8 Ways to a Happier YouAchieving your dream life doesn’t just take smarts or ambition. It also requires these eight traits. Think of them as your happiness list, and use it to get more out of life.
Everyone wants to be happy. And successful. Trouble is, happiness and success are so amorphous, so hard to define, that it can be tough to know how to make them happen. But what if you could focus on doing a few easy things that would let you be the best, most upbeat version of you? We talked to experts and came up with a list of eight crucial character traits, whittled down from a longer roster of 24 traits devised by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., and Martin Seligman, Ph.D., leaders in the field of positive psychology, the study of what makes people happy. We call them the great eight, and each one will help you reach your potential in a slightly different way, whether by having deeper relationships or by zeroing in on your work strengths. Try the tips on these pages to bring them out in yourself, then prepare yourself: Your life is about to get better, happier and more fulfilling than ever.
What it is: Doing what’s in line with your most fundamental goals, even when you’re tempted to stray.
Why it matters: Self-control pushes you to make the difficult choice (go to the gym) over the immediately appealing option (sleep) for a result that will eventually pay off (a better bod). College students who scored high on self-control not only earned better grades but also were less depressed and anxious, had stronger personal bonds and hardier self-esteem, and had fewer struggles with food, the Journal of Personality notes.
How to get more: “Think, talk or blog about what you’re ultimately aiming for and why,” says Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., author of The Willpower Instinct. “The more it’s top of mind, the more automatic doing the right thing will become.” Plus, studies show that when you consistently make hard choices in one area of life (for example, your diet), you’ll feel more willpower in others. (Suddenly, going for runs and tackling that work project feel easier. Go figure.)
What it is: The raw endurance, perseverance and passion that keep you going despite obstacles.
Why it matters: Realizing big dreams takes work. When researchers at the University of Pennsylvania asked people in various fields, from banking to art, to describe star performers, grit came up over and over. (It’s also closely linked with a higher college GPA.) Being gritty isn’t always fun. Says Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor: “It can mean working 24/7 if that’s what it takes.” That’s why grit requires passion. It’s easier to plug away at a goal if you’re fired up.
How to get more: You can develop grit by taking what Peterson calls long cuts rather than shortcuts. “Build up your grit gradually, like a muscle,” Peterson says. For instance, if you’re psyched about cooking, make a homemade version of your favorite take-out dish. Love politics? Crack an in-depth article about your favorite candidate, instead of scanning headlines. “Engaging fully takes extra time, and that’s the point. You’ll develop mental stamina.”
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