How to Be Happy: Five Science-Backed Routines That I Wish I Learned a Decade Ago


I used to hate happy people. Everything just seemed so easy for them. They would have a healthy breakfast, have time for exercise, have really clear goals and succeed at work, still have time for hobbies and sleep really well at night.

I used to think that they must have had lots of things go right in their life for them to be able to do all these things. I was really jealous that their lives were just so sorted.

I, meanwhile, would lurch out of bed from having slept badly, drag myself to work, grab a takeout breakfast, work long hours, have no time for friends, sleep badly again, and be so exhausted at the end of the week that I just wanted to hide under my covers and see no one and do nothing.

And I desperately wanted a different kind of life.

So I started researching happiness and how to be happy. (That’s an embarrassing thing to Google, I tell you what!)

And you know what? I realised I had it all backwards.

It’s not that happy people exercise. People are happy because they exercise. Same with all the other things. All the things they were doing were the things that made it easier for them to be happy.

It was quite a mind-bender for me, so I’m going to lay it out for oyu.

1. Exercise

Did you know that exercise helps you de-stress? If you’ve had a frustrating day, you can go home and binge on Netflix, but you still feel just as frustrated the next day. Popping some exercise into that calendar? Well – it’s a natural tool to help you de-stress.

For me, I just got for a morning walk a few times a week. Nothing fancy. But it counts.

Exercise is also great at helping you solve problems, be more creative and you’ll sleep better. If you combine it with a group sport, you could also make new friends.

2. Eating healthy

There’s new research showing us that serotonin, the chemical in our brain which makes us feel happier, actually comes from our gut. In fact, 90% of it comes from our gut.

What that means is that what we eat directly impacts our mood. If your diet is mostly things like vegetables which are loaded with nutrients – you will change the way you feel.

Another study was recently released linking high-fat diets with depression, too, due to their impact on the hypothalamus. 

For me, I also found cutting out sugar to avoid sugar crashes to be life-changing – and it forced me to be more creative with finding new delicious veggies to snack on!

3. Goal setting

Goal setting is really important to happiness. Creating a big goal, and breaking it down into smaller steps so that we can achieve it gives us purpose, a sense of fulfilment and a bit of a challenge.

It might be to travel to a specific country. Or to write a book. Or run a business. Or buy a house. Or to volunteer to help an organisation.

It comes down to thinking about what you value in life, spending some time thinking about what you want to do on this planet, then coming up with a goal around that.

Breaking down that into goals you can achieve in little pieces over time is a really simple way of becoming happier. Each day, you feel you’re moving towards that goal.

Recommended read: Your Dream Life Starts Here | Kristina Karlsson

4. Having hobbies

Our brains need rest and time off from work to keep working, and hobbies are a great way to do that. And, studies show that having hobbies increases long term happiness – even if they are a little stressful to learn at first!

I personally found hobbies even more important because it helped me with my low self-esteem. Having a thing to work on for the pure pleasure of it – where no one was grading me or marking me – helped me feel confident in my place in the world as, just, well, me.

I also had some hobbies that were part of social groups, which helped me feel a part of a community, and are a big part of my life and giving back. So hobbies don’t just need to be on your own. And, in fact, being a part of a community is tied to long life.

Carving out time in your week to learn a new skill or have a hobby is important.

5. Sleeping well

There is a lot you can do to create a better bedtime routine. In the end, it’s telling your mind and body that you’re ready for a big snooze. Doing things like turning off screens an hour before bed, reading, mentally unwinding through meditation or journaling, having a hot shower, and going to bed at the same time train your body that it’s time to sleep.

There are plenty of routines you can work on so that over time, your body learns it’s ready to go to bed. We may not always have a perfect night sleep, but we can put lots of different tactics in place to have a much better sleep.

The flow on effect? When you sleep well, then you’re much more functional and able to plan a healthy meal breakfast, too!


By now you can see that these things all really work well together, and that’s it’s all pretty interconnected. Exercise can help you sleep better, and when you’re well-rested you can make healthy food – all of which contributes to overall happiness. Then, you’ve got the headspace to work on hobbies and goals which again, make you happier.

Now, happiness is super complex. Let’s be honest, life doesn’t dole out tough times evenly to people, some people have health issues, and some of happiness is defined by genetics. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth giving these new routines a red hot go and see how they change your life.

Because if you’ve got good routines around health, exercise and sleep, when times get tough, you’re already in a better space mentally to deal with these challenges.

But I was really, genuinely surprised that when I started making these changes in my life, that over time, I actually did feel happier.

  • I cut down sugar and started eating legit vegetables every day
  • I set up a sleep routine
  • I exercise once a week (yes, I totally could do more!)
  • I reflect on big goals and think of how I can make little steps to work towards them
  • I carve out time each week to work on hobbies.

For me, shifting my diet first was the thing that made the biggest difference and it made everything else easier because I had the mental energy to try the other things.

The other thing that I want to highlight is that none of this costs money. You don’t need to be rich to do any of this.

You don’t need to buy a new fancy new pillow or join a gym, or a diet program, or a mastermind group. Just change your routines. That’s it.

In fact, with the exception of your weekly groceries, all of these can be done for free.

The other cool thing: this stuff is all backed by science.

If you’re feeling frustrated with your life, and are secretly jealous of happy people, then take some steps to become a happier person, by changing your routines to make it a little bit easier to be that happier person you want to be.

DIY inspo

Pick one of the old routines you want to change. Write a to-do list of the things you need to do to change what you do each week to make it achievable.

Start with small things: instead of cooking healthy meals every day if you don’t yet know how to cook, just start with learning one meal and get into the routine of cooking it.

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