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How to Be Happy

12. Pick out the Positives

"Many people say things happen for the best. I don't agree with that," says Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., a Harvard University psychology professor and author of Happier. "But some people are able to make the best of things that happen — and that's a key to happiness." One way to do this: Reframe your thoughts. This wisdom struck me last year, when my father was in the hospital with heart disease. Instead of dreading my visits with him, I started to see them for what they were: my last, precious chances to connect with him before he passed away. It also gave me the opportunity to care for him as he had done for me when I was a child.

Once we start trying to reframe, it can quickly become a habit. In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D., writes that humans have "a remarkable ability to manufacture happiness. For example, when people in experiments are randomly awarded one of two equally valuable prizes, they quickly come to believe that the prize they won was more valuable than the prize they lost."

Oh, Happy Day!

Schedule time for some of these joy builders, and you'll be more content in just 24 hours

7:30 a.m. Hit the gym. Regular 30-minute aerobic workouts fight depression and anxiety just as well as our most powerful psychiatric drugs, says Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.

8:30 a.m. Buy yourself a bouquet of flowers. A 2006 Harvard Medical School study reported that people felt more relaxed and upbeat after having fresh blooms around for just a few days.

12 p.m. Eat a healthy lunch and schedule a doctor's appointment. Poor health is the strongest predictor of unhappiness, a 2006 Pew Research Center survey found.

3 p.m. Reward yourself after finishing a tough task. This works because those final moments are crucial to how we remember our experiences. In one study, colonoscopy patients reported less discomfort if the tip of the scope remained in place after the procedure, even though it prolonged the exam, because the end was less unpleasant.

5:30 p.m. Say thanks. In his extensive research, Authentic Happiness author Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., found that gratitude was strongly associated with life satisfaction. Make a "gratitude visit," he suggests. "Write a letter to someone you want to thank and then read it to them face-to-face."

7 p.m. Plan something special. A study from Loma Linda University in California found that when participants just anticipated watching their favorite funny movie, their endorphin levels increased by 27 percent. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D., adds, "When subjects are offered a trip now or next month, they pick the later date to savor the anticipation. We're the only species that does that."

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