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Have a Happier Life

woman smiling in grass

Continuing the list I began in 10 Ways to Have a Happier Life, Part 1 on the Huffington Post, here are the rest of the practices that I believe can help in achieving and maintaining emotional well-being:

6. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This relatively new form of psychotherapy helps patients overcome habitual negative views of the world and themselves, and has been shown to be among the most effective psychological interventions for anxiety and depression. A full course of treatment is 14 to 16 sessions, with occasional booster sessions during the following year to maintain improvement. CBT can be done individually or in groups, and people can also get started with self-help books and online programs.

7. Laugh: Smiling and, especially, laughing, are potent mood boosters. One way to quickly, intentionally inspire laughter is via laughter yoga. Begun by Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India, the first "social laughter club" convened in March of 1995 with a handful of people. Now, according to the official laughter yoga website, there are more than six thousand clubs in 60 countries.

The method used in laughter clubs is straightforward.  After brief physical exercises and breathing exercises under the direction of a trained leader, people simulate laughter with vigorous "ha-ha's" and "ho-ho's."  In the group setting, this "fake" laughter quickly becomes real and contagious and may continue for a half hour or more.  And the joy lingers; regular participation in laughter clubs has been shown to improve long-term emotional and physical health in a variety of ways, including a significant lowering of the stress hormone, cortisol. To learn more, go to www.laughteryoga.com.

8. Limit Media Exposure:  Today, many of us are choking on "data smog," a dense cloud of trivial, irrelevant, or otherwise low-value information made possible by the internet's power to disseminate vast amounts of media virtually free. The result is fractured attention spans and attenuated human relationships. Monitor the time you spend with digital media (television, the web, email, text messaging and so on) in a given week, and cut that amount at least 25 percent in the following week. Use the time you free up for outings in nature, exercise, or face-to-face communication with friends.  If you like the result, keep restricting virtual life "surfing" and expanding real-life, connected, human experiences.

9. Forgive: Forgiveness is almost universally held by philosophers and saints to be a key to happiness - and modern research confirms that those who can quickly and easily forgive when appropriate enjoy better emotional health. Conversely, resentment is the fuel that feeds depressive rumination, and can quickly spiral into a self-reinforcing low mood. Fortunately, the ability to forgive can be cultivated. The Stanford Forgiveness Project (see www.learningtoforgive.com) offers books, audio and video courses, and online programs that can help.

10. Practice Gratitude: Author G.K. Chesterton wrote: "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink." I suspect Chesterton didn't do this automatically. He knew that, like forgiveness, gratitude can and should be cultivated through diligent practice.

One powerful method is keeping a "gratitude journal." Spending a specific time each day or week recording things for which one is grateful has been shown boost subjective happiness levels in as little as three weeks. A less formal practice - and one that I follow - is to devote a few moments of my morning meditation session to feel and silently give thank for all of the good things in my life. As a result of doing this for several years, I find myself often making mental notes throughout the day of blessings such as rain here in my desert home, flowers that are opening in my garden, or a glorious sunset. Of all of the practices listed in this article, I believe learning to feel and express gratitude may be the most important in achieving and maintaining a happy life.

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