Happy woman in swimming pool wearing sunglasses.

How to Have a Happy Forecast

Every time someone walks into a room, they bring their own weather.Some people smile at you and you feel warmed just by their attention. Spend time with them and you get a sunnier perspective on the landscape that you are walking together. When you’re with them, you feel stronger to face the challenges.Some people usher in a cold front. You wrap your sweater a little tighter around you to insulate yourself from their chill. Others bring cloudy skies, with a chance of rain. Unpredictable, stormy, or just overcast.Yes, a happy person chooses their own barometric pressure. And you can tell the temperature in their spirit the minute they walk into the office, the book club or the party.Now there are plenty of good reasons why sunny days turn cloudy, but the person who has learned to navigate their own weather welcomes a whole lot of other people to walk with them in the rain. How do they do that? Among other things, they adopt three sheltering attitudes:They consider others. When they walk into the room, a happy person doesn’t think, “Well, here I am. Please love me.” Instead they get their eye on someone in front of them, walk toward them with body language that says, “Well, there you are! I was hoping you’d be here.” They set their own insecurities aside and serve another. In so doing they take the pressure off themselves—to measure up a certain way or out-do someone else. They are free to make someone else feel braver, and not surprisingly, they get there themselves.They know how to share their life. One year for my birthday, I bought myself counseling. It’s funny now, but at the time, I knew I needed to work through some huge hurts and changes in my life and I wanted to spare my girlfriends another lunch talking about the situation. I wanted to share my life with them, but the whole of my life—not just the sad parts. I care about my girlfriends and they care about me and we’ve learned that sharing includes, but is not limited to, “help me get through this.”They say thank you. Gratitude just makes you sunnier. With practice, anyone can see the good that even rain brings. Gratitude sets an altitude for living. When you’re most grateful, you just find it easier to breathe. It’s a curious fact—often the people who have suffered the most are also the most grateful. In their struggle to survive, they see something beautiful and precious that gets missed in routine living. I think they get a glimpse of the blue skies above the clouds.What’s the forecast today? You tell me. We all struggle with insecurities, with heartache, with challenges, but we can also choose our own weather outlook.Makes you wonder, when people see you coming do they grab their umbrella or sunglasses?
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"Stickney Brook Yoga 56" by raganmd, on Flickr

Exercise and Happiness: Finding Flow

Do you ever go out jogging and feel completely in a groove? You are in a zone and feel like you could run forever. Or you get so enthralled with your yoga class that your stressful day melts away, time disappears and you are surprised when class is over?While that feeling may not happen as often as you'd like, it's an example of flow, a coin termed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology. Happiness and positive psychology experts believe experiencing flow is tied closely to personal happiness.To experience flow means you are in the middle of an activity or task with complete, intense absorption and you've hit just the right combination of challenge and skill. Flow can refer to any activity (not just exercise) where you are completely engaged and absorbed. Your sense of accomplishment and happiness are enhanced."A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe."—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi​If you want to experience more moments of flow in your life,Csikszentmihalyi outlines the following eight conditions of flow:Goals are clear. You know what you are trying to accomplish. You have a sense of clarity. You know what you need to do.Feedback is immediate. Results are measurable. You know if you are doing well.A balance between opportunity and capacity. It has to be the right mixture of skill and challenge. If it's too easy, you get bored. Too hard, and anxiety creeps in.Concentration deepens. You are totally absorbed.The present is what matters. No worries about the past or thinking about tomorrow, you are only focused on the task at hand.Control is no problem. You have a sense of control and satisfaction.The sense of time is altered. Time flies!The loss of ego. You are lost in what you are doing, and feel part of something larger. Self-consciousness disappears.What are you doing when you experience flow? What tasks require full involvement and are the right combination of challenge and skill for you? Finding activities and environments conductive to flow can increase your happiness, whether at work, at home or during your workout routine.To help you find flow, follow these tips:Flow happens when you are doing what you really love to do.Flow has a strong correlation with the development of skills and personal growth.Once you have mastered a skill, seek greater challenges to keep you in a state of flow.You are motivated to perform and perform well.Pursue your expertise or specialization, where you can improve your knowledge over time.Don't just pursue an activity to achieve something; enjoy the activity for its own sake.Yoga is an example of flow for many people. In his book,Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, "The similarities between yoga and flow are extremely strong. It makes sense to think of yoga as a thoroughly planned flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration which is made possible by the discipline of the body."So, what's flow for you? When you lose track of time, you will know!"People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy."—MihalyCsikszentmihalyiChris Freytag has dedicated her adult life to motivating people to lead healthier lives. A contributing editor toPreventionmagazine, she's also written two books,Shortcuts to Big Weight Loss, and her latest,2-Week Total Body Turnaround. She also had appeared on NBC's Today show and MSNBC's Weekend Update.
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"time to meditate" by BettyNudler, on Flickr

Want Peace of Mind?

