The Characteristics of Happy People

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I’ve had the opportunities to make friends and acquaintances from all over the world. From different faiths, political beliefs, and personality types.

I at one time had Christian friends from Lebanon and shortly after that a Muslim roommate from Lebanon. I lived in a graduate dormitory with people from literally every continent and worked for a multinational which allowed me to travel the world. I went to church with Egyptians for a time (try being a squirmy kid sitting through an entire church service in Arabic when you don’t speak the language), and spent summers at Catholic, Protestant and Jewish summer camps. Growing up, all of my friends came from somewhere else…that is the melting pot that is NYC.

Some of the people I have had the good fortune to meet have been unhappy, but many, perhaps most, have been happy people. Here is what I have observed.

They define success by the strength of their relationships.

Everybody has their own measure of success and that is a good thing. But the happiest people I have met always lead with people. Whether it is family, friends or just interesting people with whom they have shared an experience. Volume is neither a good or bad thing. One good friend, a million good friends, it doesn’t matter. Relationships come first.

They know what’s important.

Sorry…but it’s probably not that big project you’re leading at work. Not that they won’t work hard with great enthusiasm; perspective is key. They tend to reserve their emotional energy for family, friends, or other things that are important to THEM. This drives great inner strength because smaller things are less likely to derail them. Bonus: when your project crisis hits they’re not gonna be freaking out.

They value experiences over material objects.

Maybe they drive a beater. Maybe they have a limited wardrobe and a 10 year old phone. They eschew bling and other trappings of material success. They are full of stories of interesting experiences. You wanna hike the Appalachian Trail? Jump out of a plane? Spend an afternoon enjoying a Picasso exhibit? They’re in. Will you remember that cool new mobile phone 10 years from now? Will you remember the time you went backpacking in Colorado? You tell me.

They don’t let goals rule their lives.

Don’t get me wrong. Goals are generally a good thing but not everyone’s brain works that way. It’s a nice story when we hear someone had a single-minded goal to cure some disease, start their own company etc. But what did they sacrifice to get there? Rigid goals can also stop you from seeing the real opportunity that is staring you in the face.

Happy people sometimes set goals but aren’t afraid to pivot when they see a better opportunity. Some of the most laid back, happiest people I know don’t set many goals at all. “I’ll know it when I see it” is a common refrain.

They are highly adaptable.

Life happens. You are going to get derailed or your plans will have to change. It will happen. Learn to live with the unexpected and when it occurs lean into it or move towards something that works better for you. The opera wasn’t quite what you expected? There is always another opera. Career not working out the way you planned? Maybe there is a better plan that suits you better.

Happy people aren’t necessarily hyper-positive thinkers. But when a setback happens or life has to change they can roll with it.

They are profoundly grateful.

Scratch a happy person and you will find a grateful person underneath. They can be a CEO, a truck driver, a scientist, a janitor. I guarantee you they are grateful for something and even more likely someone. These are the “well, it could be worse” people.

They consider themselves lucky.

No one get there alone. Talk to a happy person and you are talking to a person that considers themselves lucky. Ask them how they achieved something and the first thing out of their mouths is gong to be all the help they had along the way.

Did they work hard? Probably. Are they gonna lead with that? Definitely not.

They don’t take themselves seriously.

They can laugh at themselves. Nothing amuses them more than when they stick their foot into something. You will find them laughing the loudest of anyone in the room. They tend to be self-deprecating which some people mistake for a lack of confidence. But it’s just the opposite. Confident people aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves or admit when they’ve screwed up.

They listen to other points of view.

You know those people with the fixed views you cannot change? Don’t wanna listen to it, love living in their echo chamber? Yeah. They’re not happy. Happy people surround themselves with a variety of opinions and learn from all of them. They may have friends they disagree with but they don’t let it affect their friendship.

They Have a Sense of Perspective.

They’re not rattled by little setbacks or challenges. This enables them to respond in ways that are proportionate to the challenge at hand. We’ve all been in situations where someone loses it over something everyone thinks is minor. These people make everyone around them miserable.

And Finally, They Don’t Compare Themselves to Others.

Hey, there is nothing wrong with having mentors, heroines or people you look up to. A little competition or having a yardstick to measure yourself by can be a good thing…in moderation. But there is a slippery slope from there and it leads to envy, and envy is toxic.

Happy people don’t worry about where they are in relation to others. It’s not that there are some people ahead and some people behind…they don’t think that way. They are mostly focused on where they are…because its the only thing thing they have any control over.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

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