6 Simple Habits To Keep You Consistently Happy Every Day

Buffer CEO and founder Joel Gascoigne tells us the secret to his happiness regime.

It’s a little over three years since I first had the idea for Buffer, and I’ve started to notice a few patterns amongst the ups and downs that come with building a startup.

One of the most important things I’ve learned during this time is that I perform the best when I’m happy. It really does change everything. If I’m happy then I’m more productive when hacking code, I’m better at answering support, and I find it easier to stay focused.

I’ve found that there are a few key habits which, for me, act as great rituals for enabling me to be consistently happy. They also act as anchor activities to bring my happiness level back up quickly whenever I have a period where I’m not feeling 100%. Here are six of the things I do:

1. Wake up early

One of the things I love about running my own startup is that I have complete freedom to experiment with my daily routine.

Through experimentation, I’ve found that waking up early every day makes me feel most invigorated and happy. It gives me a great start to the day, and this almost always leads to a great rest of the day. Over time, I’ve found I crave that “early morning” feeling, a time I can do some great work and be super focused. Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project mentioned something similar a recent article:

“I get up at 6:00 a.m. every day, even on weekends and vacation, because I love it.”

Waking up early every day requires discipline, especially about what time I sleep. Right now, I have a sleep ritual of disengaging from the day at 9:30 p.m. and sleeping at 10 p.m. I now love all aspects of this ritual and with it in place I awake at 6 a.m. feeling fresh.

The power with your mornings is that you will have about 25,000 of them in your life, so there’s a lot of room to experiment.

2. Exercise daily

“We found that people who are more physically active have more pleasant-activated feelings than people who are less active”--Amanda Hyde

In the last three years, I’ve gone from dabbling with exercise to it becoming something I do every weekday without fail. At first I had no idea what to do at the gym, so I asked my brother, who’s a personal trainer. I then went a few times with a good friend and soon I was hooked.

Over time, I developed this into a daily ritual so strong that I feel a pull towards it, and by doing it consistently I feel fantastic and can more easily take on other challenges. I recently discovered that exercise is a keystone habit which paves the way for growth in all other areas. I’ve also found that it helps me to get high-quality sleep each night.

3. Have a habit of disengagement

“The richest, happiest, and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal”--Loehr and Schwarz, The Power of Full Engagement

As I mentioned earlier, a key way I am able to wake up at 6 a.m. is through my ritual of disengaging in the evening. I go for a walk at 9:30 p.m., along a route which I’ve done many times before. Since the route is already decided and is the same every time, I am simply walking and doing nothing else. This prompts reflection and relaxation.

Various thoughts enter and leave my mind during the walk, and I’ve found this to be very healthy. Sometimes I think about the great things I enjoyed that day. Other times I will realise a change I should make in order to be happier day to day. I also feel calm and relaxed by the time I return from my walk, and I can therefore go straight to bed and fall asleep sooner than if I been engaged in my work and had closed my laptop only a few minutes earlier.

We’ve talked before about the power of being either fully engaged or disengaged when we’re doing something, which ties in exactly with this.

4. Regularly help others

One of my most fascinating discoveries about myself so far this year, is how happy it makes me to help others. For some time I had been consistently meeting founders to help them with their startups without realising that it was making me so happy. Then when I read Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard I connected the dots of when I was happy and the activity I was doing: helping others.

I read Ricard’s section on the link between altruism and happiness and everything clicked. Since then, I’ve been consistently helping many startup founders and it’s brought me much happiness through both the challenge of finding ways to help each person, and the feeling that comes when I help the other person discover ways to make faster progress with their current challenges.

In fact, Adam Grant highlights in his latest book, that spending just 100 hours a year on helping others can significantly increase our happiness.

5. Learn new skills – the power of novelty and our brains

“Being in the moment, focusing completely on a single task, and finding a sense of calm and happiness in your work. Flow is exactly that.”--Leo Babauta

One thing I’ve found during my time working on Buffer, is that a key reason I’ve been happy for most of that time is that I’ve consistently had new challenges to take on. It may seem odd that new challenges can equate to happiness, but it is the times when I’ve slipped into a few weeks of working on something I already know well, that have led me to feel less happy than I want to be.

I think a key part of why learning new skills can bring happiness, is that you need to concentrate in order to make progress. The “flow” state has been found to trigger happiness. In addition, when learning something new you are able to learn a lot in a short space of time due to a steep learning curve. For example, in the last two weeks I’ve started learning Android development from scratch and I’ve personally found incredible the amount I know now compared to nothing two weeks ago.

Looking more scientifically at novelty and the brain, there’s also a significant connection showing how our happiness increases. We’ve written about this before here, which might be an interesting read for you.

6. Have multiple ways to “win” each day

Since the above activities are habitual, many days of the week I actually accomplish all of them. If I succeed with all five, I have a truly amazing day and feel fantastic. I have goals for Buffer, and I have goals in my weights routine too. In addition, I try to schedule one or two meetings or Skype calls to help people each day. I do this based on learning from around a year ago through an interview Tim Ferriss had with Matt from 37signals. I’ve mentioned it before on my blog, but it’s so good that I want to repeat it:

“If your entire ego and identity is vested in your startup, where there are certainly factors outside of your control, you can get into a depressive funk that affects your ability to function. So, you should also, let’s say, join a rock climbing gym. Try to improve your time in the mile. Something like that. I recommend at least one physical activity. Then even if everything goes south--you have some horrible divorce agreement with your co-founder--if you had a good week and set a personal record in the gym or on the track or wherever, that can still be a good week.”

So if I start my morning with a gym routine, work on the new Buffer for Business we just launched for example during the day and help two people during lunch, I have four chances to have a great day. It almost always works.

Are there any key activities or habits you’ve found bring you happiness? I’d love to hear from you.