Multitasking—it's the small-business owner's Red Bull. Without it, you feel like you'll never get through all you have to do in a day, right? Well, get this: "The newest research shows that multitasking results in greater stress and lower productivity. That means the more you try to get done at once, the less you get done in practice," says David Dillard-Wright, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina Aiken and author ofMeditation for Multitaskers. If you're thinking, Research, smesearch. Give me one good reason why I should change the way I work, Dillard-Wright offers this word: "Peace." "I think that we have been conditioned to believe that life must be hectic and unmanageable," he says, "that it's just a dog-eat-dog world and we all have to scramble to survive. That mentality leads to a lower standard of living, measured in quality of life, for everyone." Dillard-Wright says meditation has been shown in a number of peer-reviewed studies to reduce stress and improve health, not to mention focus. And, he says, "far from being impractical or escapist, meditation actually induces a more realistic perception of the world by helping us to see clearly." Meditation can also help youlearn to remain calm in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It changes your thought processes, says Dillard-Wright, "getting to the very basis of problems like depression and anxiety. Oftentimes we think that something must be wrong externally with our lives when the real problem lies in false perceptions." To begin, try sitting still for a few minutes and noticing your breathing. Count the breaths or listen to some soothing music. Don't overcomplicate it. Be quiet, and let that be enough. Stress Less > Get relaxation on the go with these apps for meditation and stress reduction Stress Free With Deepak Chopra—​Five relaxing soundtracks, including breathing and sleep programs, guided by the meditation master. $1.99 for iPhone/iPad StressPile—A stress tracker that helps you identify where and when you're most vulnerable to a meltdown so you can start to manage repeat offenders. $0.99 for iPhone/iPad Simply Being—Guided voice meditation for 5-20 minutes, plus music or nature sound options. $0.99 for iPhone/iPad/Android Medication Objections > Think you can't meditate? You're not alone. I'm not crossing my legs like that. "Don't get too focused on having the proper techniques," says David Dillard-Wright, author ofMeditation for Multitaskers. "Meditation should be the simplest, most intuitive part of your life. There are plenty of good meditation teachers, but practice is the best teacher of all. In the beginning, don't be intimidated and just get started. Silence will teach you everything you need to know." I can't sit still that long. "The ability to sit for longer periods of time comes with practice. Everyone has a set point beyond which continuing to sit brings diminished returns. You will know when you have reached that point when you either fall asleep or want to throw something against the wall. Just like in physical exercise, you develop your meditation 'muscles' with repeated use." My mind never shuts up. "You don't have to master your mind in order to meditate, if mastery means beating it into submission. As thoughts arise you simply dismiss them, like pop-up advertisements." I have about five minutes of spare time. "Meditation is as simple as taking a few deep breaths and developing a receptive attitude toward the world. Rather than imposing your will on reality, you simply pay attention to whatever arises in yourself or in the world."
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"laughing" by nosha, on Flickr

Choosing Happy

Once upon a time, the Peanuts gang sang to us about “Happiness,” describing it as “finding a pencil,” “knowing a secret,” “telling the time.” Today, the alternative rock band The Fray describes happiness as “a firecracker sitting on my headboard.” Even the very source of definitions, Merriam-Webster, fails to offer perfect clarity, with a definition of happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.”Perhaps the true meaning of happiness will always remain elusive—probably because it is not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing—yet, we can tell you with utmost certainty one thing that happiness is: a choice.You need only look to the recent worldwide recession for proof. While some greedy CEOs were busy lamenting the loss of benefits and bonuses, other Americans were facing lost jobs, lost homes, lost dreams. But it didn’t kill their spirits or their smiles, as they refused to be victims of their circumstances. Instead, many of these people were downright happy to still have their health, their families and their lives. They chose happiness over unhappiness, refusing to let the latter get the best of them.Now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and the economy is on the rebound, it seems more and more Americans not only want happiness but also realize it is within reach. At Harvard, where studies show an average four in five students suffer from depression, one of the most popular courses is positive psychology. And books centered on happiness quickly jump to the top of The New York Times Best-Seller list, including Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purposeand Gretchen Rubin’sThe Happiness Project.As Ann Hampton Callaway sings, “It’s hip to be happy”— and isn’t it about time? Of course, this doesn’t mean we should forget the lessons learned in recent years or that we shouldn’t sympathize with people still feeling economic burdens. But, if you’re reading this, you survived one of the worst crises in recent history, and that’s certainly something to celebrate.In fact, it’s not just hip to be happy; it’s an inalienable right, according to the founding document of our country. And the exact wording—“the pursuit of happiness”—is apropos, as happiness is a state that we must constantly strive to achieve. But you can catch it—if you choose to try.Happiness Is… a Physical ReactionWhile the jury may still be out on the definition of happiness from spiritual and emotional standpoints, recent science has made huge breakthroughs in pinning down the physiological definition of happiness.InBuddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson and Dr. Richard Mendius focus on two questions: “What brain states underlie happiness, love and wisdom?” and “How can you stimulate and strengthen these positive brain states?”Only within the last 40 years has the scientific community accepted the theory of neuroplasticity—that the brain can change over time. And that philosophy is at the heart ofBuddha’s Brain:“We can actually use the mind to change the brain. The simple truth is that how we focus our attention, how we intentionally direct the flow of energy and information through our neural circuits, can directly alter the brain’s activity and its structure.”Much of what changes the brain over time are our experiences, so Hanson and Mendius argue that if we embrace and focus on positive experiences instead of negative ones, these will become part of the landscape of our brains.