40 Keys To Lasting Happiness

Hưng Nguyễn

Look. I’m like you. I abhor lists like this. They’re all the fucking same. A minion sits down at a keyboard after having just had a birthday, or just gotten married, or just secured their first round of seed funding, or — even worse — just after they’ve read a self-help book, distills their “expertise” into clickbait, and preaches to you that if you just do somewhere between 3 and 100 tasks all the time that you will unlock a blissful utopia within the inner recess of your soul, find everlasting love, live in a perpetual state of abundance, and radiate a cosmic energy that people will find irresistible.

That shit’s not workable. There’s not 36 hours in a day. You’re not a superhero. Stop setting your expectations that high. Instead, let’s take a deep breath and work on incremental change — which everyone knows is the key to success in everything anyway.

In that spirit, I’ve scoured the Internet for you — or, at least, every reputable website I could find (all due respect to Mind Body Green) and cross-checked every happiness/success master list, and documented every happiness hack on which a plurality of these content factories could agree. I’ve presented this list below in no discernible order, since there’s no real wrong order to make progress, with the intention that this list feels a little less hollow than the vapid, patronizing Self-Help Industrial Complex would.

I do promise you this: If you do these things a little more often than you currently do, no, you will not suddenly spend your life sipping Prosecco on a Yacht at sunrise while kissing the love of your life under the sun just off the Amalfi Coast. As a matter of fact, if that’s important to you, the whole trip — flight / AirBnB / Yacht / Prosecco — will run you approximately $1,836 to do one time, so if that falls somewhere in the zip code of your definition of #lifegoals, there’s the bar you need to clear.

I’ll make you one more promise before I present the list: If you do any or all of these things a little more often than you currently do, yes, you will find your life to be less stressful, more meaningful, happier, wealthier and healthier. How much? Depends how often you do them. Maybe 5%. Maybe 500%. But definitely a number greater than 0%, barring circumstances outside your control. I’ve also, where applicable, identified a “dosage” for you, a metric existing in a squishy space somewhere between maximum benefit and minimum effort.


1. Call your immediate family, as often as once a week.

2. Schedule time to hang out with your 5–15 best friends, one evening per week and/or one afternoon per weekend.

3. Say “thank you” literally every time you feel like you should, as genuinely and graciously as possible.

4. Help people achieve their goals, small or large, so long as you’re not the type of person who feels easily slighted or used.

5. Every six months or so, identify what you’d like to do in the next six months or so. You could probably get away with doing this yearly. Five-year plans are too long and too Soviet.

6. Eat food that you love to eat. Both hunger and life are finite. Make the most of them.

7. That said: Eat more fruits and vegetables. Potentially as much as 80% of your food by volume. Just, you know … when you get around to it.

8. Always have a project. It doesn’t matter if it’s building a bar cart, or cross-stitching a vulgar pillow, or writing Dallas Cowboys slash fiction, or pickling your own artisan kimchi. Projects bring you satisfaction. Satisfaction brings you confidence. One project at a time is fine.

9. Do things you enjoy doing. Love pinball? Cool. I won’t judge you. Get you a roll of quarters and go full-tilt on a drizzling afternoon. This is the non-goal-directed version of №8. Do something small yet amusing daily. (Not a euphemism.)

10. Schedule something to look forward to. Doesn’t have to be the Amalfi Coast. Call your friend and ask them if they’d like to go to the local Bills Backers bar to watch them get mashed out by the Patriots by 40. Do something like this weekly.

11. Drink coffee or tea. There’s a reason caffeine is the world’s most-consumed substance in the world. Because it works.

12. However much sex you’re having … you could probably stand to have more sex.

13. Exercise. Somewhere between 3–6 hours per week, broken up into 30–60 minute blocks almost daily. Split fairly evenly between strength, sport and cardio. Sure, sex counts, too. And it doesn’t have to be SoulCycle. RegularCycle is fine.

14. Do a small favor for someone. Preferably daily. And don’t tell people about it, unless you want people to think you’re a douchebag.

15. Document your progress in a journal or a spreadsheet or on a pretentious Medium page. Nothing can be improved without first being measured.

