20 Ways To Be Happier in Life

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Are you happy?

In spite of the challenges in the past year, I can say that I’m genuinely happy. 

There are some practical ways to be happier that I’ve incorporated into my everyday life, and they seem to be working for me.  Today, I outline 20 Ways To Be Happier In Life, with the hope that there are at least a few ways to be happier that you can apply in your life.  If you do nothing else, scroll down to the end for a summary of these 20 ideas. 

Apply as many as you can.  Then, share it with a friend. 

Happiness is something we should all strive for. 

Are you happy? Try adopting a few of these 20 ways to be happier in life. They're free, and they just may improve your life. Click To Tweet

20 Ways To Be Happier In Life

The last year has been tough on all of us.  With that COVID thing floating around, increasing tension between political classes, Social Media run amuck, etc, it’s time to take a break from all of the negativity.

With that in mind, here are 20 ways to be happier in life, based on my personal experience. 

I hope they help…


1. Maintain a Positive Attitude

Three months before I retired, I wrote the Ten Commandments of Retirement.  They’ve served me well in my first 2 1/2 years of retirement, and I review them frequently.  Commandment #1 is to “Have An Attitude of Gratitude”.

I’m convinced that the act of intentionally maintaining a good attitude has been a critical factor in my happiness.  Our attitude determines a lot of our experience, and our attitude is mostly within our control.  Be intentional.  Focus on the positives, and diminish the amount of time you think about the negatives.

End your negative patterns of thinking, and start searching for the silver lining. 

It’s always there, somewhere.  Find it.


2. Don’t Obsess About Things You Can’t Control

2020 was a year that was out of your control.  Try as you might, you can’t control many of the things this world has faced.  As you review this list of 20 Ways To Be Happier In Life, you’ll notice all of them ARE within your control. 

That’s by design.

I suspect you’ve heard the advice about picturing two circles, with one inside the other.  The smaller one is the things you can control.  The bigger one is all of the things you worry about, but can’t control.  Focus on the inner circle, and don’t obsess about things in that larger circle that you can’t control.  I’m no artist, but I’ve created a crude picture of the mental model below.  

focus on what you can control to be happy

Worrying about things you can’t control is a waste of time, and sucks the happiness out of your life.  Have you ever noticed those nights you lay awake thinking about something, only to realize in the morning what a waste of time it was?  Worrying about things in the bigger circle is like that.  It’s a waste of time.

Focus only on the things you can control, like the 20 things in this list.


3. Hike Your Own Hike

There’s a saying on the Appalachian Trail to “Hike Your Own Hike”, and it’s one of the ways to be happier in life. Live your own life, and keep your focus on creating the life you want to live.  Avoid the noise.

Don’t worry about what other people think, and quit comparing yourself to others.  You can’t control either of those things, and they won’t improve your happiness.  Don’t get “Facebook Envy” with the wonderful life everyone else seems to be living on social media, you’re only seeing the good stuff.  They’re struggling, too. 

Hike your own hike, and realize that only you can decide the pace at which you explore your trail.


4. Be Curious

I’ve fostered my curiosity during my retirement, and it’s served me well.  I wasn’t surprised when I found that curiosity has been found to be one of the 7 Habits of the Happiest People by Inc.  Learn from the experience of others and adopt the habit of fostering your curiosity.

If something interests you, pursue it.  Take that first step.  A lot of the things you pursue won’t stick to the wall, but keep going.  Before long, something will “click”, and it will lead to places you never imagined.  Places that will make you happy.


5. Create Balance

Our lives are like a wheel, with each spoke representing a different aspect of our life (family, money, charity, spirituality, hobbies, work, etc).  As I wrote about in my book, I knew a man who committed suicide.  I was told after the fact that “his spokes weren’t the same length”, and his wheel didn’t roll very well.  I never forgot that lesson. Be intentional in developing each of the spokes in your wheel.  Your life will be more balanced, and you’ll find that keeping a round wheel is one of the important ways to be happier. 