“Every time you take in the good, you build a little bit of neural structure,” they say. “Doing this a few times a day—for months and even years—will gradually change your brain, how you feel and act, in far-reaching ways.”They also point to the powerful effects of meditation, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system in several ways, including “withdrawing attention from stressful matters, relaxing and bringing awareness to the body.” In the long term, regular meditation can actually increase gray matter in key parts of the brain, in turn improving “psychological functions associated with these regions, including attention, compassion and empathy.” It can also lift mood, decrease stress-related cortisol, strengthen the immune system and help a variety of medical conditions.If you’re puzzled about those four out of five depressed students at Harvard, so was Shawn Achor, a student and later a teacher at the Ivy League institution. But he focused on the one out of five, “the individuals who were truly flourishing, to see what exactly was giving them such an advantage over their peers. What was it that allowed these people to escape the gravitational pull of the norm? Could patterns be teased out of their lives and experience to help others in all walks of life to be more successful in an increasingly stressful and negative world?”His findings areThe Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Through his exposure to and research in positive psychology (one of his mentors was Tal Ben-Shahar, the professor of the aforementioned psychology class), Achor concluded that the popular belief that success leads to happiness is actually true in the reverse, “that happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity and energy.”From a physical standpoint, Achor says this is because “our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.” Achor cites Barbara Fredrickson’sBroaden and Build Theory,which states that positive emotions “broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative and open to new ideas” and “help us build more intellectual, social and physical resources we can rely upon in the future.”The biological explanation is that feeling happy releases dopamine and serotonin, which “dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer and retrieve it faster later on.”Happiness Is… Self-ReinforcingWhenPeanuts’Lucy and Linus sang about the simple everyday activities—“climbing a tree” or “learning to whistle”—that can bring happiness, they were actually onto something. As Hanson and Mendius write inBuddha’s Brain,“Small positive actions every day will add up to large changes over time, as you gradually build new neural structures.”That’s what Rubin discovered inThe Happiness Project,which has the subtitle,Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun.One dreary day on a city bus, the wife, mother and writer realized she wasn’t focusing on the important things in life and decided to spend a year making her life—and herself—happier. But, since she couldn’t uproot her existence for some Walden-esque sojourn, she committed to taking small steps.“Making little changes in your ordinary day can have a dramatic impact on the happiness you feel on an everyday basis,” she says. “Be mindful about your life and your choices. [These changes have] to be manageable.”Over the course of a year, Rubin found that the smallest things made the biggest difference. “For example, I started my kids’ literature reading group, and I started my own blog,” she says. “I have been struck by the number of people who say that making their bed made a huge difference, and that is about as small as it can get. If they make their bed, they start out the day on the right foot.” She also found these seemingly minor accomplishments had a snowball effect, boosting her mood and building momentum to achieve even more positive feats.Tony Hsieh also knows how important the little things can be. As CEO of Zappos, he helped grow the online company from almost no sales in 1999 to more than $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually—and he counts company culture as his No. 1 priority.InDelivering Happiness,he outlines how guests on the Zappos headquarters tour in Las Vegas (yes, they offer an open tour of their offices to the general public) are likely to see anything from “a popcorn machine or a coffee machine dressed up as a robot” to “employees dressed up as pirates, employees karaokeing, a nap room, a petting zoo or a hot dog social.” After all, one of the company’s 10 core values is, “Create fun and a little weirdness.”“Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff—like great customer service or building a great long-term brand or passionate employees and customers—will happen naturally on its own,” says Hsieh, who was named 2009SUCCESSAchiever of the Year primarily because of these principles.Jamie Naughton, who leads Zappos’ Cruise Ship Operations Department within Human Resources, agrees. “I think it matters a great deal if employees are happy because happy employees tend to do better work,” she says of the “culture extras” she administers, such as employee recognition programs, parties and events, community involvement and employee communications. “Zappos takes happiness seriously, and it creates a more positive work environment, less absenteeism—people aren’t having the Monday blues because they’re excited about being at their job.”At the end of her yearlong experiment, Rubin was sold that happiness is indeed voluntary—and always within reach. “I really am happier,” she says. “After all my research, I found out what I knew all along: I could change my life without changing my life. When I made the effort to reach out for them, I found that the ruby slippers had been on my feet all along; the bluebird was singing outside my kitchen window.”
