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5 Traits of Genuinely Happy People


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Have you ever come across someone who’s genuinely happy?

No matter what’s going on in their life, they seem content and satisfied.  They’re calm even when life is chaotic, difficult, and messy.  And they often seem wise beyond their years.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing several wonderful souls who are truly happy.  Unfortunately, two of them recently passed.  As always occurs when people I care about pass away, it got me thinking about their lives and what could be learned from them.

And strangely, I started thinking about my grandfather Charlie (who passed away over 19 years ago).  Why?

3 Contrasting Lives, 1 Thing in Common

My uncle Hal was a self-described curmudgeon bachelor, but with a sensitive and kind heart and an eye for beauty (as was demonstrated in his paintings).

My grandfather Charlie was a quiet, reserved man who had the ability to pull the best out of people.  He was a natural-born leader who was very much a member of The Greatest Generation.

My friend Cheryl was a self-described fashionista, foodie, and global gypsy.  She was physically frail and tiny yet mentally tough-as-nails and was one of the best mothers I’ve ever known.

All three of these folks led contrasting lives and had incredibly different personalities.  But despite their differences, each of them were genuinely happy.

What could possibly be similar about them, given their marked differences?  In looking deeper, I’ve identified 5 traits that each of my friend Cheryl, my grandfather Charlie, and my uncle Hal had that contributed to their happiness:

Trait #1: Genuinely Happy People Know What True Happiness Is

They Understand What It Really Means to Be Happy

You can’t be truly happy if you don’t understand what happiness is or how to be happy.  I’ve talked at length about happiness – both on this blog and elsewhere.  But as a friendly refresher:

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Happiness isn’t about positivity. It’s about understanding who you are and proactively making decisions that you’re satisfied and content with regardless of your circumstances” quote=”Happiness isn’t about positivity. It’s about understanding who you are and proactively making decisions that you’re satisfied and content with regardless of your circumstances”]

To be happy, you must (1) understand yourself, (2) accept yourself, and (3) make decisions that align with what you value in life.

What Happiness Looks Like When Life Gets Messy

Charlie struggled with ALS and emphysema for years prior to his death.  My friend Cheryl had a rare cancer that she battled the last few years of her life.  Hal had an aggressive skin cancer and a circulatory issue that made it incredibly painful to walk during the last year of his life.

All three of them struggled both physically and mentally as a result of their illnesses.  Yet they still were genuinely happy people.

How?  Each one understood who they were and what they valued most and lived as best they could, given their circumstances. 

They did this by living life purposefully (or as Cheryl would say, by living authentically).  This meant that they carefully aligned their daily decisions with their values and priorities. 

And they didn’t worry about being perfect or being positive all the time.  They just strove to be themselves.

[Recommended Reading: learn how to choose happiness in How to Choose Happiness Even When Things Go Wrong].


How to choose happiness blog title picture

Trait #2: People Who are Truly Happy Accept What Is

Happy people accept that life happens

Life is messy, difficult, painful, scary, and sometimes even boring.  Happy people don’t just get this, they accept it. But there’s more to it than mere acceptance.

Because acceptance isn’t the same thing as agreement.

Part of the reason genuinely happy people are happy in the first place is because they’re always working to make themselves and their lives better.  Even – especially – when life is messy, hard, and chaotic.

Before I go any further, I want to clarify something.  Pretending things aren’t as bad as they are and/or holding to unreasonable, false hope isn’t what I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in miracles and I know first-hand that things can take a sharp turn for the better when you least expect it.  The key is to not count on these things to happen.

The Interrelationship Between Traits #1 and #2

Happy people understand that there are no guarantees in life yet don’t allow that to bring them down.  They still have hope, mostly because they understand that life is a journey of immense ups and downs and they know they’re internally capable of weathering any storm.

This trait is about living life to its fullest no matter what’s going on.  And part of living life to the fullest is doing whatever is in your power to improve your life and your circumstances.

Note the interconnection between this concept and Trait #1.  If you can get to a place where you’re living authentically (as Cheryl would put it), then you’re more likely to accept what is regardless of your circumstances.