6. Be Generous

One of the ways to be happier that I’ve experienced in my retirement is the simple act of focusing on others more than self. During our careers, our focus was on earning a paycheck, a self-serving endeavor.  Now that we’re retired, we’re free to focus on others.  Pursue it aggressively.  Like curiosity, generosity is one of the 7 Habits of the Happiest People. There’s something unique about turning your focus to others, and I’ve no doubt that it’s one of the greatest keys to increasing your happiness.

Look for opportunities to be kind to others.  Be generous whenever you get the chance.  You may be surprised by the results.  


7. Get Out of Your Rut

 No one likes to be stuck in a rut. 

We always took all of my vacation time when I was working, and research shows that planning your vacation can actually make you happier than the vacation itself.  Vacations are one way to mix up your routine, but you don’t have to stop there.  We enjoy our new routine of 3 weeks per month in our retirement cabin and 1 week at our second home in Alabama.  Our life is different in each locale, and the change of pace is refreshing.

Variety is the spice of life, so look for ways to break up your routine. Take some time to research your area and try something new.  Take a day trip to a nearby area you’ve not spent time in.  If you’re looking for ways to be happier, try mixing up your routine. 


8. Get Outside

There’s nothing more depressing than a life spent starting a screen (be it TV, computer or handheld).  Get away from the electronics, and breathe some fresh air.  Click on Alltrails and find a trail near you.  I have no affiliation with Alltrails, but find it’s a great app to get outside, wherever you are.  Put your phone on airplane mode, and test yourself by maximizing the time you avoid looking at it.  Look up in the trees, and try to find a squirrel (our granddaughter’s favorite activity).  It’s a lot more fun and will make you a lot happier than that time you’re currently wasting on social media.


9. Exercise

You’ve heard it before, but have you listened?  Exercise is important for many reasons, but did you know that research proves it also makes you happier? From that link:

“One conclusive and undeniable truth has emerged from these studies: Exercise boosts your mood because it fundamentally changes your brain, both in the moment and over time.”

Those endorphins your body kicks out during exercise are amazing mood boosters, not to mention the delayed kick you get from serotonin and dopamine.  Don’t take my word for it, this is one area the experts agree.  If you don’t already have an exercise routine, make it a priority.  It’s one of the best ways to be happier in life, and you’ll live a better life as a result.


having a dog is one of the ways to be happier
A Michigan camping trip with our 4 dogs

10. Get A Dog

Our lives are better because of our 4 dogs.  We’re not alone.  Research cited by Psychology Today has found that dogs provide significant benefits in our lives, including a positive impact on our happiness.  What’s a little dog hair, really?  If you’ve been thinking about getting a dog, do it.  You’ll be happier as a result.  Better yet, consider rescuing a dog from your local shelter.  The dog will be happier, too!


11. Create Something

If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience “flow”, you know the reality that creating something you love can make you happier.  Experiencing “flow” is one of the primary reasons I love to write, and I consider myself fortunate to have found something that fosters my creative energy while creating value for others.  There are actually scientific reasons that being creative make us happier, including a suggestion by Dr. Carrie Barron to pursue creative endeavors to help get over feelings of depression. If something interests you, pursue it.  Create something. 

If you’ve already found a creative outlet, share your work in the comments below, I’d love to see what you’re doing.


12. Slow Down

Life is a rush, and many people complain about being “too busy”.  Recognize that your level of busyness is a “small circle” issue (see #2 above, it’s within your control).  If you find yourself stressed about having too much to do,  take some time to figure out what you want to carve out of your schedule.  Figure out the #1 thing you’re doing that you don’t enjoy, and find a way to do less of it. If you hate mowing the yard, hire a yard service. Don’t over commit yourself, build in some intentional “empty time” in your schedule to slow down, breathe, relax.  Find the things that you most enjoy, and figure out how you can do more of them. 

