Pretty ladies at the Santa Monica wall

Happy Day

Considering that it was only the 2nd annual celebration of the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, we at Live Happy consider it a massive success. In dozens of cities and towns across the country, people got together to exude joy and gratitude, and post their personal Acts of Happiness on bright orange walls. From Atlanta to Dallas and LA to New York, people of all stripes came out to embrace a more positive approach to life and to each other. Some came with kids, with loved ones—some came just to let their freak flag fly. The walls were just the beginning. We also reached millions of people through Facebook and Twitter with our hashtag#HappyActs. Next year we plan to launch hundreds more Acts of Happiness walls on March 20, 2015—this time around the world. We’re giddy with anticipation about the prospect of making the world a better place. We hope you’ll join us.
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Attractive couple embracing

7 Keys to a Healthy Argument

Healthy relationships are a vital part of wellbeing. Without meaningful connections with others, we’re far more likely to be unhappy and unhealthy. While all relationships suffer less-than-perfect moments and disagreements, it’s how we deal with these situations that determines whether our relationships grow stronger or weaker. Here are seven tips to having a healthy argument with a partner, or anyone else in your life.1. Respectfully engageIf the argument appears seemingly out of nowhere, try to de-escalate the situation, and find a moment to collect your thoughts. Changing your physical state – for example by taking deep breaths or going for a short walk – can help you to relax before re-engaging in the discussion. Ideally, make the other person feel valued by making yourself available to talk at a pre-planned time they’ve selected. Remove distractions and give your partner your full attention. Turn your cell phone to vibrate. At the beginning and at the end of your conversation, thank him or her for listening to you, and sharing their own thoughts and feelings. Convey presence and interest through paraphrasing what they’ve said, clarifying, and asking for feedback.2. Begin with the end in mindVisualize in advance the positive outcome you desire, and give words to it. Do you and your partner have shared goals you can leverage to frame the discussion? For example, if you disagree about household chores, perhaps your shared value of a peaceful home can anchor your discussion. Claim your piece of the disagreement, creating joint ownership of the issue at hand, and the envisioned solution. Get your partner’s support and buy-in by verbally “contracting” or agreeing to rewards for co-creating your positive outcome. For example, “If we can generate a chores list we both feel good about, we get to finally crack open that expensive champagne we’ve been saving.”3. Ask positive questionsUsing prompts like, "How might we ____?" frames the conflict as resolvable, and becomes a jumping-off point for new possibilities. Founder of the change movement Appreciative Inquiry, David Cooperrider has said that “human systems move in the direction of their persistent inquiry.” In other words, by asking positive questions – ones designed to generate a constructive response - you’re assuming the best of the situation, and that a satisfactory outcome can be achieved. In essence, you're changing the context of the discussion through language.4. Sync upYou're on the same team, so your goal should be empathy, not persuasiveness or sympathy, which can surprisingly underscore the divide between you. Imitation and mimicry facilitate empathy, so if it feels comfortable, try mirroring the other person in small ways. Uncross your arms, lean in slightly, and look your partner in the eyes. When you are expressing genuine interest, you will naturally do this, but it doesn't hurt to practice. (In happy moments, this can even result in synchronized rhythms between the neurons in your and your partner’s brains.)5. Spot the strengthsThe more you can generate those positive emotional states, the more your communication will benefit. Neuroscience shows that positivity-infused communication can increase understanding, empathy, and even help people anticipate what others will say—all helpful ingredients during an argument. Developing a lens of character strengths (such as gratitude, optimism, justice, and self-regulation), prepares you to perceive and engage with your partner in a more positive way. This online assessment can help you and your partner to better understand each other’s natural areas of excellence and adopt a “lens of strengths.”6. Describe, don't evaluateDescribe the object of your argument in objective language, trying your best not to ascribe judgment. Doing so minimizes defensiveness in your partner and provides them with helpful information. Say what happened, not why you think it happened or what you think it means. Describe the behavior or event, and its outcomes or reactions to it. (For example, "You didn't call to say you were coming home late, and I felt sad", not, "You don't care that I'm always home by myself.") When giving specific feedback, focus on the person's effort and strategies, not the person's qualities (or lack of character strengths!). This encourages continued effort and creative problem-solving by your partner.7. Capitalize on the positiveThe best way to settle arguments is to prevent them from happening. Psychology research shows that people who perceive their partners to be active and constructive responders to good events report fewer daily conflicts, engage in more fun and relaxing activities, and report more trust and intimacy. Instead of using a passive constructive response ("That's great. What's for dinner?"), really engaging the person in a way that allows them to relive the positive experience is the key ("Tell me exactly what your boss said when you got the promotion. How did you feel?") Believe it or not, the way our loved ones respond to good news (whether or not they "capitalize") is more important to the health of our relationship than how they respond to bad news. Capitalizing leads to increases in positive emotion, and more intimate, positive and trusting relationships.Struggle and conflict are a necessary part of relationships and simply a fact of life. But by adjusting the way we communicate, both verbally and physically, and the way we approach a disagreement, we can minimize the destructive potential of these interactions. We build our deepest connections with our partners and others not by seeking to conquer, but by bringing out the best in one another.
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International Day of Happiness illustration

