If you had to guess how many people in America consider themselves “very happy,” what percentage do you think it would be?
To be happy seems like this elusive firefly that dances around us but never seems to stay put.
Here we’re going to let go of the notion that happiness is something that happens to us.
Instead, let’s take back ownership through some simple rules to live by that contain but don’t restrain the choices and perceptions we make every day.
What Are Personal Rules and Why Do You Need Them?
A 2021 study shows that only 19% of people said they were “very happy,” while 24% were “not very happy.” 18 to 34-year-olds were least likely to be “very happy,” at just 14%, while a whopping 30% were “not very happy.”
Personal rules are boundaries you set for yourself. Unlike relationship boundaries, where you draw a line in the sand for someone else, these are self-issued and self-governed laws to live by. Why are they important?
- No Conditions: Personal rules are self-scored only by your behavior, actions, and thoughts. No material items, relationship status, or income impact happiness potential.
- Full Control: Since you define the rules, there’s no battle of societal norms or control issues with rules set by someone else. You set them and change them as needed.
- Life Architecture: By setting rules for yourself, you’re able to hone in on weaknesses and build support beams for a happier life.
21 Happiness-Enhancing Rules To Live By Everyone Needs To Embrace
“It might seem crazy what I’m about to say…” Those words from Pharrell got us all clapping in 2013, but when the music stopped, many of us still didn’t know what happiness means to us.
We’re going to do our best to avoid the cliché examples of rules, but approach this with an open mind and heart.
1. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
It’s as golden now as it always has been—treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t treat them in direct response to how they treated you. By doing so, you start a smart process of not letting other people control your feelings or reactions.
The real challenge with this rule is actually to live it and not just treat it as a throwaway line that it too often is. Start this step with simple things like taking a moment to gather thoughts before calling a customer service representative.
2. Don’t treat others how you wouldn’t accept being treated.
This one is lesser known but just as important—do not treat others in a way you would not want to be treated. That means don’t snap at the intern if you hadn’t wanted to be snapped at when you were an intern. Don’t stop texting someone back if you hate being ghosted.
This even goes into other spaces where, for example, you’re dog-sitting for a friend. You would treat their dog with the same respect, love, and compassion that you treat your own, even if that dog behaves differently than your dog.
3. Enjoy the present and story worrying.
Anxiety takes us to the future, and worry shoves us into the past. Doing either one of those things (or both) cuts into our happiness potential. The future isn’t guaranteed, and the past can’t be changed. What we can control is how happy we choose to be in this very moment for every lucky moment we have on earth.
This can easily be achieved by simple grounding exercises to thwart worry. Name four things you can see, three things you can feel, and two things you can smell. When you’re searching for current sensory stimulants, your mind can’t be in two places at once.
4. Stop complaining and start fixing.
How much happier would your life be without complaining? Whether it is you complaining or those around you dragging you down, complaining is a happiness zapper.
If you spend ten minutes complaining about something you could have resolved in five minutes, you really need this rule. Fix it or stop talking about it—to yourself or others.
5. Don’t be a jerk.
It sounds so simple, but it’s easier to live up to if you make it a rule. C’mon, you know when you’re being one. You know when you’ve been one. You just don’t always know how to stop it. Even some top companies have started a mission statement of “We Don’t Hire Jerks.”
Spend some time self-loving when you’re having an ass attack and leave others out of it until you’re ready to ditch the donkey mentality. You can also start journaling about the times you weren’t the best version of yourself and learn your triggers and obstacles.
6. Share your smile with others often.
Make a point to smile when you go out, even if you have “that is just my face” RBF. Smile at everyone you see, and when you interact with someone, give them a big smile and a “thank you” or “I appreciate you” to show you have manners.
A smile sends a signal to your brain that can boost happiness hormones.
7. Clean up the surrounding clutter to de-clutter your mind.
De-cluttering your mind is as important as de-cluttering your physical spaces. Don’t just box it up and shove it to the back of the closest. Let that clutter go, or organize it.
If you end up with a donation bag of clutter, you’ll get an even bigger endorphin boost, knowing your unused stuff is going to someone who genuinely needs it.
8. Unplug from all devices once a day.
Schedule a time once a day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes or the last hour before bedtime, to unplug all devices—tablet, laptop, phone, and television. Gamers, you too. Take that time to do something for yourself, whether it’s meditation, a nice neck massage, or rubbing the dog’s belly.
It’s just as important to let go of the control our devices have over us. Plus, losing screen time before bedtime will help you sleep better. Make your car a phone-free space.
9. Stop letting news bring you down.
This is especially important if bad news in the country or world can ruin a potentially good day. If you get triggered by reports of gun crime, political chaos, or rouge Chinese balloons flying over your home, unsubscribe to notifications.
Maybe just turn them off on days you’re struggling or have a big presentation at work.
10. Practice forgiveness for yourself and others.
Humans struggle with forgiveness meaning justification for the harmful actions of another. Forgiveness is done for your peace of mind. Visualize yourself letting go of the black blob of grudge you hold inside.
Whether you share the forgiveness with the offender or not, you’ll be happier knowing you now control your destiny and not with some warped version of disdain holding you back.
11. Stop talking if you aren’t improving the conversation.
Have you ever read a social media comment section and felt so uncomfortable even though you didn’t post a thing? Or, on the flip side, have you ever posted back and forth with someone like a tennis match, only to ruminate on what they said for hours?
Use your voice for good, positive outcomes. Don’t use it to get the last word in. Not everything you disagree with or have an opinion on needs to be shared.