Do more of the things that are fun, and less of the things that aren’t.


ways to be happier include smiling
My wife’s last outing with her Mom.

13. Smile and Laugh More Often

Two stories, compliments of my wife, for this one.

  1. When her Mom was struggling with Alzheimer’s and living in a nursing home, my wife would strive to find at least one thing that would make her Mom laugh during every visit.
  2. When you’re out in public, go out of your way to smile at strangers  Tally up the responses, and report the results to your spouse.  We have fun with this one.  (Yeah, I get the “mask thing”, but keep this one on hand for when they’re no longer required).

Bottom line:  find ways to smile and laugh more often, and seek out opportunities for random acts of kindness. You’ll be happier as a result.  


14. Build Meaningful Relationships

Having deep friendships is a great way to improve your happiness.  I recently read an intriguing article that David Cain wrote on Raptitude titled How To Make Friends as an Adult.  If you’re struggling developing friendships, it’s well worth your read.  David’s advice is to simply invite someone to do something with you.  Brilliant.  I tried it last week on a woodworking project I’m working on and invited a friend over to give me a hand with some heavy boards.  We had a good time and vowed to do it again.  I’m not just throwing a list at you, I’m actually trying to practice what I preach with today’s tips.

Many of us don’t have a lot of friends.  That’s a “small circle” (#2 above) problem, and it’s within your control to develop more friendships.  Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Reach out to someone this week and invite them to do something with you. Give it a try, you’ll both be happier as a result.


15. Focus on Love, Not Hate

There’s too much hate in this world, and it seems to be getting worse.  While you can’t control the rest of the world, you can control your focus amidst the chaos.  Focus on Love, Not Hate.  Find a way to uplift someone who’s struggling.  Don’t reply on that Facebook post that you disagree with (you won’t change their mind anyway).  

Spend quality time with the people you love, and less time focusing on things you hate.


16. Enjoy The Present

My sister gave me the sign shown above, which now resides in our living room as a constant reminder to “Live Today”.  You can’t change Yesterday, so cherish the best of it and don’t focus on past regrets. The Present is all we’re promised, so treasure every minute of it.  Yes, you need to dream for tomorrow, but don’t spend your life thinking too much about the future at the expense of living today. 

Enjoy The Present.  When you go for a walk, focus on the trees.  Listen to the birds.  Breathe the air. Focus on the present, and enjoy the experience.  We spend too much of our life oblivious to the Present.  Change your priority, and take some time every day to enjoy the present.


17. Remember The Only Constant Is Change

The early 2000s were a great time in my career.  I’d recently been promoted to my company’s North American Management Team, and the President was a great guy.  I remember some advice the Director of HR, gave me at the time.  “Cherish this moment”, he said.  “The only constant is change, and he won’t be around forever.  We’ll likely look back at this time as one of the best in our careers”.  He was right.  A few years later the President retired, and I didn’t get along with his replacement.   I recalled the HR guy’s comment on “the only constant is change”, and endured the bad situation, knowing that things would eventually change.  Fortunately, they did, and I moved on to a new position in our Global HQ office, working for another great boss.  I had approached him expressing my interest in working for his team, and my bad situation changed for the good.

If you’re in a tough spot, don’t obsess about it.  Remember The Only Constant Is Change, and seek out ways you can reposition yourself into a more favorable position.  It worked for me, and it may just work for you.  Even if it doesn’t, remember change is constant, and there are good days ahead.  Which leads us to #18…   


18. Believe That The Best Is Yet To Come

I prefer being around optimists rather than pessimists. 

Having a positive attitude is one of the best ways to happier, and that includes believing that the best is yet to come.  You can’t change yesterday, but tomorrow offers unlimited opportunity.  Grab tomorrow’s potential with both hands, and focus on what you can do to make tomorrow better than today.  Your mindset goes a long way in creating your reality, and your tomorrow may well be better than your today simply by believing it to be true.  Be an optimist.  You’ll be happier, and you’ll likely find that the best is, indeed, yet to come.


