Do you feel stuck in a rut, even when things look okay on the surface?

Is there some goal you’ve given up on because you think it’s out of reach?

Does it feel like you’re not making the most out of life?

Over the years, both personal and professional experiences have taught me four essential building blocks that are necessary for getting more out of life.

  • Relationships are the foundation of the good life.
  • Kindness builds relationships and personal well-being.
  • Gratitude is like your toothbrush: you must use it faithfully every day.
  • Happiness is a habit you choose, not something you wait for helplessly.

These are all quite simple concepts that lots of people talk about, but too few take the all-important step of acting on them.

Wondering how to have a good life? Starting today, prioritize these four building blocks and reap the rewards — regardless of what you do, where you live, or how much money you make.

#1: Relationships: The Foundation of the Good Life

You’ve probably heard the familiar real estate mantra: Location! Location! Location!
Well, if you want to make the most of your life, here’s your new mantra: Relationships! Relationships! Relationships!

Great relationships promote good health, career success, and a fulfilling personal life. Looking for some hard evidence?

Look no further than the long-running Study of Adult Development at Harvard. For more than 75 years, two separate cohorts of men have been studied as they finished school, launched their careers, got married, had children, and went through other life experiences.

  • The first group, known as the Grant Study, focused on 268 Harvard sophomores recruited in 1938
  • The second group, known as the Glueck Study, consisted of 456 teenage boys from inner city Boston.
  • The men completed a survey about their quality of life every two years, and underwent a physical exam every five years.

And what do the results tell us about what makes a good life?

Good relationships keep us healthier and happier.

Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the study’s director, shared three key lessons in a TED Talk in 2015:

  • Close relationships. Participants who had close relationships with their family, friends, and communities were happier, healthier, and lived longer, while those who were socially isolated were less happy, and suffered more health problems.

Quality (not quantity) of relationships. Individuals in so-called “high-conflict” relationships — meaning they argued a lot — were actually less happy than those who were single.

  • Stable, supportive marriages. Those who had healthy marriages performed better on memory tests later in life than those whose family relationships were rife with conflict.

#2: Remember that Kindness Is King

You don’t need me to tell you that being nice to people makes for better relationships.

It might be taking food to a neighbor who’s under the weather, offering moral support to a friend, or mentoring a young person at work. Or it could simply be treating others the way you want to be treated.

Well, researchers have also discovered that kindness is right up there with eating your veggies when it comes to personal well-being:

  • Kindness makes you happy. One study found that giving money to someone else lifts your spirits more than spending it on yourself.
  • Kindness is good for your health. Individuals who provide social support for someone else enjoy multiple health benefits: lower blood pressure, depression, and stress, and higher self-esteem.
  • It may help you live longer. Another study found that those who offered practical help to others on a regular basis were less likely to die over a five-year period.

So follow the Golden Rule if you want to know how to get the most out of life!

#3: Have an Attitude of Gratitude

Jimmy Fallon is well-known for writing his weekly “Thank You Notes” on the Tonight Show. Turns out, Jimmy is on to something!

  • Positive psychology expert Dr. Martin Seligman had study participants write thank-you letters and personally deliver them. As a result, they experienced an immediate and sustained increase in happiness.
  • The Journal of Happiness Studies — yes, that’s a real research journal — reported that people who wrote letters of gratitude increased their life satisfaction, while reducing symptoms of depression.

Make the most of every day and reflect on the good things in your life. And whenever somebody does something nice for you at work, at home, or anywhere else, don’t let it slide. Make a deliberate effort to show your appreciation and pay it forward! 

#4: Be Happy Now — Don’t Put It Off!

Most people think they have to wait for their “ship to come in” and then they’ll start getting the most out of life. Once they land that dream job, or find that perfect relationship, boy, things will really take off!

Until then, they must slave away at their meaningless job, sleep in a boring house, and trudge through life, day after endless day.

But life coach Valorie Burton, who wrote the bestselling book Successful Women Think Differently, has a very different message. According to the evidence she’s looked at, happiness is a choice that makes you successful, not the other way around:

  • Happy people are more likely to get a raise or promotion.
  • They live longer, on average, and get sick less often.
  • They are more likely to have successful marriages or long-term relationships. 
  • They are more resilient when problems do come along.

That last point is so important. No, happiness is not the absence of problems. It isn’t blissful ignorance in the face of problems. Instead, happiness is an asset that can help you overcome problems, achieve your goals, and make the most of life.

Valorie offers two keys for making happiness a habit:

  • Passion is that energy you bring to what you do. It doesn’t take a so-called “dream job.” It just takes enthusiasm for the chance to create value for others. Passion can come from many things — your career, your family, your hobbies, or causes you support. Remember, I my one of my previous blogs – If you don’t have passion, nothing else matters.  Well, Valorie just confirmed the importance of passion.
  • A sense of purpose. When it comes to your professional life, purpose is the difference between a career and “just a job.” Why do you get up every morning? Who benefits from what you do, besides yourself? When you have a clear sense of why you do what you do, it’s easier to stay passionate.

So, if you want to change your life for the better, make happiness a habit, cultivate relationships, practice kindness, and show gratitude.

The four building blocks in this article will help you Thrive and not Just Survive by discovering how to get more out of life. Why wait for your ship to come in — when you’ve already got the tools for building it yourself?