12. Respect and hear the opinions of others.
Discussions can be happiness sucks when they turn into arguments, and someone is trying to win or lose. Your rule might be to share your beliefs or stance once and leave it at that. You accept that others believe their truths as much as you believe yours.
When you respect someone else’s opinions, even when you don’t agree with them, you’re also working on #1 and #2 in this list at the same time.
13. Let go of toxic people once and for all.
You have no obligation to someone, no matter how long you’ve known them, to let toxic energy into your life. You certainly owe them an explanation, but not an exception.
When it comes to relationships, you can let go of worrying about having a car or if he lives at home with his momma. Focus on if they treat you how you want to be treated and if they make you happy.
14. Accept that perfection is a happiness poison.
Trying to add all these rules to your life could add up to more anxiety and a notable loss when you don’t achieve the ones most important to you. Accept that you will do your best. Look for progress each day or week, not a rule-by-rule breakdown of failures.
Compare it to how we lose or gain weight. It happens a little bit at a time with dedication, not all at once.
15. Eat in moderation and balance.
The foods we eat control so much of our vital organs and mental state, yet we sometimes eat too much or not at all. We might emotionally eat to numb pain or stop eating due to anxiety. Focus on healthy eating habits 80% of the time, allowing splurges that are not attached to emotions.
If you struggle with eating and moderation, get professional help. Binge eating is an actual eating disorder, just like anorexia. There’s also a chasm of undefined eating disorders. Happy guts make for happy people, and it’s okay if you need a therapist to get through it like you’d need a doctor to help you through the flu.
16. Laugh at yourself and accept responsibility.
Unless you’ve committed a felony, most mistakes will come with a healthy amount of humor. Why is it we can look back on fashion choices from a decade ago and laugh at them but can’t get over tripping up the stairs at work?
Have a good laugh about what you learned from the mistake, and share your lesson with others.
Being able to laugh at yourself shows self-awareness and can be contagious to those around you as well.
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17. Share your talents with the world.
Instead of focusing on your too straight/curly hair or big/little feet while wishing your pores weren’t akin to the craters on the moon, be unapologetically confident about something(s) you are really good at doing. If you think about it, you might not even realize what options you have.
Did those piano lessons pay off? Grab a seat at the piano bar and play for the crowd. Are you good at drawing? What comes naturally to you might baffle your less artistic friends. If you can rock a home blowout, post a YouTube video to share your secrets.
18. Spend time outside and reap the benefits.
Simply being outside is repeatedly scientifically proven to make people happier. Set aside a certain amount of time each week to spend unplugged and in touch with nature. This is another great time to do the grounding exercise we talked about to notice the circle of life happening around you.
Don’t make excuses—dance in the rain, make snow angels, run through the sprinkler in the summer heat. Even a scenic drive through the park once a week can light up all those feel-good chemicals.
19. Practice gratitude daily, especially on tough days.
Rumination is a rabbit hole for negative thoughts, but if you have a rule of gratitude in your life, you’ll be able to squash that rabbit like Whack-a-Mole. Even on the worst day of the month, something good happened. Science shows that expressing gratitude can reduce stress.
Writing down three things you are grateful for first thing in the morning gets your brain in a better space to handle the challenges of the day.
Ending the day with things you are thankful for will prep your brain for more positive dreams. Ask yourself, “What would I have tomorrow if I only woke up with things I was thankful for today?”
20. Be kind to people every day at every opportunity.
This rule covers doing something nice for someone else with no strings attached. It’s a random act of kindness. As a bonus, don’t seek accolades on social media for it. The best intentions will undoubtedly bring an unhappy person with some kind of crass comment.
Maybe it’s letting a frantic mom go ahead of you in line at the grocery store or holding open a door for a slow walker behind you. You might even pick up someone else’s trash. Please note that kindness does not mean people pleasing all the time.
21. Learn something new every day.
We’ll get you started—have you ever wondered why the phrase “Happy as a clam” is a thing? It refers to clams at high tide. Since they are covered in water, nobody is going to pick them, and that (in theory) makes them happy they can keep living their clam life instead of being fried up for dinner.
The first usage of it was in 1833. See how happy it makes you to know that? Or at least how awesome it was to spend 15 seconds reading that and not worrying about something else?
How to Embrace These Rules to Live By
You start by using the word “embrace” instead of “sticking to” or “abiding by.” As soon as a rule feels like a chore, it’s going to get stuck up there with cleaning the dryer vent.
- Rules vs. Guidelines: You’re more likely to embrace rules that come with flexibility, so treat them as guidelines. Rules feel like pass/fail, whereas guidelines can be measured in percentages.
- Accountability: The thing with rules is that they come with accountability. Are you going to punish yourself for Twitter War 3? Use journaling to track your progress, and don’t ground yourself if you weren’t the best version of yourself on a given day.
- Sharing: Let your friends and family know your game plan and reinforce it as it comes up. You don’t need to host a brunch with a PowerPoint of your rules. Just say, “I’m adjusting my mindset on a few things, and I’d love your support.”
- Scoring: You can score your happiness on a given day and then see how it changes over time. Were you 80% happy? 40% happy? Do you notice a trend of always being less than 50% happy on Thursdays? What’s up with that?
Every day you wake up and make choices beyond clothing and breakfast. You choose how you’ll approach the mental, physical, and emotional challenges of a day. You make that choice throughout the day. A day only starts bad and gets worse if you let it.
Having these parameters helps you stay in your happiness lane even when Jesus needs to take the wheel.