Celebrate International Day of Happiness!

As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moonsaid, “Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” The Happiness Movement, a heady combination of positive psychology, personal development, social justice, and simple joyfulness, has been growing steadily in the past decade. By designating March 20 as International Day of Happiness, the United Nations has codified the movement into a bonified global phenomenon. As conflict and turmoil seem to dominate the news, a focus on positivity is not just a matter of turning away from reality, it is a way of changing reality. By performing small Acts of Happiness in our daily lives--by showing that we can be kind, compassionate and altruistic, we not only help others but also ourselves. Studies show that true, lasting happiness comes not from the short-lived "hedonic" high we get from, say,eating a donut while watching Duck Dynasty, but by engaging with and helping other people. This year, in more than 25 cities around the country, including San Francisco, New York, Dallas, and Atlanta, Live Happy magazine is celebrating International Day of Happiness byerecting‘Happiness Walls,’ where people can gather to exchange good will and to express their support—for happiness and for each other. Meet up with friends, share smiles and stories, and post your own positive wishes for the planet on the Wall. If you can't make it to a real Wall, create a wall of your own! Together, we can make the world a happier place.
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Girl reaching for tree

The Happiest Child Ever?

As positive psychology researchers, recently married and now pregnant with a baby due in February, the biggest reaction we have gotten has been, “That is going to be the happiest baby ever!” No pressure. As first-time parents, we have so much to learn. What works well in a psychology lab might not work well for a 2-month-old colicky baby who at 2 a.m. seems completely unaware of all the research on the importance of sleep. As we go through this learning process, we wanted to share our thoughts and hear yours, as well. We are encouraged by the fact that change is always possible at any point in our lives. Research from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Riverside, shows that while children are born hard-wired with a happiness genetic set point, that is only the starting point. Choices we make and they (eventually) make can help them rise above their genes and their environment. And the great news is that even when we mess up, we can course-correct. Happiness Hygiene Parents teach their kids to brush their teeth in order to make it a habit. And it eventually works; most adults keep up that habit. Aside from that, can you think of another habit we keep through adulthood? Why do we stop there? Equally important to children’s health is their mindset. In order to encourage a grateful mindset, we want to express three new things we are thankful for every night at dinner. In addition, we would like to encourage exercise and two minutes of meditation for the entire family. We realize meditation might sound a bit unusual for a small child, but we’ve recently seen how schools using morning breathing exercises have created calmer classrooms. Learning to quiet our minds early on in life by watching our breath go in and out is a skill that later on improves accuracy at tasks, and rewires the brain for greater creativity, intelligence and energy. The tricky part will be making this an expected part of life, like brushing teeth. Have you parents out there had success with this for a child younger than 5. Normalize Nutrition If food is fuel for our bodies, nutrition is fuel for our brains. Even just one cup of blueberries in the morning can drastically improve a young student’s brain function in the classroom. As researchers, we know that education is extremely important—but our interest in a nutrient rich diet for our son has less to do with ideas about his eventual academic performance and more to do with his overall well being. There is evidence that suggests a higher intake of fruits and vegetables can increase happiness and overall life satisfaction. We hope that by treating nutrient rich foods as treats instead of a concession or chore, our son will grow up eager to share in these options. Let’s be clear: we don’t want him seeing us obsess over our bodies or weight, as this can be very damaging for a child’s self image and lifelong relationship to food. Instead, we want him to see the joy to be had with healthy food—thanks to its taste and cumulative psychological benefits. We’ve been working to better understand the neurological and practical benefits of food ourselves so we can eventually share this knowledge to our son. Healthy foods protect our bodies against disease, naturally brighten our smiles and help us maintain a sharp memory. By introducing these foods as early and enthusiastically as possible, we hope to give our son a lifelong appreciation for nutrition that will help him lead a happy life far beyond his childhood. Noise Canceling If our baby were being born just 100 years ago, this would not be such a top priority; but these days, babies are coming into the human history. Technology is always at their fingertips. We have received text messages, albeit incoherent ones, from 2-year-olds. In Shawn’s newest book, Before Happiness, we look at how the brain can only process 40 bits of information out of the 11 million it receives per second. Our brains are bombarded, we are all developing cultural ADHD and the research shows us that we do not learn as well with that continuous external stimulation. That’s why we will try noise canceling in our home. We will install a white-noise machine in the nursery and not have TV and news blaring in the house, and we plan to model taking 5 percent of each week away from phones, TV and computers. Our hope is that this break from technology and information can help our brains (and our baby’s) find the “signal” more easily, which is the information that helps lead to growth and happiness. Solid Us, Solid Baby Babies need love and support from the moment they arrive, and their brains are wired from birth to seek out a sense of security from the caregivers in their lives. According to neuroscientist and author of Brain Rules John Medina, babies’ brains develop differently if they don’t feel security from the get-go. They are more oriented toward threats and less attached to other people. Beyond the basic duties of feeding, bathing and clothing our little guy, we also hope to communicate love and safety in one very specific way: being verbally supportive in front of our child of each other’s positive contributions to our marriage and peaceful home. We already do this now to some degree, but we recently decided to be more conscious about “calling each other out” when either of us does or says something positive and loving. It’s the little things that we want to acknowledge, like putting the dishes in the dishwasher (which is admittedly not a little thing) or making food for the other one while he or she is working. Each time we thank one another, we strengthen our relationship. And since children not only pick up their parents’ habits, but also derive their sense of security from what they see, we think being highly expressive in a positive way will communicate security and be a win-win all around. Have you used these strategies with your kids? What has been your parenting secret to raising happy kids? Comment below.
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Girl hugging her puppy

