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The Beginner’s Guide to a Happier Mind

Written By: Matt Mignona

The Beginner’s Guide to a Happier Mind

When you start a new journey of personal development, the task can be daunting. The gap between who you are and who you want to be may seem so enormous, it's hard to imagine that potential version of yourself.

Here's the good news: you don't have to bridge that gap in a day. Instead, you'll take things one day at a time, and you'll work your way to a happier, more positive outlook, which will influence everything from your job to your relationships.

Start here. Think of this as your beginner's guide to a happier mind.


Gratitude: Practice Giving Thanks

This is an easy place to start because we all have wonderful things in our lives. No matter how rocky it seems, there's something to be grateful for: your good health, a loving family, and great friends. If those happen to be areas of challenge in your life, there is still so much to be grateful for:

  • Indoor plumbing
  • Coffee
  • Fresh, clean water 
  • Access to a car or public transportation
  • A healthy meal
  • A favorite shirt
  • Your smartphone
  • Netflix
  • New shoes

When you start thinking like this, the list goes on and on. Basically, anything that brings joy to you in some small way, anything that protects you or helps you survive at the most basic level, is something to be grateful for. 

It's not enough to think of these things—you need to write them down. Writing them down makes you focus on them for a period of time, and it gives you a record to look back on. When you have a rough day, you can browse through your gratitude log and know you've got a lot going for you.

Successful people know the power of gratitude. Daymond John of Shark Tank once tweeted, "Rise & Grind! Gratitude turns what we have into enough." And Oprah wrote this:

"I know for sure that appreciating whatever shows up for you in life changes your personal vibration. You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you're aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots.... I've learned from experience that if you pull the lever of gratitude every day, you'll be amazed at the results."

What to Do Now to Build a Happier Mind:

Write down three things you're thankful for every morning. It will jump-start your day with gratitude and set the tone for the next 24 hours.

 happy young man in purple shirt enjoying the sunshine with his arms spread wide

Consistency: Build Healthy Habits

Consistency is key to success in anything, whether you're building a company or becoming a happier person. You can't expect massive changes in one day, but you can expect to grow over time—as long as you stay consistent with your efforts.

Habits help us achieve that consistency and Charles Duhigg talks specifically about keystone habits

"Some habits, say researchers, are more important than others because they have the power to start a chain reaction, shifting other patterns as they move through our lives. Keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything."

Daily exercise is a great example of a keystone habit. Your focus on fitness might lead you to healthier eating habits as you fuel your body for your workouts: one good habit leads to another. Furthermore, the many benefits of exercise, including more energy and better sleep, can impact how you behave throughout the day. Because you have more energy, you might tackle one last task before going home for the day. Crossing that one extra item off your to-do list becomes a new habit, as well.

One important element of a keystone habit is that it's relatively easy to do: you'll have opportunity after opportunity to celebrate success. Those little wins give you the confidence to pursue more challenging goals. For example, you could decide to do your dishes before you go to bed every day. That's simple, easily attainable. Yet as you consistently do it, you'll feel good about yourself for following through with a goal you set, and you'll love waking up each day to a clean kitchen. That may make it easier to develop the habit of making a healthy breakfast or getting out of the house and to work without running late.

Patience works alongside consistency. Develop your healthy habits, then keep performing them without any expectation of results along a specific timeline. Trust the process; one day, you'll wake up and notice what a difference they've made in your life. 

What to Do Now to Build a Happier Mind:

Develop one new habit, such as flossing at night, reading a chapter before bed, writing down the happiest moments from your day, writing down three things you're grateful for each day, cooking eggs for breakfast instead of grabbing a donut, putting your shoes away rather than leaving them by the door, etc. Do that simple thing every single day, and acknowledge your commitment to it. When you feel like it's a solid part of your life, adopt another good habit.


Intention: Start a Journal

When we go on autopilot, it's easy to feel out of control of our lives. Things happen, we react without thinking, and we find ourselves feeling like victims to our circumstances—not a happy place to be.

Journaling is one way to help you break out of autopilot. When you take time to write every day, you start noticing trends: are you making the same complaints? Do you have the same concerns?

If you notice the same things are making you unhappy, angry, or frustrated every day, you can take steps to change them. Journaling will also give you an opportunity to record the happiest events and greatest accomplishments of your day, which helps you realize yes, you are making progress. 

Your daily journal will bring intention to your life because you'll be able to focus on what you want to accomplish and how to take action toward it. It helps steer you away from internal statements like, "This always happens to me" or "Nothing ever goes my way" because you'll be able to look back through your journal and see page after page filled with lists of accomplishments and things you're grateful for. 

What to Do Now to Build a Happier Mind:

Download the Happier Mind Journal Quick Start Guide. This guide explains how journaling can be more than just jotting down a few thoughts: it can actually help you transform your life with gratitude, accountability, and intention. Learn more about how to make journaling a habit and how to avoid the common pitfalls that often make people quit after only a few days. With that know-how, you'll be ready to journal on a daily basis. 

Ambition: Set Goals and Take Action

You should have two kinds of goals: short-term and long-term. The long-term ones might feel a little big and scary, and that's okay. If that's what you want to achieve, write it down and commit to the process. 

Your short-term goals will help you reach that long-term goal. For example, if your long-term goals is to run a marathon in under four hours, your short-term goals might include running a certain number of miles per week, preparing healthy meals, and drinking a certain amount of water each day. Those smaller goals are easier to reach, but they add up and help you achieve your big goal. 

You can also give yourself small goals that help you stop procrastinating. For example, if you need to go to the bank, write it down as a goal for the day. When you go, you get the satisfaction—and the confidence boost!—of achieving a goal. Consider this quote from author and motivational speaker Mark Victor Hansen:

"By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands; your own." 

What to Do Now to Build a Happier Mind:

Every morning, write down your long- and short-term goals to keep them at the front of your mind, or create a short list of things you want to accomplish during the day. At the end of the day, acknowledge your good work in accomplishing those tasks, and reflect on how it made you feel to get them done.

a positive young woman facing the sun with arms raised experiencing a happier mind

Positivity: Reach for the Thought That Feels Better

This is a concept from Jerry and Esther Hicks. They recognize that you can't go from feeling blue to feeling great in one move, but you can feel a tiny bit better by choosing a thought that feels a tiny bit better. When you get in a negative rut, you can pause and practice this, moving slowly up the ladder until you feel better. An example might look like this:

  • I'm terrible at this!
  • I'm not so great at this.
  • I'm okay at this.
  • I'm better at this than I was the last time I did it.
  • I'm getting better at this every day.
  • There are some people who could learn something about this from me. 
  • I'm looking forward to improving at this.
  • I'm good at this.

The idea is to recognize the negative thought, and think the slightly happier thought until you feel slightly better. At that point, you can choose another thought that is a step up from that one, and stay with it until you feel a little better yet, and so on. You might not get all the way up the ladder, but you can improve upon where you started.

What to Do Now to Build a Happier Mind:

Practice recognizing when you have a negative thought. For a few days, you might not do anything else but that: simply notice when you have a negative outlook and how that makes you feel. When you're ready, see if you can turn that train around by thinking one thought that's slightly more positive.

Like anything in life, creating a more positive, joyful outlook can take a little time and practice, but it's worth it. The 'you' you're imagining is within reach—one day, one small step, at a time.


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