How to Accept Without Approving

Because of his illnesses, Charlie was physically limited during the last 5 years of life.  Yet he never let it stop him from enjoying life or doing the things that he wanted.  And, although he was incredibly proud, he let people help him when needed.

My friend Cheryl never let her cancer stop her.  She continued to do everything she could for her friends and family and continued writing (she blogged and wrote for numerous local publications).  In fact, she seemed to take on more after her cancer diagnosis.

Both Cheryl and Charlie were honest about their current circumstances and limitations, yet still lived their lives.  If you asked them how they were doing, they were honest with you yet not down about it.

They didn’t allow their illnesses to define them.  Instead, they understood that it was a part of their life and continued to live life as best as they could.

[Recommended Reading: For more about making the choice to be happy (and what happiness really is), read How to Redefine Yourself Into Happiness].


What it looks like to have happiness

Trait #3: Happy People Focus On Who They Are

When You Focus On Who, You Don’t Worry What Others Will Think

Genuinely happy people don’t stress or worry over what others think about them.  Instead, they concentrate on what they think of themselves based on who they are and how they behave.

This is primarily about being able to look yourself in the mirror and feel good about the person you see.  Do you see someone who’s making decisions that align with what you value in life?  Are you treating others with respect and care?

By doing this, you’ll be happier with yourself and hence much happier in life.  And when you live this way, the right people will think well of you (so you don’t need to worry about that).

I want to make clear that this isn’t about being perfect or not having any regrets.  Quite the contrary, it’s about accepting your imperfections yet striving to do your best.  And being okay with making mistakes.

This trait is about honesty – being honest with yourself so that you can learn from your mistakes and then move on.

How this Works

My uncle Hal is a perfect example of this trait.  Although he didn’t worry or stress over what others thought about him (and would often shrug his shoulders if he heard that someone didn’t think he was their cup of tea), he was very careful to live up to his own expectations.

He understood that not everyone would like him, but the right folks would be attracted to him if he lived purposefully and treated others with respect and dignity.

[Recommended Reading: Worry about what others might think?  Overcome these feelings with 5 Effective Tools to Stop Living in Fear and Worry].


Featured Image for How to Stop Living In Fear Article


Trait #4: People Who are Genuinely Happy Adopt an Attitude of Service

What it Means to Serve Others

Many people misunderstand what it means to serve others.  Some believe that it’s dis-empowering.  And yet some people feel that it’s about putting others before yourself.

But neither is right.

Adopting an attitude of service (and prioritizing service) is about respecting and caring for others and yourself.  And there’s nothing that says you can’t serve both yourself and others at the same time (the two aren’t mutually exclusive).

What’s important is understanding that service isn’t merely an act.  It’s an attitude that infuses who you are.  I’d argue that you’re not truly serving if you’re doing it because you feel that you “have to” or “should”.

Also, service comes in many forms – in both large and small ways.  And sometimes the small things have the biggest impact.

The Connection Between Service and Being Genuinely Happy

Why does having an attitude of service result in happiness?  First, it’s good for the soul and brings with it joy.  In fact, studies show that serving others increases positivity and even happiness.

But there’s more to it than that: it’s an act of belonging and fellowship with your fellow man.  People are here to connect with one another and service is one of the most pure forms you have to connect with others in a meaningful way.

How to Adopt an Attitude of Service Through Simple Acts

My grandfather Charlie taught me what it means to serve.  He served in his Church, through charitable activities, and through donations.  But more importantly, he served everyone he met.

Charlie believed that all human beings are worthy – and treated them as such.  Because of this belief, he prioritized listening.  And boy did he listen intently to everyone he spoke with regardless of socioeconomic status, background, race, gender, etc.

I remember overhearing a conversation that he had at his local Exxon station with the mechanic when I was about 12.   When we left, I asked him why he so often strikes up conversations with people (including strangers).  Here’s what he said:

“Everyone has something to teach you.  Be sure to be curious, ask, and listen.”

My friend Cheryl also represented this attitude of service, but in her own unique way.  As mentioned above, Cheryl was a writer and she had a blog based in her love of food.  But the blog wasn’t just about her.