Puppy Love

Walking with her dog Laurel along the frosted mountain trail as it curves through the Vermont woods, massage therapist Jody Higgs signals the dog to “come” and “wait.”Still a puppy at 10 months—but, at 90-something glorious pounds, close to her mature weight—Laurel lopes happily to Jody’s side, stands at the tips of her hiking boots and looks up expectantly. This is a training run, and Laurel knows it.“Down,” Jody says firmly. “Stay.”Laurel lies down and for 10 minutes the two quietly listen to the ravens overhead, the occasional crack of an old tree branch, and the rustle of frosted leaves as a small woodland creature moves around outside its burrow.“It’s almost like a standing meditation for me,” says Jody later as the three of us meet along a backcountry road near the trailhead. “Dogs intensify our connection to nature.” They notice everything, and draw our attention to the small sounds, earthy scents and transient creatures we might otherwise miss.As if to prove Jody’s words, Laurel, now on a lead, dances along the road’s edge, sniffing everything and looks for a tree stump on which she can gnaw— probably to test her new molars.“She also gets me out of bed in the morning,” adds Jody, as the dog pushes her curious nose under a juniper. “When I wake up, I’m sort of grumpy and pessimistic, and I don’t think clearly. Then Laurel and I go for a walk.”Jody shrugs, a little embarrassed, and offers a grin. “I don’t know what it is,” she adds, “but when I get back, it feels like I can deal with things. Things are clearer. And I’m in a better mood.”The 10-Minute FixClearly Laurel’s magic. But she does far more than just connect Jody to nature or get her up in the morning. As Rebecca Johnson, Ph.D., director of the University of Missouri’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction points out, researchers have discovered that the interaction between dogs and their humans triggers a series of chemical changes that increase our sense of wellbeing.In fact, several studies have revealed that within 10 minutes of gazing deeply into a dog’s eyes or petting a sweet little bundle of fur, there are neurochemical changes in the brain. “We get a burst of oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine and endorphins,” explains Rebecca, “which are all chemicals that help us feel happy and allow us to relax.”It’s actually something of a neurochemical free-for-all for both dog and human—and it makes your dog as happy as it does you. And it’s good for your health. In fact, some studies suggest that living with a dog reduces the symptoms and severity of clinical depression, while others have found that it boosts your immune system, reduces blood pressure and lowers your heart rate.The effect is so powerful that the chief cardiologist at one British hospital literally prescribes a dog for men who have just had a heart attack. And he’s found that the chances of a second heart attack in these men are cut by a whopping 400 percent.Dogs also help you maintain an active lifestyle and a healthy weight, adds Rebecca, who co-wrote the book Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound. Which is something Jody Higgs can verify. “I’m getting way more exercise than I was before I got Laurel,” says the trim Vermont woman. “I used to walk once a week, but now I walk for at least an hour every morning.”Building a Lifelong BondFor you and your dog to enjoy a life that brings each of you love, joy and a steady diet of happiness, you need to begin building a lifelong bond on the day that you bring your dog home. Here’s how to do it:Give daily belly rubs. If you have four feet and a furry undercarriage, nothing brings more pleasure than to roll over on your back and have your human gently rub your chest and belly. It’s an excellent way to start the day, and you feel nothing but love for the human who understands that important fact.Build trust. Meet your dog’s needs, says dog trainer Deb Helfrich, director of training and certification for Therapy Dogs of Vermont and founder of GoldStar Dog Training in Stowe and Fairfax. A dog that’s regularly fed, stroked, groomed, played with, and walked will learn to trust you.Learn to speak dog. Study your dog so you know how he or she shows fear, happiness, sadness, excitement, anxiety—the full range of emotions. If you’re not sure what you’re seeing, says Deb, check out and learn the signs. You can also sign up for an online course that helps you figure out appropriate responses, or you can get tips from a local trainer. Go to for a listing of trainers in your area.Learn together. Obedience training, agility training, freestyle dog dancing, therapy dog training—whatever it is that the two of you learn together will, as you steadily work together, set the foundation for a lifelong relationship.Play together. Grab an old sock for tug-of-war, bounce a tennis ball off the house, hurl a Frisbee across the yard. Help your dog explore his interests with one-on-one attention. No puppy cousins or human brothers allowed. Just the two of you doing something that makes you both feel good.Never use physical punishment. Ever.Walk. Just as that walk around the block after dinner settles you down after a hectic day and lifts your mood, it does the same for your dog, says Rebecca. Shared together every day, it sets the tone for a feel-good relationship.Work through challenges together. When Rebecca adopted Madison, an English setter rescue, the dog came with a lot of little issues, plus an inclination toward aggression. Rebecca enrolled her in 16 weeks of private obedience work, which helped the dog become obedient but didn’t affect the aggression. But Rebecca kept trying. And after working with Madison through several approaches, she eventually found a trainer who was able to reach the dog. Madison became a different dog, and she found her place in the family. And the bond she and Rebecca built as those challenges were confronted is the foundation of a solid relationship today.ELLEN MICHAUD, Editor at Large for Live Happy magazine, is an award-winning writer who lives high in the mountains of Vermont. She has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Better Homes and Gardens, Readers’ Digest, Ladies Home Journal and Prevention Magazine. Her book A Master Class: Sensational Recipes from the Chefs of the New England Culinary Institute and Ellen Michaudwas named one of the top ten cookbooks of the year by NPR.
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Hiking couple - Active young couple in love.