19. Challenge Yourself

In the middle of my career, I accepted a role as a Plant Manager.  I had spent the majority of my career in sales, and I certainly wasn’t an “Operations Guy”.  It was the biggest “stretch assignment” of my life, and I was scared to death.  Of course, I never told anyone that (until now), but I’ll never forget how much my mind raced as I walked into that plant on my first day as the Plant Manager.  

Within a few months, I was on the moon.  I had transitioned seamlessly into the role, and I was happier than during any other job in my career.  I had accepted a major challenge, and I’d crushed it.  It’s hard to describe the satisfaction that comes from a move like that.

Continually seek out challenges.  Stretch your limits.  You’ll have fun working through the challenge, and the reward of success far exceeds the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel doing something you’re already good at. 


20. Develop Your Spiritualty

I don’t focus on spiritual or political topics on my blog.  The focus of this blog is on the transition to retirement, and our world has become too intolerant of certain topics.  Sad, that. With that said, I am a Christian, and I can’t write a post on ways to be happier without touching on the most important aspect of happiness. 

Finding a deeper spiritual meaning to your life is the most powerful path toward true happiness and contentment.  When you realize the insignificance of current events in the perspective of eternity, it changes things.  If you aren’t a spiritual person, I strongly encourage you to focus on developing this (most) critical area of your life.  Say a prayer, you may be surprised where it leads.  Spend some quiet time asking the bigger questions, and listen.  Then, follow.  Seek out your higher calling. You’ll be happier as a result. 

I believe one of my Purposes is to write, and writing makes me happy. My wife feels the same about running her charity, Freedom For Fido. I sincerely hope you find why you were put on this earth, and believe with my heart that a spiritual search is the most important thing you can do.  In your quest to be happier, please don’t skip over the spiritual aspect.  If you have a burning question, shoot me an email. In this critical area, you can rest assured that I’ll respond.


Conclusion

how to be happy

Your Turn:  What did I miss?  What’s your favorite way to be happier, and why?  Which one of the 20 items are you encouraged to try in the coming days? Let’s chat in the comments…

44 comments

  1. A very timely and inspirational post Fritz!

    There’s no doubt 2020 has been a difficult year with many things beyond our control. Of all the points mentioned, “maintain a positive attitude” and “build meaningful relationships” are the most important to me. If nothing else, the past year has slowed everything down helping me reflect on priorities. Being healthy, happy, and loved is what matters most.

  2. A great article as usual Fritz and I love the idea of creating your own retirement 10 commandments. The only thing I would add to your list is to find your tribe(s) a group of people who think like you do and are passionate about the same things as you. Once this pandemic lifts I can’t wait to meet up with my fishing and bike tribes again!

    1. Mike, as I mentioned in my review of your book, Retirement Heaven or Hell, my 10 Commandments reminded me a lot of the principles you outlined in your book. Amazing minds! Thanks for adding the tip about finding your “tribe(s)”, great addition to the discussion!

  3. This is such a great list. For me the most often overlooked are: attitude of gratitude, hike your own hike, and be generous. All three have such a huge impact on my happiness, and they’re so simple when you sit down and think about it.

  4. Thanks Fritz – Now I’m sitting at my desk, singing this song, which is so appropriate to your post. Come on – sing with me! You instantly feel better, and it’s a great hobby! SING by the Carpenters:
    Sing, sing a song
    Sing out loud
    Sing out strong
    Sing of good things not bad
    Sing of happy not sad
    Sing, sing a song
    Make it simple to last
    Your whole life long
    Don’t worry that it’s not
    Good enough for anyone
    Else to hear
    Just sing, sing a song
    Sing, sing a song
    Let the world sing along
    Sing of love there could be
    Sing for you and for me
    Sing, sing a song
    Make it simple to last
    Your whole life long
    Don’t worry that it’s not
    Good enough for anyone
    Else to hear
    Just sing, sing a song
    (Just sing, sing a song)
    Just sing, sing a song

