The Habits of Happy People: Acceptance and Self-Care

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Almanack of Naval Ravikant" by Eric Jorgenson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What habits can make you happier? What everyday choices can you make to find greater satisfaction in life?

Naval Ravikant believes that happiness is a choice. The right habits will make that choice stick. Ravikant outlines several habits relating to acceptance and self-care that he argues are essential to finding contentment in life.

Let’s unpack these habits of happy people.

The Habits of Happy People

The first thing you have to do is simply decide to be happy. You can’t wait for external circumstances to become what you want or seek to change them—you need to be OK with them as they are. This isn’t easy to do, but Ravikant believes that by cultivating the right habits you can make it easier. 

(Shortform note: While experts in the study of happiness (a field called positive psychology) agree that happiness is partly a choice, they add nuance to that idea by emphasizing that it’s not enough to only choose—you have to also act in intentional ways. For example, choosing to be happy, according to experts, involves practicing kindness toward others, focusing on activities you enjoy, and expressing gratitude regularly. The intention to be happy should be followed by these kinds of actions to have the best result.) 

According to Ravikant, we’ve all developed habits we haven’t thought about—these habits tend to make us dependent on external circumstances. Maybe we always have coffee in the morning, or we listen to talk radio on our commute, for example. Over time, we end up needing that cup of coffee to feel well, or we end up craving the feeling of agitation we get from talk radio. Ravikant suggests that we need to replace these thoughtless habits with better ones. He outlines several habits of happy people that relate to acceptance and self-care.

(Shortform note: Ravikant isn’t alone in thinking that your habits affect your well-being. Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin dedicated an entire book to the idea that your habits can be used to influence your happiness. She suggests that you can build habits that work for you if you first understand your basic tendencies. For example, if you’re motivated by meeting deadlines, you might find that setting deadlines for your fitness goals helps you build sustainable routines. If you try to form habits in a way that doesn’t fit with your inclinations, you may get frustrated when it proves too difficult to establish them.)  

Acceptance Habits 

One habit Ravikant advocates is acceptance. Acceptance is simply being content with a circumstance no matter what—it’s a kind of freedom. As he sees it, it’s freedom from things like frustration, expectation, desire, and so on. Practicing acceptance will help you find contentment. In particular, practice the habit of acceptance in two areas of life.

According to Ravikant, the best way to accept yourself as you are is to simply accept your mortality: Life is short. Even the greatest cultures of the ancient world passed away, their accomplishments all but forgotten. When you recognize the brevity and insignificance of all things, you’ll be less inclined to obsess over who you are.

One other way to accept yourself is to stop obsessing over what others think of you—what they expect you to do or achieve, for instance. Do what you want to do. The sooner you start pursuing your genuine interests, the sooner you’ll experience happiness.

The second area of life in which you need to practice acceptance relates to the circumstances you face. When you face circumstances that aren’t what you want, Ravikant says you have three options: change them, leave them, or accept them.

Self-Care Habits

The second type of habit Ravikant suggests is self-care. This type of habit encompasses several practices that can help keep your body and mind conditioned to support your happiness. You should care for your body by eating well, exercising, conditioning your immune system, and exercising self-control when it comes to sugar, alcohol, drugs, etc. You should care for your mind by meditating, learning, maintaining social contact, and living in the present.

Exercise: Prepare to Build Happiness

Happiness, to Ravikant, involves caring for both your mind and your body. In this exercise, you’ll consider how you can take steps on both fronts.

  • If you don’t already regularly exercise, write three to five activities that interest you. Maybe you’re interested in dancing or rock climbing, playing baseball or swimming. Once you’ve done that, brainstorm when you might try one of these activities this month.
  • Reflect on your experiences with meditation. Have you tried it? Do you find it intimidating and frustrating, or intriguing and enriching? If you find yourself resistant to it, briefly explain why.
  • Note how you might experiment with meditation in a way that’s exciting to you. This might mean meditating only for a few minutes a day or exploring new guided meditations to refresh your interest.
The Habits of Happy People: Acceptance and Self-Care

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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