Building Lasting, Loving Families

My wife and I just celebrated 18 years of marriage; we’ve been together for 23 years. We have a 9-year-old boy and a 6-yearold girl. If you do the math, we waited 14 years from the time we started dating before we had kids. That gave us a lot of time to get to know one another, tackle our issues, and have a glorious time traveling and doing what we love.My wife Jennifer was a manager in the music industry before she became a full-time mom, and I am a life coach. Philosophically we look at life the same way, which means that we agree on how we raise our kids, religion and most points in between. We even dog-ear the same page of a design magazine when looking at furniture or art—our sensibilities match. I am 17 years older (she says 16) than her, but most of our friends would say it’s the other way around; she’s way more mature than I.Jennifer is of Spanish decent; her mother was born in Barcelona, and she grew up in Los Angeles. I grew up in New York City. She’s private, I’m public; our age, ethnicity, environments, access and resources are all very different, yet philosophically we match perfectly. I have found that you can have very different influences and environments, but if your sensibilities match it can work. The opposite is true as well. For instance, you want to raise the children as Buddhists and your spouse wants to raise them Catholic, or one of you believes you should live for the moment and the other wants to build for the future. These situations usually end up with a push/pull, a struggle. It’s not that differences in thinking can’t contribute to one another and to the relationship, but if those differences are immovable, carved in stone or a part of your moral structure, they won’t allow the necessary “flow” in the relationship. We have friends who have entirely different approaches to what’s important in life than we do but they and their family are completely aligned—it all works.When we date we don’t spend enough time on those philosophical differences. We spend a lot of time on chemistry. We usually don’t have enough conversations on the front end, so when we ended up married with children, we found that what we believe and how we see life is very different. Chemistry is wonderful, but it also might not be the end-all for a lifelong commitment. We often hear how important it is to find your best friend, and I don’t think that can be overemphasized. If one’s criteria are chemistry, body, money, health…one thing you can be certain of is that those will change. And, if you based your silent vows (not the ones you said out loud) on those things not changing, once they do, there will be problems. The foundation is what endures.Jennifer and I have places in our marriage that each is accountable for, and we didn’t plan or strategize this—it evolved naturally. She is the visionary of the marriage, and I execute that vision. That means she determines where we are going and what it would look like. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to contribute to the direction, it just means that it worked out that way. She is accountable for the emotional development of the family, how to work through rejections, frustrations and disappointments with our kids. I’m accountable for their physical development, how they move in the world and take risks, that they know the difference between stupidity and risk when they’re jumping off the roof or climbing a tree. The accountabilities are clear —it’s whoever had the most credibility in the particular area. We go to each other’s strengths.Where one is anxious or has fear, there is little or no perception, so in a crisis we go with the one who has no fear: me. I make the money; she manages it. She likes to sleep so I make breakfast. In turn, she makes dinner. None of this was ever planned —all these compartmentalizations evolved quite naturally.People say that you must have compromise in a relationship. We don’t compromise; it is our pleasure to do for the other. Compromise indicates that you are doing something begrudgingly.Most relationships start off as a privilege and very soon turn into a right. We start speaking to each other as if we are owed something, and we expect something as opposed to the privilege it is to be with that person. We would never talk to someone on the first date the way we start talking to them three months later.Our difficulties and our upsets are usually quite universal and finite: money, health, career and relationship struggles. When your relationship isn’t fl owing, when the affinity has been compromised, it has a systemic effect that throws off all the other areas of your life. Men used to have a more effective way of compartmentalizing relationships and career, but that was mostly aberrant and inaccurate. Today that illusion has been shattered, and men are equally disabled when their intimate relationships are in conflict.There has never been a time in the course of human evolution that we look so closely at our intimate relationships. There are more books, literature, articles, dating sites and couples’ counseling, all in the service of being more connected, which leads to more sustainability and ultimately more LOVE.BRECK COSTIN has more than 30 years of experience as a personal consultant and life coach. As the founder of the Absolute Freedom seminars, he has helped thousands of people change the way they live their lives by breaking free from unwanted patterns of behavior. His compassionate yet direct style allows people to dismantle their illusions of self so they truly can see what is (and isn’t) possible. “Your fantasies must die,” he says, “for your dreams to come true.”
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A cheerful group of friends.

