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15 Things Happy People Do Differently

Amita Patel, LMSW
Licensed Social Worker
By Amita Patel, LMSW
Licensed Social Worker
Amita Patel, LMSW, is the owner and founder of, a coaching services company that empowers individuals to achieve their goals and make them stick. She received master's degrees from New York University in both philanthropy and fundraising, and clinical and medical social work. Her unique, no-nonsense, holistic approach combines nutrition, physical activity, relationships, career, and personal philosophy. Patel has been featured on CBS, NBC, and the Huffington Post.
Photo by Stocksy

Most of us wait to be happy until we've achieved a goal.

Whether it's getting a kick-ass job, finding a loving partner or making the perfect frittata, the end goal of every endeavor is, in some form, happiness. Right?

The problem is that our best efforts to "find" happiness simply dig us deeper into the ditch. This well-intentioned move actually sabotages our success. If you're ready to get out of your own way, check out the secrets of what happy people do differently:

1. They listen to their inner critic.

At first glance, this seems counterintuitive. We all know the inner critic. It is that little naysaying nag that lives in your head whose sole purpose is to convince you that you suck. If you've tried to ignore it, you probably know that it's easier said than done.

The truth is that your inner critic is a strength that's dialed up too high. It existed at one point to help you feel safe, but as an adult, it no longer serves you. If you try to push it down, it will eventually rear its ugly head in an equally ugly way.

The Solution: Instead of rejecting your inner critic, get curious and listen to what it's really trying to tell you. What fear is it projecting onto the situation? And what do other parts of you have to say in response? No decision is one-sided, so why not go from a monologue to a dialogue? Happy people allow each voice in their head to have a turn to speak: the angel, the devil and everything in between.

2. They embrace the fear of the unknown (rather than the certainty of where they are).

It's easier to choose certainty, even if painful, than risk the unknown. Think about it: that's why we keep bad habits around. They are, on some level, comforting.

But if you're unhappy in your current situation, no amount of gratitude or affirmations will help if you don't actively choose to make it better. And if you're rationalizing not following your dreams as "being practical" or if you're still thinking "things really aren't that bad," just remember most people only take action when the pain of their current situation becomes greater than their fear of the unknown.

The Solution: You can wait to hit rock-bottom, or you can cut to the part where you embrace change. If you aren't happy, it's not sustainable. Eventually, something will have to change. So get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.

3. They get shit done.

After pulling an all-nighter, a friend in college said to me, "Procrastination is a lot like masturbation, it's great until you realize you're f***ing yourself." Though crass, she had a good point.

The Solution: Identify the limiting belief that's preventing you from taking action. Then, act "as if" you were the person taking action. Acknowledge your fear, but act anyway. Happy people take time to notice their track record of successes. Then, they recall that list to dispel fear around taking a new action.

4. They accept that failure is part of the process.

The fear of failure is nothing more than a desire to feel safe. But this kind of "safety" keeps us stagnant. We tend to forget that making a mistake doesn't make you a "failure." Seen differently, it's nothing more than a learning experience.

The Solution: Next time you make a mistake, ask, "What did I learn? What worked? How can I fine-tune things next time?" And if you feel like you're the only one who's ever failed, look at every artist, entrepreneur, or virgin and you'll be in great company.

5. They forgive their past mistakes.

Sure, you've made mistakes. Lots of them. Hopefully, you learned from them. But if you're still holding onto the pain and guilt instead of surrendering and forgiving yourself, it may be time to develop compassion. It can be painful and challenging, but it's the first step to letting go of your old story and writing a new one.

The Solution: Release it. Beating yourself up simply ensures you'll never move forward. Happy people focus on who they want to be and what they want to create in the future.

6. They strop trying to control everything.

I used to jokingly say, "I'm not manipulative, I'm an outcome engineer." While that deep need for control kept me safe, it also kept me stuck. Surrendering an outcome taught me that letting go of what I think I want (whether that be a guy or a job title) creates the space for bigger and better things to flow into my life.

The Solution: Trying to control things blocks you from creating space for growth. Happy people change what they can, surrender what they can't and know the difference.

7. They're interdependent instead of codependent.

If you rely on others for happiness, you're blocking your ability to give it to yourself. Your relationships with others should mirror the happiness and love you have for yourself. Prioritizing yourself isn't selfish. If you've ever put others first and then resented them for it, you only have yourself to blame. Setting boundaries is the best way to avoid an emotional hangover.

The Solution: Quit waiting to be saved; it's time to save yourself. What steps can you take to empower yourself? If you're new to setting boundaries, compromise on little things, not on your values. You can repeat old patterns or choose what's right for you.

