Before we move on to understand why we developed certain core beliefs, how our core beliefs affect our lives, and the challenges of changing our core beliefs, we must have a destination in mind.
This post describes 11 characteristics of genuinely happy people that you can target as goals. To learn more about how to do these, refer to the Essentials section.
1. Are more responsive than reactive
We are reactive when we behave based on emotions. Because our emotions are illogical, irrational, and quick to change, they are unreliable. Imagine first responders going to the scene of an accident and behaving according to their emotions. God put our thinking brain in front of our heads – maybe His way of telling us to think first.
Happy people use their thinking brain first to think through situations and let their emotions follow as additional input, giving them the advantage of using both mind and heart so they can make better decisions and behave more appropriately.
2. Expect and prepare
Happy people expect the best and know for that to happen they must prepare. Good preparation requires hard work and sacrifice. If you’ve ever performed or taken exams, you know what it is like if you didn’t prepare. You simply hope for the best. Even if the outcome is good, you feel more lucky than satisfied. Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Happy people, like people who constantly live in fear, anger, shame, and guilt (aka non-happy people), desire pleasure, but unlike non-happy people, they plan and prepare for it instead of impulsively seeking it. Pleasure for happy people is an addition to the joy they already have. Pleasure for non-happy people is momentary relief from their misery.
3. Live with gratitude
How important is gratitude? Jesus thinks it is very important as demonstrated in Luke 17:11. While on his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus met ten men who had leprosy. From a distance, they called out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests as proof they were healed. They left and when one of the men saw he was healed, he turned back and praising God, he threw himself down at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”
Gratitude shows more than appreciation. It shows reverence. We typically say, “thank you” when someone does something kind for us. Happy people don’t wait for someone to be kind to them. They find things to be grateful for. They revere God and are constantly grateful for all that He has and continues to give them.
When we find things to be grateful for, we focus on good more than bad, complain less, learn to welcome and accept all good things, and open ourselves up to receive more. The more we have the less we feel the deficits when bad things happen.
4. Practice discipline
Happy people respect and obey man’s laws, but honor and live God’s laws. They view discipline, not as punitive and restrictive, but as a means to wisdom. They routinely practice physical and emotional self-control. We have the ability to eat just one chip and happy people use this ability. They don’t lie by saying, “I can’t eat just one cookie…,” and don’t use excuses as permits to do or have what they want; such as, “I shouldn’t have dessert, but I worked hard today.”
Happy people are willing to do what is right and just despite how they feel at the time. This can be challenging since our emotions are so strong, but it leaves us with fewer regrets and freedom from shame and guilt.
5. Are well defined
Happy people do not have open borders. They secure their boundaries with honesty, trust, responsibility, respect, and empathy. And, they regard other people’s boundaries in the same way. They don’t allow other people into their business and don’t take care of other people’s problems without getting clarification first. They aren’t afraid to ask for help when they need it and are generous in helping others.
Happy people learn from their histories and do not let their past define who they are. They determine who they are by what they value, not what they do.
Happy people are true to themselves and others. They don’t need to pretend or impress other people to be accepted. They want people to like them, but give people the opportunity to make that decision themselves.
6. Are realistic
Happy people know we don’t always get what we want and how to manage disappointment. Even though they don’t like disappointment, they have the grace to manage it. They know reality and truth go hand in hand. They know there is another side to a story and consider that to make sound judgements. They use their imaginations more for productive creativity instead of suspicion and assumption, especially in regard to relationships.
Happy people know “always” “never,” and “everyone” are extreme and difficult to prove, so should be used judiciously or with an adverb or qualifier to make explanations accurate and truthful. Example: “If you say, everyone [at work, at school] plays on the computer,” that can easily be disputed and difficult to prove. Therefore, it isn’t true nor real. It just makes you feel okay about doing what you know you shouldn’t.
7. Understand the real reason for shame and guilt
Happy people realize shame and guilt are used for protection of self and society by preventing people from acting in pure self-interest and giving people a conscience to do what is right and just. Shame and guilt are not tools to get other people to do what you want or mechanisms to punish; that’s manipulation. While guilt can motivate us to do the right thing, shame is more destructive.
Happy people know we need shame and guilt, but only as a check to keep us in right standing with God and others.
8. Are compassionate and empathic
Happy people have learned to be comfortable with other people’s discomfort. This allows them to be more supportive and helpful rather than feeling like they need to hurry up and fix someone else’s problem. Happy people listen to other people and what they need. Then, provide those needs instead of giving others what they think is best or telling others, “You need…”
Compassion is an awareness of someone’s pain and suffering that moves us towards the desire to help. Empathy is the capacity to understand or relate to another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition as he experiences it.
Compassion and empathy bring us closer to each other. Happy people value others and relationships. Therefore, are compassionate and empathic towards people they know and don’t know.
9. Love others as they love themselves
Happy people know we can only give what we have. If we love ourselves, we have love to give others. They also understand God is love and for us to truly love one another, we must know God’s love first. Many people haven’t given much thought to what love really is.
When I work with couples, they often define love in vague terms and think of it more as something that is magical. Many times they don’t even remember the promises of love they made to each other when they got married. Many of us should learn what love is. If you want the best definition of love, read I Corinthians 13.
Love is not all sweetness and light. We correct and punish children because we love them. God sacrificed His son, who suffered for us because He loves us. This shows us love can be painful and requires faith and trust to truly be fulfilled.
10. Fear less
We all feel afraid. It’s a natural instinct to survive, but over using fear does not make us survive better. It makes us need to survive more by provoking our other survival instincts – anger contempt, shame, and guilt. We cannot live happy lives if we have an overabundance of these.
Fear denies us trust, faith, and confidence and weakens love. Happy people stay the course. They are not afraid to live by God’s laws.
Happy people feel afraid, but don’t let fear dictate their lives. They maintain their trust and faith in God, in themselves, and with others. They rely first on God for strength and discernment. They know they are smarter than their emotions and trust they will know when they should be genuinely afraid. They see more good in others than bad. They believe the best more than they fear the worst.
Happy people fear less and trust more. Note: I will discuss more about fear in a future post.
11. Choose to believe the best
Our subconscious mind keeps records of injury and harm and our natural instincts for survival include the emotions of fear, anger, contempt, shame, and guilt. Therefore, we have a lot of negative information that is easily accessible and negative emotions that are easily stimulated. This is the way we survive. It’s like having an army of oppressors ready and waiting. If we are led by this battalion, we will view others and the world more as foe rather than friend.
When we choose to believe the best, we trust God, ourselves, and other people, allowing us to be happier and have happier relationships.
Happy people choose to believe the best. They do this by stopping and thinking first. Before they feel disappointed, afraid, or angry at someone, they will think, “He must have had a good reason.” This makes the whole situation better.
Choosing to believe the best prompts us to love more, trust more, and be happy more! Note: I will discuss “choosing to believe the best” further in a future post. Stay tuned!