Revitalizing Community for Renewed Happiness

In the not so distant past, maintaining strong communities was a staple in everyday life. People depended on their local butcher for their meat, the town doctor for all their ailments and the local sheriff to keep the peace. It was not wise to alienate or upset these people; they were the only ones for miles who could help meet your needs. Neighbors were more than just the people who lived next door. They were often more readily available than family members and could be counted on in times of need. A happy community meant a better and more stable life. In a modern society, there are many reasons why people do not interact with one another like they have in the past. Most do not rely on one person to supply their food, heal their sickness or be there when they need a helping hand. Technology and transportation have put just about everything we need at our fingertips, making it for easier for people to become more isolated with less community involvement. Just because the geography of community has changed, does not mean there still isn’t a need for fellowship. Being part of a community provides a sense of stability, belonging and support. It helps people feel they belong to something bigger than themselves. Communities help strengthen friendships and allow you to share your passion with others. Recent research even says that being part of a community can even help you cope with stress and crisis. Identifying yourself with a particular community group may be easier than it sounds. Knowing only a little about yourself can help you find a group that will help you help yourself. Do you love to read? Find or form a book club. Have a heart for volunteering? Contact a local nonprofit to see if you can help with a community-service project. Just find a way to connect with a group of people who have something in common with you. Examples of communities that you can be a part of: Neighborhood get-togethers Church groups Recreational sporting league Community-service organizations Running or Biking Club Gardening group Extra-curricular activities for children One benefits of becoming part of a community is the happiness it will bring. Often in a group of like-minded people, you are able to be yourself, let loose and have fun; knowing you are in a trusted circle of people who accept you for who you are. Take some time to become part of a community group or reconnect with a group you have lost touch with. It might not be a necessary to survive but it might be vital to your happiness.
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Couple sitting on bench

Building a Lasting Partnership

Choosing a Life Partner Have the same philosophical/moral sensibilities—The way you look at life, how you raise your children, common goals, etc., are the foundation. You can be different ages, ethnicities and backgrounds but the sensibilities must be in common. Like building a house, it’s the foundation that anchors the house and weathers the heat and the rain.The art, furniture and design are all wonderful, but those are perpetually changing factors; it’s the foundation that’s sustains. Choose your best friend. This cannot be overemphasized. Chemistry is wonderful, and should be the initiating factor, but it’s the person you want to stay on the phone with all night that you want long-term. Pick someone who has the same issue as you, and the conversation sounds like this: “We’re going to run out of money,” one says. “I know we’re going to starve,” the other replies. Try to pick someone who doesn’t have the same issue as you, so the conversation sounds like this: “We’re going to run out of money,” one says. “We’re going to be OK; we’ll figure it out.” Understand that it always helps to speak to the person’s commitment, not behavior. If you interact or argue or try to change someone’s behavior, you will just get more of what you don’t want. If you interact and speak to their commitment, which are the vows that one said on the wedding day, the behavior will change. Building a Lasting Partnership Know that marrying is for evolution. Yours and theirs. More often than not people go into marriage for all the wrong reasons—to be happy. To be successful. To solve some sort of issue. That’s like going to a Motel 6 and expecting the Four Seasons. If you commit to evolution, you will be happy. Consider that usually there is one person in a relationship who has the ability to relinquish a point of view faster than the other. That person should be the designated person to do so more often than not. You always want to opt for affinity over winning an argument. Winning the argument just means you are building up more resentment. Be respectful of your partner’s time, availability and other abilities. Don’t take it for granted or abuse it just because you’re together. Breck Costinhas more than 30 years of experience as a personal consultant and life coach. As the founderof the Absolute Freedom seminars, he has helped thousands of people change the way they live their livesby breaking free from unwanted patterns of behavior. His compassionate yet direct style allows people todismantle their illusions of self so they truly can see what is (and isn’t) possible. “Your fantasies must die,” hesays, “for your dreams to come true.”
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Dog Playing with Giraffe Dog Toy