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Kids play skiprope on Morro Strand State Beach

Boost Your Mood: 23 Ways to Up Your Love of Life

When we have a legal issue, we call in a lawyer. When the pipes burst, we ring up a plumber. When tax time rolls around, we schedule an appointment with our accountant. So why, when it comes to one of the most instrumental aspects of our personal and professional lives—being happy—are we so remiss about deferring to the experts? To help you make up for lost time, we consulted a squad of qualified sources, from lifestyle coaches to licensed psychologists, who were only too happy to share their insights and ideas about how to put—and keep—a smile on your face and a spring in your step. After all, shouldn’t happiness be a top priority on your daily to-do list?Happiness 101Gregg Steinberg, author of the best-selling self-help bookFull Throttlesays, “Happiness in everyday life is all about mastering our emotions. You can be miserable even when you are successful, and you can be happy even if you are not successful. Your emotional mastery is key to your happiness.”Steinberg, who is a tenured professor of human performance and teaches a course called “Mental Health and Happiness” at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., coaches people to develop an emotional toughness that will help them achieve their best possible state and to create effective emotional habits so that you will return to your best state under pressure. One of his favorite tips involves dealing with colleagues who drain you and create unhappiness. “To change this [dynamic], I tell people to make up a story about the colleague so that they see that person in a more empathetic and compassionate way. For instance, for a colleague who is very annoying and is constantly needing your attention, you can make up a story about how that person never got any attention at home from their mom and dad as a child, so they seek out attention elsewhere to make up for this deficiency. With that story in mind, you will see the colleague as less annoying and you will be happier and less drained.”Retrain Your BrainAt 19, Joseph McClendon was broke and living in a cardboard box. Depressed and ashamed, he felt he had nothing to live for. While riding his motorcycle one day, he contemplated swerving into oncoming traffic and ending it all. But then, in the blink of an eye, the semi-truck in front of him blew a tire, and everything changed. McClendon remembers the incident in his new book,Get Happy NOW!“Seconds before, I wanted to die. But now I had no choice, and I watched in horror as a 100-pound chunk of flying, jettisoned rubber propelled backward toward my head. A part of me welcomed the irony and an end to my pain, so I braced for the impact. But instinctively my physical reflexes kicked in and I ducked. The chunk missed my head, but it hit me in the shoulder hard and knocked me off my bike, sending me cartwheeling like a rag doll…. Life has a way of shaking you up.”From that moment, McClendon realized he wanted to live. That awareness initiated the transformation of a once-homeless man into one of the top performance coaches in the country, with a client list that includesFortune500 executives. In this latest book, he explores happiness—“a fundamental element of life that so many humans are missing.”Here is one of many exercises in the book—this particular one “designed for clarity and focus.” Get out a pen and give these three areas some thought:1. Take a moment to think realistically about where you are and what you want to change. Think about the things that stress you and detract from your success. If it’s paying bills late and accruing hundreds of dollars of late fees as a result, be open and honest with yourself about why you avoid looking at bills…. If you have problems in business or in a relationship, write them down. The point of this exercise is to honestly understand where you are, in order to navigate out of it.2. I’m successful in many areas, but the things I’d like to work on to be happier overall are: _____________.3. I could be much more understanding, patient or focused on certain things. I could increase my character traits (patience, love, giving, joy, discipline) and become better at: ______________________ .Now, with these insights in mind, you can move forward to solutions, and one small step at a time, implement habits that result in a happier you.Another exercise McClendon recommends, substantially shortened here, helps you replace negative thoughts with positive ones the instant those rotten thoughts crop up. So if you’re at work and you find yourself thinking, I suck at numbers. I can’t do this, immediately replace that put-down with one of McClendon’s favorite positive phrases: I freakin’ rock!Gratitude = A Better AttitudeMelanie Greenberg, a licensed clinical and health psychologist who has aPsychology Todayblog called “The Mindful Self-Express,” believes that writing a gratitude diary is one of the “ingredients of a healthy, balanced life.” Yeah, you’ve heard it before; that’s because it works. Here’s her advice for a new approach:1. Find a notebook that either has an attractive cover or that you can decorate yourself with a picture that inspires you.2. At the end of each day, take 15 minutes to write a gratitude entry.3. Begin by reflecting on all of the people and things that helped you or brought you pleasure that day. It might be the sight of a beautiful flower, the sunshine, the taste of good food, a joke or call from a friend, a hug from your spouse or child, a creative project, exercise, or an organizational tool. You might be grateful to yourself for getting an important project done.4. Close your eyes and focus on the feelings of gratitude that these things bring you. Really breathe and absorb the feeling of being helped and supported.5. Now write a diary entry that expresses your gratitude for these things. You may choose to make a list of items or pick just one or two to focus on. Write a sentence or paragraph, draw a picture, make a collage, paste a photograph, or write or print out a poem, song or prayer.6. At the end of each week, read over your diary entries and add any other thoughts or insights that may come up. Think about how being grateful has helped your health, well-being or relationships that week and record that.7. At the end of the month, review the whole journal, noting any changes in happiness that you observe.Start ’Em Out YoungOf all of the life lessons we teach our kids, one of them should surely be how to be happy, and Educational Insights has made it all that much easier with the brand-newThe 7 Habits of Happy Kids. The game, which promotes “playtime that lasts a lifetime,” was inspired by TheNew York Timesbest-selling book of the same name, written by Sean Covey. “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids Game teaches kids about the underlying principles of true happiness, such as personal responsibility, integrity, the importance of relationships, life balance and service to others,” Covey says. “No matter how old or young, rich or poor, these principles always apply, and no one can ever be truly happy without following them.” As players progress around the 7 Habits game board, they draw cards that prompt them to perform activities based on these all-important traits, such as teamwork or listening (after everyone lists a favorite ice cream flavor, the cardholder has to repeat them back, matching each person to the correct flavor).Dirty Socks and Seat BeltsGretchen Rubin had an epiphany one day on a cross-town bus when she found herself asking, “What do I want from life, anyway?” The result is both a top-selling memoir and a popular blog titled The Happiness Project, where she writes about the tools and techniques necessary to achieve the ideal state of bliss. For one thing, she has started compiling a list of the “bare minimum” things we should do on a daily basis in order to be happy and healthy.