difficult times—are great teachers, so whenever they occur, be sure to learn everything you can from them so that they don’t repeat themselves again and again and again.
21. Happy people rarely give in to temptations
Happy people tend to be highly aware of the long term implications of their actions. As a result, they generally don’t give in to temptations that are likely to cause them harm later on.
22. Happy people identify their core values and build their lives around them
Happy people tend to be highly self-aware. They know what makes them happy and what doesn’t, and they know what’s important to them and what’s not—and they use this knowledge to organize their life in such a way that maximises their happiness. After reading Dr Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness, I, over time, came to realize that my core values involved helping people, tapping into my creative passion, and spending time with my family and friends. As a result, I opted to quit my Commerce/Law degree to pursue my dream of becoming an author, and to have more time for philanthropy and my loved ones. And ever since then, I’ve been much happier.
23. Happy people tend not to worry about pleasing everybody
Most happy people know this is an impossible goal, so they don’t stress about trying to achieve it.
24. Happy people don’t dwell on the past
Bad things happen—it’s just the way life is. And the more you ruminate on the past, the more you allow it to destroy your future. It’s better to accept it, learn from it, and move on from it.
25. Happy people tend not to compare themselves to others
Life is not a race. There’s no need to worry about what everyone else is doing with their life, because it isn’t relevant to you. We’re all unique, and I strongly believe it’s best to go through life at your own pace, and just focus on trying to live the happiest existence you can.
How do you develop these habits to become a happier person?
Some people are naturally wired this way, and as a result, they’re just naturally happy people. But other people—particularly those with a mental illness—find attaining happiness to be extremely challenging. So how does someone learn to be a happier person?
Like I said, I managed to do it by committed myself to therapy, by reading self-help and personal development books, and by surrounding myself with positive, happy people. The purpose of therapy, in its barest terms, is about learning how to deal with difficult life events and think in a way that allows you to be happier; self-help and personal development books have a similar objective; and surrounding yourself with positive, happy people means you have good influences around you.
Committing to therapy, reading self-help and personal development books, and surrounding yourself with the right people … sounds like a lot of work, right?
Well, it is. Which is why so many people in the world aren’t happy.
Which brings me to the 25th + 1 trait of highly happy people:
26. Happy people are proactive
Happy people don’t believe that the world owes them anything. As a result, they are proactive, and believe that everything they want in life, they have to work for.
If you enjoyed reading my post, I encourage you to visit my website and download a FREE copy of The Danny Baker Story – How I came to write “I will not kill myself, Olivia” and found the Depression Is Not Destiny Campaign – which is my memoir recounting my struggle and eventual triumph over depression. I wrote it so that sufferers of the illness could realise they are not alone – that there are other people out there who have gone through the same excruciating misery, and who have made it through to the other side. I also wrote it so that I could impart the lessons I learned on the long, rocky, winding road that eventually led to recovery – so that people could learn from my mistakes as well as my victories – particularly with regards to relationships; substance abuse; choosing a fulfilling career path; seeking professional help; and perhaps most importantly, having a healthy and positive attitude towards depression that enables recovery. Multiple-bestselling author Nick Bleszynski has described it as “beautifully written, powerful, heartfelt, insightful and inspiring … a testament to hope.”