What My Dog Taught Me About Joy

For most of my life, I have been a cat person. I have lived with little house-tigers that sharpened their claws on my couches, played midnight hockey with my hair ornaments and dragged my dirty laundry from the hamper to my pillow. I have even endured the terrifying stare of a cat that sees she's getting a second night of "Seafood Surprise" canned food for dinner. But then I married a man who was allergic to cats, and when my last beloved kitty, a dowager named Lady Macho, passed on, my husband suggested we get a dog. A dog! What a concept. I figured we'd think about it for a year or three. And then a friend told us about Jordie, a golden retriever puppy who needed a home. He'd been bred to be a show dog, she said, but when he was 6 months old, a routine X-ray revealed that he had a bit of hip dysplasia—and just like that, his show career was over and he needed a family. We had him for 13 years, five months, three weeks and then part of one day. And in that time, he showed me a lot about life. Whereas my feline companions had taught me about aloofness and how to be cool (qualities I admired but never could master), Jordie taught me The Six Major Laws of Dog Happiness, which work equally well for humans. 1. Live in the moment.Whether he was basking in the sun, letting his ears blow in the breeze or rolling in a mud puddle, Jordie was always giving himself a good time. Go for a car ride? A hike in the woods? Take a nap in the shade? Everything was the best idea ever and so exciting it was as though it had never happened before. He never felt guilty about it, never thought, Hmmm, I really should be doing my taxes. He just took the joy and thanked whatever the god of dogs brought his way. After watching him awhile, I finally realized that if I didn't try to interpret, explain and manage everything, if I stopped apologizing for not being productive every minute of life, I could sometimes almost approach that kinds of happiness myself, the happiness of just being. 2. Going a bit insane is wonderful.I used to pride myself on staying rational, stable and calm. Dogs don't buy any of that. At least once a day Jordie took off on what we called a "puppy blowout," when he would suddenly sit up at full alert, as if hearing a distant call from his wolf relatives or his home planet, and then erupt in a full-tilt charge through the house, running in circles through the dining room, kitchen and living room, dashing down the hall and through the bedrooms, leaping up on the beds and down again, then careening up and down the stairs. His ears flew behind him; his eyes were wild—a portrait of pure joy and sheer insanity. Did he care that he looked ridiculous, that we were definitely laughing at him and not with him? Did he fear losing control? Not once. I've learned to do some puppy blowouts myself, singing at the top of my lungs, dancing like I'm at a disco at closing time or simply getting up from my desk to run and scream for a bit. It's wonderful. 3. Just showing up is enough.This is probably one of the great laws of dog happiness and one of the reasons we love them. Dogs don't solve our problems and never offer one piece of advice. All they do is sit with us when we're emotional basket cases, and that's enough. One day when Jordie and I were out walking, we stopped to talk to a woman we didn't know. Usually Jordie, who was shy, stayed close to me, but this time, he went over and stood next to the woman, nudging her hand and then licking it. I apologized for his forwardness. "Oh, that's OK," she said, matter-of-factly. "I was just diagnosed with cancer last week, and dogs know how to be with people who are sick." Sure enough, I started to notice that whenever one of us wasn't feeling well, Jordie was right there next to our beds, just being present—a St. Bernard without the brandy. 4. Feel guilty... and move on.Dogs are masters of the quick guilt trip. They are so very sorry they ate all the appetizers, unrolled the toilet paper and soiled the floor. They are the picture of contrition—lowering their heads and tails, shuffling around, even whimpering about how horrified they are at their scandalous behavior. And then—presto! It's over! They're happy again, back to feeling completely unashamed and quite certain that you've forgiven them, too. It's not that dogs don't know trouble; it's just that they know something we forgot: Staying in trouble mode is boring, destructive and doesn't do anybody any good. Go for a puppy blowout or take a nap. Even just wagging your tail can make you feel better. 