16. Keep in regular touch with approximately 150 people. Why 150? Seems to be the number that’s floating around. What’s regular? Probably more often than you currently are with your 3,500 Facebook friends.

17. Wake up earlier. 6 a.m. seems to be the popular target, but anything’s better than 15 minutes before work, you hot mess express.

18. Worship or meditate or practice yoga. Or all three. And if you don’t believe in god, don’t worry, there’s no good reason to start.

19. At night before you go to bed, write down one thing you’d like to do the next day. This is weird, but it’s popular. Like Goat Yoga.

20. Create a “Jar of Awesome” and fill it. This is batshit crazy. But I think it’s closely related to the overly Pinterest-y and homework assignment-y “gratitude journal,” and sounds way more badass.

21. Try new things. Do something slightly different every day, or something moderately different on a regular basis. It emboldens you and makes you interesting. Eat out for Ethiopian. Buy a sex swing. Skydive. Maybe all three.

22. Go outside. Daily, if possible. Apparently, sunlight, exercise, and digital detoxification are all good for you, and this is the lazy way to knock out all three. Speaking of:

23. Go analog. Whenever possible, write in a real journal, read a real book, talk instead of text, and schedule your screen time strategically. It facilitates deeper focus which fosters better flow state. (Though, so can Tetris. See also: №8, №9)

24. Take an annual vacation. Somewhere new, if possible. Somewhere they don’t speak your language, if you can afford it. And use all your vacation days, if you get them.

25. Take a class. Learn a language. Learn to ballroom dance. Learn Tai-Chi. Learn to code. What you learn doesn’t matter as long as you’re learning.

26. Learn something new every day. This is the close cousin of №8, №21, and №25. Again, it doesn’t much matter what.

27. Be kind to others. Given the opportunity. If you’re into making friends.

28. Forgive people. Given the opportunity. If you’re into keeping friends.

29. To the extent that you can, make your role models your close friends. I hack this by making my Facebook “Close Friends” list the people I admire the most. You’ll find yourself subconsciously adapting their (desirable) behaviors. And you’ll forget all about your high school BFF who’s posting political memes with typos.

30. To the extent that you can, do what you love, and find a way to monetize it. Five years ago, I was homeless. I decided if I was going to be broke, I’d be broke as a writer and musician. I started doing both for free. Then I started charging for it. Today, I am still a writer and musician. And I am no longer broke. Even though I work 60+ hours per week, I feel like I still haven’t worked since 2011. (I get that this is a super personal, super specific anecdote and lacks the typical snark of the previous 29 entries.)

31. Celebrate other people’s successes. Throw surprise parties. Never miss a chance to say happy birthday or congratulations.

32. Ask people specific questions about themselves. This is sort of a hybrid of selflessness, empathy, compassion, education, edification and relationship building. This is the slam-dunk, actionable way to do all of that quickly and efficiently.

33. Sleep eight hours. Your mileage may vary.

34. Try not to drink. There’s a million mental, social, physical, emotional and legal benefits to temperance or sobriety, but I’ll label the top-line benefit: Unless you’re drinking *while* doing one of the other things on this list, you’re wasting your time.

35. Try not to smoke. (*Glares at self in mirror.*) You’ll have more oxygen and more energy to do everything else on this list, plus, you know … cancer.

36. Spend time alone doing something other than watching Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. (Just not *too* much time alone, you sociopath.)

37. Shower daily. You know why.

38. Tidy up daily. Clean weekly. Purge monthly. Donate seasonally. Clutter is the NOS button on the superhighway to crazy-town.

39. Read something interesting regularly. Again, preferably analog. Graphic novels? Go nuts. Astral projection guides? Be my guest. As long as it can hold your attention.

40. Cook your own meals. As often as reasonably possible. Depending on context, this could potentially fall under №2, №6, №7, №8, №9, №14, №21, №25, №26, №27, №30, or №36, and could probably lead to №12 if you play your cards right.

In short, perhaps this world would be a significantly better place if we all just learned our way around the kitchen. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

John Gorman is a writer and washout living in Austin, TX. Follow him on Medium here.

Keep up with John on Instagram, Twitter and tcat.tc

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