“The list doesn’t include major challenges, like ‘Quit smoking,’ ” Rubin says, although she admits this is obviously an important goal.Instead, she chose “concrete, very essential things” to do as part of her everyday routine. As you read them, think about what you would add to this list of self-caring activities.Wear your seat belt.Take prescription medications properly.Go for a 10-minute walk (preferably outside).Put your keys and wallet away in the same place.Take something with you. For instance, drop your dirty socks in the hamper on your way from your bedroom to the kitchen.Charge your phone.Connect with someone close to you.Go to bed in time to get a good night’s sleep.What’s Good Posture Got to Do With It?Who knew simply sitting up straight could make you happier? At least that’s what Michael Mercer, a psychologist from Barrington, Ill., says. Mercer is the co-author ofSpontaneous Optimism: Proven Strategies for Health, Prosperity & Happiness, and maintaining good posture is just one of the five techniques he has come up with for instantly raising your happiness quotient.1. Stand up straight and take big steps. Walking with your shoulders back, your head held high, and taking long, brisk steps exudes confidence and positivity, whereas if you’re slouched over and dragging your feet, you come off as and feel like a gloomy Gus.2. Speak in a cheerful voice. A surefire way to lift your mood is to use a cheery voice. In other words, if you sound happy, you are happy.3. Use upbeat words. Upsetting words are the trademark of pessimists. For example, a pessimist would say, “I have a problem,” while an optimist would turn it around and say, “I have an opportunity to do better next time.”4. Have an upbeat attitude. The chief method for becoming an eternal optimist is to concentrate on solutions, not problems. That way you avoid all the complaining and blaming and focus instead on how to remedy the situation. When you find yourself worrying, focus on this phrase: For every problem, there is a solution.5. Be a good role model. There’s an old saying that goes, “What goes around, comes around.” So keep in mind that when you help someone else, you’re also helping yourself.Serenity NowIn his books The Art of Serenityand The Spirit of Happiness, T. Byram Karasu takes readers on a spiritual journey to self-fulfillment. So it comes as no surprise that Karasu’s recipe for happiness involves a sprinkling of peaceful reflection: “In your mind, always go to joyful places,” advises Karasu, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.“Everyone, even the most unfortunate of us, will have something joyful in our past. You should write those episodes down in detail, in chronological order. Then find a moment of solitude and visualize those memories and try to re-experience the emotions associated with them. Do it again the following few days until they are fully registered and remembered instantly when needed. Thereafter, take a few meditative minutes each day to evoke one of those emotionally joyful memories. Usually, the first one will bring the person to a good mood; if not, then the second, the third, etc., must be evoked until happiness does set in.”Look for the Silver LiningWhen Aurora Winter’s husband was only 33, he died suddenly, leaving her a widow with a 4-year-old son to raise. Heartbroken and scared, she wrestled with the nagging feeling that his loss was the worst thing that had ever happened to her. But when she allowed herself to wonder if there was possibly any good to come from it, she began to feel empowered. The former film and TV producer’s journey toward a renewed sense of faith, hope and joy is the basis of her bookFrom Heartbreak to Happiness: An Intimate Diary of Healing. Winter has since become a speaker, life coach and founder of the Grief Coach Academy, an organization that works to reduce the time it takes for people to get over similar heartbreak. What she has discovered along the way is that the majority of our pain isn’t actually caused by a situation but rather by our thinking about the situation. “Only 10 percent of our happiness is due to life circumstances,” believes Winter. “About half of our happiness is habitual or genetic, and 40 percent can shift in a moment, by thinking about the situation differently.”To help others dealing with a death, divorce or other painful life event, Winter offers these three steps to faster healing:1. Express your feelings. If you can’t feel it, you can’t heal it. Putting off dealing with your feelings is like putting off dealing with your taxes. They don’t go away, and the consequences just get worse and worse. So have a good cry, hit a punching bag or stand outside and give a good yell.2. Accept the situation and then see how you can best navigate it. Thinking the river should flow uphill doesn’t change its direction. Resistance creates stress. Acceptance empowers you to make wise choices.3. Get support. Again, if you had a broken arm, you would go to the doctor and get it set immediately. Yet often people with broken hearts hesitate to invest in their well-being. Don’t make this mistake. Create a support team of friends and family, or talk with a coach or therapist.There’s an App for ThatIf after all this advice, you feel like you still need some help maintaining your high spirits, consider downloading the app “Healthy Habits,” which promotes the idea that by creating better habits, we create happier lives. “Habits are those little things we do without thinking, the default behaviors or thoughts that help us speed through our day,” says Jo Masterson, a vice president at 2Morrow Mobile, the makers of the iPhone- and Android-friendly app. “That is great if our habits are good ones; however, some of our habits make life harder and less happy—think procrastinating, overspending or gossiping.” The app provides a daily reminder of the healthy but sometimes dreaded habits we should follow. “Start each day by doing the one thing you need to do but dread doing,” Masterson explains, comparing it to “eating that frog.” “Just get it done and out of the way. You will feel both powerful and lighter in spirit.”