  5. I’m an educator (law school) and over the past year year I feel like I have become more of a mental health counselor than a teacher. Two things stood out to me about your list. First, the overlap between what I try to teach my students (mostly in their 20s) and your list was eye opening. Your list applies to all of us at any age! Second, I realized that, at least right now, I’m a better teacher than a student! Seeing my own lessons reflected back at me has helped me realize that I need to practice what I preach.

    As always, thank you.

  6. Great list, and so appropriate also. Keep up the posts, I love them. I have my own “priorities” and they strongly overlap with what you’ve written.

  7. Great reminder Fritz. it’s interesting that the things that make us happiest really don’t cost us much money at all. I love this quote by Ronald Reagan that i think is so applicable and helps me stay centered on the the things that matter most. “Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, leave the rest to God’.

    1. Roger, thanks pointing out that they “really don’t cost us much money at all”. I didn’t realize until after I had compiled my list that none of them really pertain to money, and all of them are free to implement. Great quote from Reagan, thanks for adding value to the discussion.

  8. Great positive article with lots of good ideas! Don’t forget cats too – a different energy than dogs but they contribute to joy. I couldn’t have gotten through the pandemic without my kitties!

  9. I agree with your list of 20 but I would also include besides a dog, cats are pretty wonderful too! I’ve taken up tennis and photography and they fulfill me on a lot of levels…being outdoors, exercise, curiosity.

  10. As I read the list I was thinking how it relates to my journey. I think this can definitely help become a “Blueprint of Life’s Happy Journey”. Once of the key takeaways and words of wisdom I can share and often tell others is as follows: You don’t need to know what you want in life, what you really need to know is what you don’t want which I am convinced we all do know. Wake up each day and go in the direction that takes you away from what you don’t want. The result is that you are on your way toward what life has instore for you. All it takes is the first step.

  11. A really wonderful article, Fritz. I practice many of these, but there are some here I need to embrace far more than I do, particularly more focused generosity and laughing more often. As a die-hard cat dude, I’d say “Get a Dog or Cat” 😸

  12. My son Emmett (comment above) sent me, my husband, and his sister, your list. It really is important to practice what you preach!

  13. Not retired yet but really love the list. I agree with Angie that singing is a key part of happiness for me. I joined my church choir about 3 years ago, though not a gifted singer. The fun, camaraderie, teamwork, and singing that is a church choir has been a great part of my life. I have actually never sung in an organized choir before in my life! I have really missed it the past year as our state locked down our churches drastically due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully we will be singing together again soon! Until then, I’ll join Angie and The Carpenters!

  14. I agree with you most of the time, but not on dogs. We’ve had outside dogs for most of our married lives, but never let them in the house. They had 800 acres of wooded wetlands to roam around our house. My wife was raised on a farm and letting pets inside just wasn’t a thing. Indoor dogs and cats add way more than a little hair. Any non pet owner can detect in a minute if you keep indoor pets by the smell and the hair and the mess. Indoor pet owners have just gotten used to it, which is just yuck. We liked our pets ok but there was zero anthromorphizing going on, and it puzzles me to see people often treat their pets better than they treat other people. Ours were just animals and not family members, no tears shed in their passing, at least by me, my wife perhaps. They had a job to be somewhat ineffective burglar alarms and the cats had jobs as mousers to keep rodents from eating the wiring in our vehicles. But they add inconvenience for a retired lifestyle when we like to pack up and go places with no notice. Having to pay someone to come by and feed them was a hassle. So when our last two dogs died last year we did not replace them and don’t plan to. Same when the cat dies, that will likely be the last cat, she’s not catching mice much anymore anyway. We prefer investing our emotions in humans over animals, but that’s just us. I certainly don’t mind others who have a deeper relationship with animals, our dog crazy grown kids certainly are in that group.

