I'm reading a book on spiritual habits for Sunday School. More about that anon. In the meantime, here's a new group of habits: the five core happiness skills.

  • acceptance
  • gratitude
  • kindness
  • a sense of meaning
  • self-care

These are not really habits, are they? I get up in the morning, brush my teeth, take my allergy pill, weigh myself, and do 30 minutes of steps while watching the Daily Show. Those are habits. Can I get up in the morning and accept the day's news with gratitude, be kind to the dog, consider the meaning of my life, and then move on to brushing my teeth — confident that these habitual actions will cement my happiness for the day?

Certainly, it's possible to make a conscious habitual effort to think of things for which we're grateful. Self-cae, depending how we define it, can be habitual. But aren't we just kind or not? I'm a kind person; that's my character. I suppose I could make a habit of taking a kind action each day… even if I weren't generally kind.

A sense of meaning, though? Isn't that a yes or no sort of thing? And what would an acceptance habit look like? Believing six impossible things before breakfast like the Red Queen?

Perhaps these are character traits that we can develop through conscious, habitual action. Those actions lead to character, which then leads to happiness. I'm making things up at this point. But that Sunday School class posits virtues as habits we can develop, so why not happiness habits?

This list arrived in my inbox with the subject line "Happiness Habits." I don't know the background and I don't see them showing up as some common knowledge list.

Here's an alternative — Gretchen Rubin's Essential Seven:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)

2. Exercise regularly

3. Save and spend wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, make purchases that contribute to happiness or habits, pay taxes, stay current with expense reports)

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (pursue a hobby instead of cruising the internet, enjoy the moment, stop checking email, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car, take time for myself)

5. Stop procrastinating, make consistent progress (practice an instrument, set aside two hours daily for uninterrupted work, learn a language, maintain a blog, keep a gratitude journal)

6. Simplify, clear, and organize (make the bed every day, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle, give away unused clothing)

7. Engage more deeply—with other people, with God, with yourself, with the world (call family members, read the Bible every day, volunteer, spend time with friends, observe the Sabbath, spend time alone in nature)

Rubin says, "We can use decision-making to choose the habits we want to form, use willpower to get the habit started, then—and this is the best part—we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. At that point, we’re free from the need to decide and the need to use willpower. We take our hands off the wheel of decision, and our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise-control of habits. Mindfully, then mindlessly."

This is a good statement of the power of habit. I've been working on this for several years now, and it has been life changing for me. Granted, I was pretty happy in the first place and I'm still happy now. That might be nature.