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Woman running outdoors

Drs. Oz & Roizen: Make Your Good Mood a Habit

In this month’s column, we respond to your questions about happiness and suggest ways to increase your sense of well-being.- - -Q:When I turn on the television, I often see advertisements for antidepressants, herbs and other treatments that “guarantee” happiness. Isn’t there a straightforward, no-nonsense guide to real joy—one without pills or othertreatments?A:Secret formulas to instant happiness are as hyped as a used-car salesman’s deals, but real happiness comes from having a purpose in life, which is determined by the choices and changes you can make every day. Make the following actions part of your regular routine, because we know that happy people do these things more often than unhappy people.Talk nicely to yourself.Out with the put-downs (Why can’t I do anything right?) and in with encouraging, positive words (Great job!). So give yourself regular pep talks.Get really connected.Swap the Facebooking and other electronic communications for heart-to-heart conversations with people you care about and who care about you. Talk to them in person if you can, or telephone them if you can’t meet face to face.Say thanks.Keep a daily journal to remind you how much you’re grateful for. Review your gratitude journal each day so you remain optimistic and thankful.Get moving.Sitting around brooding perpetuates a cycle of negative thinking. Schedule at least 30 minutes of activity a day to boost happiness.Meditate.The process eases stress, strengthens immunity and increases happiness.Understand unhappiness when it occurs.When things get you down (which they will), learn from them. Hard times help us see what really matters.And most important: Share your passion.It’s great to give to charity or volunteer, but there’s more to the golden rule than meets the eye. Getting involved with a cause that matters to you benefits you as much as others. You don’t have to donate money, just time and passion. You don’t have an obligation to society to find a bigger purpose; you have an obligation to your own health and happiness. And the more you value what you are doing with your mind, the more you’ll do healthier things with your body.- - -Q:I’ve recently been running and often hear about a so-called “runner’s high” that has to do with endorphins. What is this?A:Endorphins are proteins produced by your cells (mostly in your nervous system) that act like narcotics to relieve pain and stress. Aerobic exercise—a workout that makes you sweat in a cold room—increases endorphins. Even a little exercise improves your mood.Endorphins are powerful. Their release can reduce depression more effectively than many antidepressants. And athletes say strenuous endeavors such as a hilly, long-distance run can produce an endorphin high that lasts many hours.Endorphin release may allow you to exercise more, too. Many scientists credit endorphin release for a runner’s experience of what’s often described as a “second wind,” a feeling of peace or almost effortlessmovement.Regular exercise also provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment that is a crucial ingredient to happiness.- - -Q:People say that simply by smiling, someone can be happier. Is that true?A:We all have friends or family who fit the polar ends of personality: the cheerleader types who smile after getting puddle-pummeled by a bus and the negative types who scowl at butterflies. Scientists aren’t sure how or why, but research has shown that smiling lightens a person’s mood (and frowning drags it down).Positive emotions play a crucial role in developing the enduring relationships that are critical for your happiness. One example of this is the shared smile between mother and baby. If you add laughter to that smile, you increase the feel-good effect, reduce stress and pain, relax your body and boost your immune system. If you share your smile by making someone else smile, you’ll pass on the benefits to him or her. - - -Q:Every winter I feel down even though I haven’t been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. I know it has to do with the sun, but can you explain it?A:Sunlight and the vitamin D3 it provides both have important effects on mood. Those who are depressed because of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, feel better when they’re exposed to special ultraviolet lights for the home for 20 minutes a day. Another option that’s been shown to work: Go to sports events or arenas where there are a lot of bright lights because any strong lights can brighten your mood.Also ensure that you’re getting adequate exercise and enough vitamin D3 in supplements (1,000 IU a day) to keep the downside at bay.- - -Q:How does adequate sleep affect a person’s happiness?A:Individuals with insomnia, especially chronic insomnia, are a whopping five times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety! Sleep is the major stimulant for your own growth hormone, which is superior to what you can get from a vial. Your own growth hormone helps keep your skin taut and vibrant. After all, nobody looks all that beautiful with bags under the eyes. So sleep makes you feel better and look better.We’ve all suffered from sleepless periods, and if you’re not getting adequate sleep for weeks and months on end, it’s time to see a physician. A 2006 Institute of Medicine report estimated that 50 million to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic but treatable sleep disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment, and one such program is GO! To Sleepon the Cleveland Clinic Wellness site. The $40 web-based program, designed for at-home use for six weeks, is smartphone-accessible.In the meantime, make your bedroom a no-electronics zone to remove distractions that interfere with sleep. Before bedtime, spend 10 minutes to prep for the next day (making a list or lunch), 10 minutes for hygiene and 10 minutes for meditation. Keep the room cool and dark during sleep hours.Relearning a healthful sleep pattern may take six to eight weeks, but it’s worth the effort. You’ll function better, look much better and be much happier.- - -Q:What are the benefits of a good sex life?A:Sexual intimacy increases the body’s release of oxytocin, a chemical that enhances happiness and pleasure for you and your partner.The benefits don’t stop there, though. Mutually monogamous sex reduces your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and even accidents; it makes you look and feel younger; and it dampens pain. Why? Sex and orgasm increase blood flow to your arteries (that’s why your skin plumps in important areas and certain organs get bigger and harder). This increased blood flow provides more oxygen and nutrients to places that need it most, including your brain, which is really your biggest sex organ. Sex rejuvenates hair and skin for the samereason.We’d say that it’s nature’s best, and most fun, way of reducing your RealAge (the age of your body based on your health history and practices) and making you more beautiful (for more about how to measure and improve inner and outer beauty, visit our website YOUBeauty.com).- - -Q:My friend has been eating a dark chocolate bar with chili pepper in it. To me it sounds disgusting, but she says there are health benefits and it lifts her mood. Is this true?A:Yes, spicy foods and chocolate make your RealAge younger, but you don’t have to eat them together—that’s up to your taste buds.First let’s start with dark chocolate. Dark chocolate (it must contain at least 70 percent cocoa)—not milk chocolate—contains natural chemicals that help protect your cells from free radicals that cause inflammation and disease. Dark chocolate also contains agents to lower your blood pressure. A half-ounce a day is the recommended “dosage.”Spicy foods (and chili peppers in particular) activate endorphins, natural painkillers. The result? For some, it’s all watery eyes, a flaming mouth and tingly lips; for others, it’s pure pain relief and happiness. Chili peppers also contain an active ingredient called capsaicin, which can be found in some topical arthritis creams and is beneficial in relieving joint pain in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.Our recommendation is that you eat a half-ounce of 70 percent or greater dark chocolate each day and enjoy spicy food if you can handle it.