    1. “Anthromorphizing?”

      Wow, you had me on that one. I had to ask our dogs what it meant. Of course, they knew (tho I suspect in reality they Googled it on their “I-Paws”). I hope they don’t read your post, they’ll be crushed.

  15. Great article, Fritz. #11 really hits home for me.
    I’m an accountant by trade (and by personality), so creativity and going out of my comfort zone don’t come naturally to me. But I did recently start a blog to document our journey to financial independence (2-3 years out), and I’m enjoying it far more than I expected!
    You never know what may bring you happiness until you try.

  16. Thanks Fritz for this great list. It’s my first time posting a comment. I started reading your blog around April of last year. After years of planning and rewarding career, I took the plunge last Sept and retired in my mid-50s. My wife is a bit older and had retired in 2019 to pursue her passion of being a full time writer. Your content has been super useful on multiple fronts so thanks for the great work. This particular post is really timely for me. I started this year with a health scare. Thankfully it’s turned out not to be serious which has been a big relief. Though It’s caused me to really reflect on what’s important and how to make my transition to retirement even more fulfilling. Living in the Present is a big one. Make today a great day. One thing that I am planning is a thru hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in the next few years. A long time dream. So Hike Your Own Hike is a good one too 🙂

  17. Fritz,

    LOVED this article. Gave me goose pimples reading it!
    Here’s my additional suggestion:

    “Find a passion. It can be anything! A sport, a hobby, a non-profit involvement, or whatever! As the old Nike campaign promoted, “Just Do It.”

    For me it is two things…. my work with a non-profit and golfing twice a week. When Covid is over my wife and I will “layer in” traveling.

  18. For #19, I had a quote “You don’t have to keep up, just know I won’t be standing still. ” That forward movement of improvement, curiosity, growth. And we don’t have to be on the same hike, but don’t expect me to join you on your couch of stagnation.
    #10 Also cats, not just dogs. Many people find great joy in their pups. I find great joy in not needing to go for walks in inclement weather, or get up early to take them out. Between cute antics, and snuggle time, my cats are awesome!
    #8&9 means I do get looks from people that I am not walking a dog and am out exercising in chilly temps. It’s great to choose my when vs being on their schedule. 🙂

  19. Humans are the only animals that look for the elusive and boundless “Happiness”.

    Ninety-nine percents of us will fail because we have limited identities!

    The tiniest and most suffocated identity is “ME, ME, ME and ME”.

    If each and every one us can break out this basic shell of identity, “Happiness” will osmosis into
    our every forward thinking and actions.

  20. Thanks for another great article! I know this list will prove useful over the coming months and years. We’re now 2 months the The Starting Line and can’t wait.

    For the time being we will forgo getting any pets. We plan to travel the country extensively in our RV and don’t want to be burdened. There are many places (National Parks) where dogs aren’t allowed on the trails. I do believe we’ll get another dog when our traveling days are behind us (or at least slow down).

    I have quite a few hobbies, but my most recent one is wood turning. I bought an old (circa 1943) lathe at an estate sale and have been turning bowls for the past couple years. It’s a great way to pass some time during long NJ winters!

  21. Your list is excellent!. I remember reading about inexpensive luxuries (I think it was from Reader’s Digest and wish I could remember it, find it, and quote it). I made an acronym and added to it (because that’s what engineers do):

    FARMS COWLS MS

    Luxuries that can be Inexpensive: Food, Art, Religion, Music, Solitude, Children, Outdoors, Work, Literature, Sports, and I added Marriage and Service.

    For all the stuff I have forgotten. I remember this acronym. It fits on a post-it. A mental picture of a woman wearing a hood (cowl) on a farm also brings it back to mind. Having remembered it, I have been helped by it. Thanks for your article!

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