5. You can't always be perfect.I have an ex-husband who, every year at Christmas, wanted our children to mail him a white clam pizza from a certain famous pizza restaurant in our city. The children didn't drive, and the pizza place was too snobby to accept phone orders, so this meant that I had to spend an evening standing in a two-hour line (often in the rain or snow), order the pizza, wait for it to be made, then bring it home, pack it into plastic bags and then into a box, and overnight-mail it to him thousands of miles away—yearafter year. Once, after we'd bought the required pizza, before we could pack it up,Jordiecame running into my bedroom with that "Timmy's-in-the-well" look that all watchers of Lassie remember. We followed him to the living room, where it turned out there were slices of pizza strewn everywhere. Some had dog-sized teeth marks in them. Others were simply missing altogether.Jordiedashed around in circles, seemingly distraught at what he had done, before he forgave himself and went to lie down and digest his pizza dinner. It didn't take me long to figure out what to do. I threw away the obviously "used" slices and dusted off the onces that were resting on the couch and on the rug. And then, yes, I packed them up in plastic bags and sent them off the next morning in the mail. Oddly enough, I didn't even feel bad about it. Or if I did, likeJordie, I got over it quickly. And the bonus: I was never asked for another clam pizza. 6. Learn to let go.Make no mistake: Dogs love their possessions just the way humans do. Jordie often had a special stuffed animal friend, a treasure he guarded and protected like his own dear child. When he was in the throes of these relationships, he wouldn't even go for walks without his "lovey" coming along. And then, months later, for no reason I could discern, the relationships would simply be over. He would awaken one day, take a look at his beloved and heave a sigh that spoke volumes: Regret was in there, and sadness, but also a kind of acceptance of a difficult fact. It was time to say goodbye. Perhaps this was a mutual parting of the ways that they both acknowledge at some dog-to-polyester level. He would carry the stuffed animal outside and place it behind our shed, never to be visited again. And that was it. When he came back into the house, he was done, free from his responsibilities. It clearly hadn't been easy, but it was over. If it's not easy to say goodbye to a stuffed animal, it must be even heard to say goodbye to life. But that day came, too. At the end, he had a series of strokes that at first made it difficult for him to walk straight and then made it impossible for him to walk at all. We couldn't bear to give him up, yet we knew we had to. But how do you decide when? We spoke of almost nothing else for weeks. The vet said that when Jordie was no longer taking pleasure in life, that might be the time to have him put down. Finally I made the appointment, the last one of the evening. Jordie and I spent the afternoon together, and I sat with him while he dozed on the floor. I offered him all the forbidden treats he loved: chocolate candies and bites of ice cream. He obligingly took a few nibbles, but I sensed he was only doing this for me. The truth was that he was ready. He put his head next to my hand, the way he'd done with the lady who had cancer. Then he sighed, the way he had when he was about to say goodbye to a stuffed animal. I knew it was me he was comforting, not himself. He was ready to slip away, to ride that moment right out there—without fear, without panic, without regret. I recognized the same wordless happiness he'd always known. He licked my hand, took one more deep breath, and then he was quiet. We sattogether until it was time to go. Sandi Kahn Shelton is the author of three humor books about parenting and four novels, including The Stuff That Never Happened, which she wrote under the pen name of Maddie Dawson. She's at work on a fifth novel and is thinking about getting another dog. She lives in Connecticut.
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Family lying on floor with their heads touching