8. They do things they actually WANT to do.

If your social life is more exhausting than exciting, it may be time to re-evaluate your "obligations". Sure, it may seem like you need to stop by your second cousin's Christmas party. But if you aren't making time for yourself, you're likely to burn out faster than it takes you to down the eggnog. An hour with a negative person is more physically and emotionally exhausting than an hour on the treadmill.

The Solution: Choose where to invest your energy. Still feel the pull of an obligation? Ask yourself, what would someone with self-compassion do in this situation? Happy people act "as if" they deserve greatness, and then truly own it once they've built the "I deserve greatness" muscle.

9. They take responsibility.

If there's one thing I learned from my first 10 years in therapy, it's that everything I blamed someone else for was my fault and everything I blamed myself for was someone else's fault (bluntly put, but accurate). This taught me two things:

  • Culpability doesn't change a situation.
  • No matter who's at fault or who takes responsibility, you have the ability to change your situation.

It's easy to get caught in the "I wish things were different" cycle, but all that does is keep you stuck.

The Solution: Take responsibility, not simply for what happened, but for what you want to create. Happy people know that self-awareness gives them the courage and humility to feel accountable.

10. They don't try to fix people.

Even if you could change others, you still wouldn't be happy. Why? Because it's less about fixing and more about feeling safe. Accept others for who they are, not who you'd like them to be.

The Solution: Change what you can control: you. Happy people adjust their expectations or let them go.

11. They accept their flaws.

It's great to do your best, but if your happiness is dependent on specific outcomes, you'll set yourself up for disappointment. Nothing is perfect, and it's rare that things go entirely to plan.

The Solution: Sure, you want to conquer the world, but if you're killing yourself in the process you may be achieving in order to feel validated and worthy. Happy people ask, "What can I do to give this to myself instead?"

12. They make jealousy work for them.

Many of us have heard the saying, "Comparison is the thief of joy." And in actuality, it's an act of violence. You may choose to believe that you are lacking, and that others are living amazingly abundant, kick-ass lives. But the truth is that you have no clue what's going on behind their trendy Instagram posts.

The Solution: Happy people know that comparison is not about the other person, but a tool to tell you what you want in life. Inspiration is the healthy byproduct of jealousy. If you're hyper-focused on what you don't have, you'll never notice all the great things you do have. And if you still need to compare, do it with yourself. Aim to get happier, healthier, and stronger than you were the day before.

13. They know that other people's opinions are just other people's opinions.

Most people determine how they're doing by consciously or unconsciously soliciting other people's opinions. And since you're hard-wired to try to impress people, you're usually trying to please those who can't be moved.

The Solution: Other people's views are not more relevant than your own. It doesn't matter if they are older, more successful or better educated. Their opinion is simply that: an opinion, nothing more. Happy people decide what's right for them no matter who disagrees.

14. They ask for help.

Nobody knows everything. Most people simply fake it. In a world that encourages self-sufficiency, most of us avoid being vulnerable at all costs. It's a manifestation of fear, whether it's a desire to seem perfect, a fear of abandonment, or the need to be liked.

The Solution: There's no weakness in asking for help. Just be sure to ask the right people. Happy people ask the person who has what they want. Your partner, friends, and parents, though convenient, aren't necessarily the best sources.

15. They savor the good stuff.

It's easy to focus on problems, what's going wrong, and the crazy shit other people do. In fact, we overwhelm ourselves with it, making it nearly impossible to see the good stuff.

The Solution: Next time something good happens, stop and actually appreciate it. Slow down and savor it. Notice the nuances: the sights, sounds and smells that make the moment amazing. Practice savoring and you'll be conditioned to notice the things that make you happy and not just the crap that brings you down.

The Take-away:

The happiest people I know make decisions every day to stay that way. After all, on the other side of the coin, self-sabotage isn't a one-time act. It's a process.

No one is happy all the time. But if you're sabotaging your best efforts by judging yourself, avoiding responsibility, or controlling others, you're ensuring that you'll stay in this state forever. Ultimately, happiness isn't just a mood. It's a lifestyle and a choice.

Amita Patel, LMSW author page.
Amita Patel, LMSW
Licensed Social Worker

Amita Patel, LMSW, is the owner and founder of, a coaching services company that empowers individuals to achieve their goals and make them stick. She received master's degrees from New York University in both philanthropy and fundraising, and clinical and medical social work. Today, as a coach, writer, and wellness expert, Patel works with individuals to break through their barriers and embrace lifestyle change from the inside-out. Her no-nonsense holistic approach combines nutrition, physical activity, relationships, career influence, and personal philosophy. She has been featured on CBS, NBC, and the Huffington Post.