--Joel Gascoigne is the founder and CEO at Buffer. He is focused on the lean startup approach, user happiness, transparency & company culture. Say hi to him anytime @joelgascoigne.

This post originally appeared on Buffer, and is reprinted with permission.

[Image: Flickr user Sodanie Chea]

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23 Comments

  • I totally agree with this! My only twist is maybe a substitute "learn a new skill" with "find a new creative outlet". I find creating and ideating around new diverse topics (outside creativety for just my regular job) keeps me balanced, energized and joyful!

  • I think getting enough sleep is the one of the best things that lead to happiness -- as well as exercise too. I've found when I don't get enough sleep or deprive myself from exercise, my happiness and productivity definitely decreases.

    In addition to these two essential habits, I also look for different ways to find inspiration in my day. So often we're focused on being motivated to become productive human beings, but in reality, it's what inspires us that truly gets us going.

    I also find that having a positive attitude definitely boosts happiness. Even if it's been a super stressful way, I find ways to be thankful for the good things in my life and make the most of the opportunities I already have.

    Finally, talking to loved ones is often a great way to boost happiness. I find after I call my parents, I get a sudden boost of happiness without even realizing it.

  • Great read. One that also has helped me is doing a gratitude list on a regular basis. It's easy to forget your ALL of the many blessings we have and encounter each day. Thanks! Matthew

  • Jon D. Andre

    "Are there any key activities or habits you’ve found bring you happiness? I’d love to hear from you."

    I developed a consistent meditation practice many years ago. Once you understand your mind and the challenges it creates, and how to deal with it, life gets better. Things like worry/stress/anxiety/self-doubt don't affect you as much, and you can side-step a lot of the drama that the mind creates.

    It also lends itself to your #3 and #4 (which you probably know if you read Matthieu Ricard).

    If you are looking for a good resource, Google meditationshift. And, I love Buffer by the way!

  • Michelle DeMarco

    I was on a great routine of waking early for a long while and fell off of it - and it definitely affected everything about my day. Reading this article is inspiring me to get back on the early bandwagon!

  • HI, one thing I do every day is being kind with me, in my internal chats I use empathic conversation with me, this help me to release and stay focus. Thanks for this 6 ways to improve my happiness.

  • My happiness came from detachment :)...sounds like a cliche I know...but its not for me...the world is amazingly different when detached. I'm not talking about detachment from matter here...but from the more important ones such as habits, illusions, opinions, destructive feelings, thoughts and actions...

  • Maria de Souza

    Great article! Thanks for sharing! I've found what makes me happy every day is getting sufficient sleep, eating a simple but delicious and nutritious breakfast of oatmeal with a banana, blueberries, and ground flaxseed and my favorite pineapple mango juice and either ginger or green tea with raw local honey, having a clean, uncluttered, and organized house to wake up to, talking with a great friend, and helping others.

  • Joshua Jordison

    Great article and some great points. The best thing I've done for myself is waking-up at 4:30AM Monday - Friday and spending the first few hours exercising, eating a great breakfast and meditating on my day.

    It's my "selfish time" that allows me to focus the rest of my day on others (clients, friends, girlfriend, family etc).

  • Mae Gardnermills

    I enjoy getting up at 3am. It just seems natural for me. I write more. The house is silent. It is peaceful.

  • Erlinda Flores

    Hi I'm Linda you're right sleeping early and exercising at 8:30am for me is good thats walking around the block for 30 minutes with my ipad on listening to music I love and yes helping others make me happy too even a smile to neighbors I meet when I go out make me feel good and meditation a silent moments for myself makes me relax and before I forget massage or spa that is also one that makes me happy thanks for your message.

  • A common thread among these great tips is humility. It's humbling to go to the gym, where some days you're slower around the track or can't lift as much as yesterday. It's humbling to pick up a new hobby or activity, especially one that really stretches you because at the beginning you're going to suck! The sweater you're learning to knit will look wonky, which teaches us patience and perseverance as we rip it out and try again. Of course, helping others is the most humbling thing we can do - it's so valuable to listen with compassion, remind ourselves that we've been there and be aware of the opportunities in our life that allow us to be able to help. Thanks for the article!

    1. Eliminate hangovers.
    2. Take yourself on an art date once a month. (Movies don't count -- no screens!)
    3. Don't dwell on mistakes.
    4. Smell your kids heads, hug the dog, scratch the cat.
    5. Cook.
    6. Make the effort to keep discovering new books, music, images.
    7. Release worry about things you can not control. (Make a list! Amazingly simple and helpful.)
    8. Take a walk.
    9. Watch one hour less television daily, YMMV.
    10. Work with your hands as often as possible! Tend yard, knit sweaters, sand furniture, etc.
  • Elisabetta Favero

    Thanks for this, I could not agree more. I have a lot of difficulty in taking a step back from my work and I found over the years that it helps me to be wrapped up by art, whatever form it takes: immersing myself into the life project of another human being and deciphering what it means for me give me perspective and a sense of wonder....

  • This might be a interesting read to you and for you. There are a multiple of ways to keep your happy every day. This article hits on some of them. Thank you Joel Gascoigne ,the founder and CEO at Buffer for sharing some of your ways. You have just helped millions upon millions of people with this one post. One word describes it all : Empowering

  • How awesome to find all these empowering ideas in one post! I'm glad to see I'm already doing most of this. Even more excited to try a couple of new things here.

    Another thing that makes me happy, which you haven't mentioned, is laughing with my kids. No matter how lousy the day has been, or how tired I am, everything is better when I get silly with them. Hearing them laugh without abandon and inhibition makes me happy.

    And the physical act of laughing itself probably increases the feel-good hormones in our body. I'm pretty sure we can find some scientific evidence of that somewhere :)