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How to Be Happy

3. Don't Try to Buy Happiness

Sure, money helps, especially if you start out poor and then do better. But a nationwide study published last year in Social Indicators Research found that those who avidly pursued possessions were less satisfied with their friendships, families, jobs — even their health — than participants who were less materialistic.

4. Switch Gears

A study at the University of Missouri-Columbia tracked hundreds of subjects who experienced a change in their circumstances (like moving to a nicer place) and in their activities (like pursuing a new hobby). A few months later, those who changed their activities reported more gains in well-being. One possible reason: A shift in circumstances often involves a onetime event, which can fade into the background of our lives, says study author Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., who wrote The How of Happiness. Exploring a new interest, on the other hand, is inherently entertaining, and may lead you to discover other activities over time.

5. Lose Yourself in the Moment

If you're in a bad mood, try to find your "flow." The word describes a "state of effortless concentration and enjoyment," writes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., a leading expert in positive psychology, which focuses on increasing one's joys and strengths. For some people, achieving flow means whooshing down a ski slope; for me, it's working my way through a crossword puzzle. What delivers the most happiness: whatever activity energizes you and makes you feel like time is flying by — or even makes you lose track of it.

6. Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

In a Japanese study of 175 people published last year, happy and unhappy participants experienced the same number of negative moments each day. The big difference: The contented subjects had more frequent and intense positive moments.

One way to feel happier is to recognize good things when they happen. If you have trouble counting your blessings, try keeping a gratitude journal. Several studies show that people who record what they appreciate experience greater happiness, less anxiety — and even better sleep. Gratitude, I've found, is also an excellent antidote to grumpiness.

7. Share the Love

The Japanese study also found that contented people's happy experiences most often involved connecting with someone. In an earlier study, positive-psychology researchers Ed Diener, Ph.D., and Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., discovered a similar pattern. "One hundred percent of the very happy people had good relationships," says Diener. It didn't matter if the strong bond was with a partner, a friend, or a parent — the important thing was that the person had at least two out of three of these essential relationships. "We have what looks like a necessary condition for greater happiness," says Diener.

It's not surprising, then, that marriage also correlates very strongly with overall happiness. In a National Opinion Research Center poll of 3,500 people that was released last year, 42 percent of the marrieds reported that they were very happy, compared with only 19 percent of the singles. What's going on here? Experts theorize that people benefit from having a reliable emotional partner in their life.

The fastest way to improve your relationships: Set aside inviolable time for them, experts suggest. (I'm on top of it; my husband and I just scheduled a date night.)

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