There’s this idea floating around that happiness isn’t simply a feeling but something that you should actually practise regularly. My first thought upon hearing this was “Great, another thing to add to my to-do list.” But maybe it’s worth putting in extra effort: According to a recent survey by psychologists at the University of Hertfordshire, the key to contentment could lie in certain “happy habits.”

Researchers identified 10 daily habits, ranging from exercising to learning new things, that affect mental well-being. (Shockingly, eating vast quantities of really good cheese was not listed as one such “happy habit.”) They then surveyed 5,000 people about how often they perform these activities. The results revealed that practising daily self-acceptance was most strongly tied to happiness – but unfortunately it happened to be one of the habits few people actually had. Go figure.

In fact, helping others was the top habit performed by participants. When you consider that self-acceptance is being kind to yourself, it quickly becomes clear that we’re treating other people better than ourselves – and it could be making us miserable.

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The researchers had a few helpful suggestions for boosting self-confidence. First, ask someone you trust – your spouse, a friend, your colourist, someone who really gets you – what your strengths are (natural highlights for the win!). Then, take a minute to appreciate those virtues. Another suggestion: Notice things you do well, even if they’re small. Maybe you can rock a topknot or tell a great joke or plan an excellent trip. These are superhero-level skills, and not everyone can master them.

It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you’re having a rough day and your Facebook feed is filled with friends who are #100dayshappy. To this I say: Resist the shame spiral that comes from comparing yourself to everyone else. It’s great to have personal goals, but constantly chasing after other people’s ideas of self-improvement (Jackie just ran another marathon! Summer makes her own kombucha! That awful woman in my book club has read War and Peace!) just paves the way to burnout, not fulfillment.

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Which brings me to the last and, in my opinion, most important recommendation: Show yourself as much compassion as you show others. Kibosh that nasty voice in your head that criticizes your every move. In her new book, Yes Please, Amy Poehler describes that negative self-talk as a strangled-yet-seductive “demon voice” that sounds like a cross between Darth Vader and an angry Lauren Bacall. When the slithering demon rears its ugly head, her advice is to treat it like it’s trash-talking a good friend. “Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do,” she writes.

So exercise a little self-care every day and you’ll strengthen your happiness muscles. And don’t worry about “mistakes.” Go ahead and eat all the cheese you want. Like British author Caitlin Moran says, “Je ne regrette brie-n.”

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