8 Ways to Raise Happy Kids

If there is one thing on which all parents can agree it is—they want their kids to be happy. While you cannot control the happiness of your kids, you can increase your chances of raising happy children by creating a loving, positive and safe environment at home. With that in mind, we have rounded up 8 tips to consider.Be a happy parent. If you ignore your own happiness, you could be teaching your child that personal happiness doesn’t matter. You cannot raise kids to value their happiness if you don’t value your own. Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home,says, “If I want a household with an affectionate, encouraging and playful atmosphere, that’s the spirit I must bring with me.”Feel your feelings. Having a joyful life doesn’t mean being happy 100 percent of the time, says Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. She encourages kids and parents alike to lean into their feelings even if they are negative. “I’m not really one for rumination. Meaning: I make an effort to feel my feelings, often deeply, and then, if the feelings are negative, I move on,” she says. Carter encourages her kids to acknowledge negative feelings and move on quickly to learn resilience.Play games. Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families suggests families create fun by playing games, inventing goofy traditions and singing a favorite song that make eyes roll. Every Friday night in his family everyone goes around the table and names one good and one bad thing about their day. “By watching others, including mom and dad, navigate ups and downs in real time, children develop empathy and solidarity with those around them,” Feiler says.Demonstrate empathy. Whether it’s charitable works, giving back or volunteering, doing good works with your kids teaches them that making other people happy can make them happy too. Being helpful to others can also lead to meaningful conversations about empathy.Lighten up. Research done at the Economic and Social Research Councils’ Festival of Social Science indicates that joking, laughing and pretend playtime with toddlers helps prepare them for their social life by learning creativity and having fun.Show self-compassion. Be kind to yourself so your kids learn self-compassion, according toPsychology Today. When you are always beating yourself up or self-critical, you are inadvertently teaching your kids that they should be able to control things that they cannot—such as the reactions of others or losing a team sport. Show your kids how to keep perspective and treat themselves kindly.Create a family mission statement. Write your family mission statement with your kids, incorporating their ideas and displaying it to show your strong family narrative. Or come up with your own parenting manifesto—your promises to your kids—and display it where your kids can see it, says Brene Brown, researcher and author of Daring Greatly.Encourage your child to keep a journal. Have your kids start a gratitude or observation journal, recording a favorite part of the day, the best memory, a new experience or discovery. You will be teaching your child gratitude and how to absorb the joy in small moments.As you teach your kids the skills they need to be happier, you also will be teaching them about resilience, and bonus, you will become happier too.Sandra Bienkowski, owner of The Media Concierge, LLC, is a national writer of wellness and personal development content and a social media expert.
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