She wanted to help families be adventurous with food and she utilized her gifts to help people do that.  That’s service.

Trait #5: Truly Happy People Let Go

The Connection Between Happiness and Letting Go

Genuinely happy people practice the fine art of letting go.  I call this an art for a reason.  As with most skills, it takes constant practice and work.

So, what does it mean to let go?  Letting go means:

  • Not trying to control the things that are uncontrollable, such as other people’s opinions of you, the choices others make, and circumstances out of your control. This is easier to do once you adopt Trait #3 discussed above.
  • Not being tied to a specific outcome by accepting that, even when you’re working toward a goal or want something to happen, it might not turn out as planned. This skill requires you to understand the difference between acceptance and approval.
  • Being honest with yourself about mistakes and regrets while also accepting them as-is, so that they don’t take control over your life.

Letting Go of the Uncontrollable

I remember talking with Cheryl several years ago about how difficult it is to get noticed and grow a blog.  Cheryl told me that she had been following all the “rules” about how to grow her blog and was ready to stop stressing over it.

She recognized that she was doing her part and venturing into territory that she couldn’t control.  It was time to let go.

Interestingly, letting go seemed to help her blog grow.  I don’t pretend to know how many readers she had at that time or exactly how much it grew thereafter.  But I do know that she noticeably grew shortly after we had this chat.

[Related ReadingThe Importance of Letting Go of Control So You Can Stop Trying So Hard and Instead Feel at Peace].


Picture of Woman Who is at Peace after Letting Go of Control

How Not to Tie Yourself to a Specific Outcome

My grandfather Charlie grew tomatoes and had some of the most beautiful rose bushes I’ve ever seen.  He put a lot of work into his garden.  But despite all his hard work, sometimes things didn’t turn out as expected.

One year after we had a lot of rain, several of his rose bushes died.  I asked him if he was upset and he responded that he couldn’t control why it happened and wasn’t going to get upset over stuff he had zero control over.

And then he told me not to get attached to my expectations, as life has a way of surprising and challenging you.  To make that easier to do, he told me to:

  • focus on what you put in;
  • do your best; and
  • identify what you can learn from every experience.

Doing this allows you to focus on your personal growth, which happens to be the outcome you ultimately want.

Living with Regrets

My uncle Hal wasn’t always a bachelor.  Unfortunately, he married someone who, it turned out, married him to gain US citizenship (and divorced him shortly thereafter).  This deeply scarred him.

Because of this experience he never remarried.  But he later regretted that he never remarried (he would have made a fabulous father and husband).

Instead of letting this regret drag him down, he perceived it as a fact.  He admitted that it would always be there, yet he didn’t allow it to control him.  It’s not something he thought about a lot and it certainly didn’t influence his decisions or how he lived his life.

That’s how to deal with the things you regret.

How to Be Genuinely Happy

You don’t find happiness (which is why so few people searching for it ever find it).  You choose it.  And happiness isn’t a destination – it’s a journey.

Learn from Cheryl, Charlie, and Hal.  Three beautiful souls who understood that happiness takes work.  Simply put: they worked at it and chose to be happy.

And you can too!

To get started, be clear about what you value most in life as opposed to what society, your family, your friends, etc. value.  They’re not the same. This step is crucial to being happy.

Not sure what your values are or how to get clear around them?  I’ve got you covered.  Download the Inner Inner Compass Values Assessment workbook to (1) discover what your core values are, and (2) uncover your next steps to living your values.  You’ll quickly become (1) happier, (2) more self-confident, and (3) in control of your life.

Download your free workbook here:


Until next time…

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Hey there, I’m Heather.

Recovering lawyer, executive coach and master of making the complex suuuuper simple.

Lover of queso and dark chocolate (I know, weird combo) + all things Texas Longhorns who’s driven to help lawyers and other high-achievers succeed in BOTH career and life (at the same time).

My 18+ years of practicing law, building my business and balancing it all with a real life taught me that you CAN have a fulfilling + profitable career without sacrificing your health or settling for less.

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