Habits of the MOST happy and productive people

Everyone wants to be happy. But many people aren’t. Depression and mental health statistics are at alarming levels.

Many successful and rich people aren’t happy. They have money and titles but happiness evades them.


Is happiness a product of success? I argue no. Happiness and positivity are more likely to breed productivity and success than the other way around. In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares:

“We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors who put on a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic sales people outsell their pessimistic counterparts 56%. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive”.

– Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage

(BTW, I highly recommend this book. A great read.)

Insights like the above help us remember that happiness is the first goal.

But despite people’s desire to be happy, there is so much that can get in the way of this simple pursuit. One of the most common obstacles to happiness I see is over-productivity—being overly busy or just busy on the wrong activities. Or even trickier, being busy on good things but not the best things.

I’ve met many people who focus on being productive to the point that they burn bridges and lose happiness. They go to sleep exhausted, not any closer to true happiness than they were when they woke up.

This raises the question: Does productivity have to come at the expense of happiness?

I am out to find the answer to being both—productive and happy.

A few months ago, I started a survey to find out who are the most productive and happy people and what habits they’ve adopted in their lives. I am after the holy grail of being productive, successful and happy. You can read more about this idea in my post about being both full and hungry (striving and content) on this blog (www.ci4life.org)

For this survey, I’m still looking for more data, so please, if you can take some time and complete the survey below, I would greatly appreciate it:


I ask about 40 questions and the survey takes approximately 8 minutes. The goal is to decode the habits of those people who rank themselves at the very highest levels of happiness and the highest levels of productivity. Then, those of us that are not at the highest levels of happiness and productivity can learn from those on high! There are several questions about your habits, such as reading, exercise, meditation, eating, financial savings, scripture study, sleeping, etc.

Early results of the first few hundred respondents around the world are very telling.

Let me summarize the top 3 habits of the people who are the very happiest and the most effective:

  1. 100% of them say they serve always or usually.
  2. 92% say they always or usually plan every day.
  3. 75% say they exercise several times per week.

Let’s dig into each of these habits.

Service Makes a Difference

Research has long determined that conscious acts of kindness help drive increased levels of happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading researcher and author of The How of Happiness, has found that individuals told to complete five acts of kindness during the course of the day report feeling much happier than control groups and that the feeling lasts for many subsequent days, far after the act of kindness is over.

Daily Planning Helps You Avoid Being Busy for Busyness’ Sake

The greatest accomplishment in today’s world is not to be busy. Instead, it’s to be busy about the right things. Hard work is important, but if you’re constantly changing store-room light bulbs, you’ll never have time to polish the lobby.

I like how Henry David Thoreau summarized this idea:

Time management quotes thoreau

Exercise as a Keystone Habit

In his book The Power of Habits, author Charles Duhigg introduces a powerful concept of the keystone habit. Keystone habits are those habits that can drive success in many areas of life. He believes (as do I) that exercise is one of those keystone habits. He says,

“Typically, people who exercise start eating better and become more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.) 

– Charles Duhigg, Power of Habits

Service, planning and exercise are just some of the habits I hope to uncover in my survey. If you would, take some time to reflect on your own life and fill out the survey.

Application exercise:

  1. Fill out the survey listed above. Find out where you rank yourself.
  2. What did you rank yourself on productivity and effectiveness out of 5? 1= low and 5=extremely productive)
  3. What did you rank yourself on happiness? (1=very unhappy, 5=far above average)
  4. Suggested starting point: Take 5 minutes first thing in the morning to plan your day. Include work, home and play activities. Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to review your accomplishments. Try including service activities (to family, church or those less fortunate) and exercise. (Hint: Be accepting and kind to yourself on whatever you get accomplished). Do this daily for 30 days.
  5. At the end of 30 days, share your results with a loved one.
    a. How would you rank your happiness and productivity now? (Use the same scale as above.) What did you learn?
  6. Send me the results and what you learned at rickh@ci4life.org

Thanks for the help!

Go to Podbean or iTunes podcast for a podcast on the topic of daily planning for teams and individuals. Search “Rick Heyland” or “Continuous Improvement 4 Life.”


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