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Happy woman in pink workout top.

Happier Mind, Healthier Body

In 1964, Norman Cousins checked himself out of a hospital and holed up in a hotel room with a bucket-load of vitamins and lots of Marx Brothers movies.He believed that along with the vitamins, laughing and fostering a positive mood would help him beat ankylosing spondylitis, a debilitating inflammation of the spine. Cousins then told his story of recovery in the book Anatomy of an Illness, which helped popularize the notion that positive thinking (and laughter) is the bestmedicine.“People have known for centuries that positive thoughts benefit health, and scientists are now coming up with the research to support it,” says Louisa Jewell, president of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, who holds a master’s degree in applied positive psychology. “We’re getting a lot more information from neuroscientists who are trying to understand the physiological effects of our thoughts.”Over the years, little by little, these researchers have established how positive thinking can contribute to a healthier body. One example: In 2005, Dr. Dennis Charney, dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, examined about 750 Vietnam veterans who had been prisoners of war; he found that those who didn’t suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder shared 10 common characteristics. The primary trait Charney believes contributed to these veterans’ resilience:optimism.A 2008 study by Ruut Veenhoven, a Dutch researcher who’s pioneered research into happiness, discovered that happiness is a predictor of physical health. More recently, Barbara Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that happiness even influences our bodies on a cellular level. And in 2012, researchers from Emory University found that a lack of positive mental health increased mortality rates for people of all ages.Each study is a different piece of the puzzle of how positive thinking affects the body. With each new study, the picture becomes clearer. Even now we have some revealing and amazing ways happiness provides physiological benefits. Here’s a body-part-by-body-part rundown of this happiness-healthconnection:BrainThink about the biochemical activity in your brain as sort of background music. If those tunes are like the soundtrack to a horror movie, you’ll likely feel a grueling tenseness all day long. But if that music is happy and uplifting, your day will seem easier, and you’ll be able to focus and be less stressed. That music is sort of how mood affects thebrain.As part of a 2009 study, Northwestern University researchers determined that subjects in a higher positive mood solved more problems with more insight compared to those in a lower positive mood. Also according to a 2010 study, increases in mental health, or optimism, predict declines in mentalillness.Being able to problem-solve at work may mean taking a break to get in a positive frame of mind. Think positive, do better at your job. And, there’s also potential for positive thinking to be another tool to help bolster mentalhealth.Nervous SystemMore than merely increasing satisfaction in life, optimism can seep into your nervous system to convey some surprising benefits. Being optimistic can reduce sensitivity to cold and pain, according to a study of 79 university students by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. To establish a level of pain, subjects had to immerse their hands in ice water. Then a random half of the students were asked to imagine their Best Possible Self, which has been shown to increase levels of optimism. The results revealed a causal relationship between optimism and pain. The students who received the positive interventions felt less pain.Also, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Florida discovered that more optimistic people rate their pain as less severe. The study examined 140 with osteoarthritic disease and measured responses to heat and pressure.The Dutch researchers believe that positive emotions may be used to provide pain relief similar to medication. And the University of Alabama at Birmingham scientists think that a positive outlook may improve patients’ outlook on future pain and may mean better care through improved compliance with their doctors’treatments.Immune SystemWant to test how much a positive attitude can affect your health? Just wait for flu season. In 2006, Carnegie Mellon University researchers gave nasal drops carrying the rhinovirus or influenza to 193 healthy volunteers. Those with a positive emotional style had a lower risk of developing either condition. In 2005, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University exposed 81 subjects to hepatitis B vaccine and monitored the antibody reaction among those who had positive and negative attitudes. Those with a positive attitude felt subjectively less sick and not bothered by symptoms. But more compelling, the antibodies of those with a positive attitude were 1.73times higher than those with negative attitudes.Reproductive SystemResearchers from Israel exposed women using in-vitro fertilization to 15-minute sessions of a clown making jokes and doing tricks. The study published in Fertility and Sterility showed that this lightening of mood dramatically increased pregnancy rates. Of the women in the study, 36.4 percent who experienced positive emotions after embryo transfer became pregnant versus only 20.2 percent of those who failed to become pregnant. The positive emotions brought forth from the entertainment may have reduced the stress felt by the women, researcherssuggest.DiabetesThe American Diabetes Association estimates that about 25.8 million Americans have diabetes. And positive emotions may have a place in helping these diabetics manage blood glucose. For example, in a Japanese study of diabetic subjects, one group listened to a dull presentation and the others saw a comedy. The test subjects received identical meals, and the researchers monitored the glucose levels. They found that those who viewed the comedy had lower glucose levels.Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle also found that diabetes patients who had higher resilience (defined by self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-mastery and optimism) could face worsening conditions better than those with lower resilience. The study of 111 patients with diabetes also found that those with lower resilience had fewer self-care behaviors.LongevityNot only does happiness contribute to a longer life, but it also helps bolster resilience as people age and need to fight against declining health. Several studies have found a link between positive emotions and longevity. For example, Ed Diener of the University of Illinois and Micaela Y. Chan of the University of Texas reviewed studies related to happiness and longevity and found that positive emotions can predict physical health and longevity. In addition, researchers from the University College London discovered through another review of 25 studies that happiness extends the life of healthy individuals and those suffering from chronicconditions.More dramatically, perhaps, happiness not only contributes to a longer life, but happiness enables aging people to maintain high levels of mental health, despite physical limitations, changes in social roles and diminishedstrength.CirculationA good mood may also increase the health of blood vessels. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore studied 20 volunteers who were shown 15-minute clips of two movies. One movie was serious, the other a lighthearted comedy. Ultrasound images of the subjects’ blood vessels were taken before and after watching the clips. The results showed that the endothelium, which is the lining inside the vessels, expanded to allow more blood flow when a lighthearted clip was viewed. Such expansion may help keep the endothelium healthier, possibly preventing atherosclerosis, according to the research team.Similarly, a 1998 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Robert W. Levenson of the University of California revealed that movies that provoked positive emotions boosted recovery from cardiovascular activation after test subjects had seen a film that evokedfear.And want to lower your blood pressure? Think positive. According to a 2009 study published in Psychophysiology, positive feelings were associated with lower blood pressure. The study, conducted at the Duke University Medical Center, included 328 subjects whose salivary cortisol, which is known to contribute to high blood pressure, and other blood levels were measured. Then, as they recalled an incident that made them angry and then one that made them sad, their blood pressure was monitored. The study revealed that the levels of waking salivary cortisol were lower for those who more frequently experience positive emotions.Another happiness-circulation relationship: In a study by researchers at the Rockefeller University, those with high positive emotion had a lower fibrinogen response to stress than less positive people. Fibrinogen is a blood-clotting substance produced in the liver. Overproduction can lead to blood clots and thickerblood.CancerAnother field that’s beginning to be explored is the relationship between optimism and cancer. An Israeli study published in the August 2008 issue of BMC Cancer reported that happiness and optimism can play a protective role against breast cancer. The researchers asked 622 women about levels of optimism, happiness and depression prior to their diagnosis of breast cancer. The scientists found a link between the subjects’ level of optimism and their chances of developing breast cancer. Those who were more optimistic had 25 percent less risk of breast cancer.HeartSome of the most compelling benefits of happiness involve the heart. Several studies show that optimism is strongly related to preventing cardiovascular disease. Other studies demonstrate that a positive outlook affects the fundamental source of life: the heartbeat.One of the most compelling of these studies was done by Laura D. Kubzansky, a researcher and professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard School of Public Health. In 2007, she followed more than 6,000 people and found that having a sense of hopefulness, enthusiasm and the ability to cope with stress reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Having such optimism may cut the risk of heart disease in half.Also, being lighthearted in everyday situations may prevent heart attacks. University of Maryland researchers examined 300 people, half of whom didn’t have heart disease. The other half had suffered a heart attack. Using a multiple-choice questionnaire, the study measured how much participants laughed and calculated hostility and anger. Turns out, those who had heart disease had less humor and positive attitude in their lives.Further evidence of the heart-happiness connection is just as compelling. As part of the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study, 1,306 veterans had their health monitored for 10 years. During that time, 162 cases of heart disease occurred. The study found that those who were most optimistic had 25 percent less heart disease than the average. Conversely, those who had the least amount of optimism had 25 percent more cardiovascular disease.And in the largest study that shows the beneficial relationship between optimism and cardiovascular disease, the health of 97,000 women was tracked from 1994 to 2002. Known as the Women’s Health Initiative, this study also measured optimism. The results were striking: Those with a positive attitude had 30 percent fewer coronary deaths than pessimists.Doug Donaldsonis a medical writer who focuses on health and fitness. His work has been featured inMen’s Health,Better Homes and Gardens,Men’s JournalandHeart-Healthy Living.
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