06/28/2012 05:16 EDT | Updated 08/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Take the Happiness Challenge With These Six Tips


Happiness is everyone's birthright, but how many of us are REALLY happy? Of course we all experience challenges, losses and disappointments and that's just a part of life. But if the foundation of our being is rooted in happiness, then life becomes a playground to be enjoyed, and when tragedy strikes we are more resilient.

So why are some people happy while others seem miserable? This isn't an easy answer since there are many factors that determine our happiness set point, but the good news is that anyone can train themselves for happiness by consciously choosing it. And when you're happier, it has a positive effect on your health and well-being.

Though some of us may naturally have a greater lightness of being, neuroscience suggests that happiness may simply be a habit, and like any habit, it can be fostered with daily conscious effort. Our overall constitution is created by habitual thinking and actions, and some of us have unwittingly developed an "unhappiness habit." It takes the same time and energy to create a happiness state of mind as it does to create an unhappiness state of mind. What will you choose?

In my book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die I interviewed over 200 people between the ages of 60-100 asking them to reflect back on their lives. Through these interviews I uncovered some simple ways we can train our minds for happiness.

Here are six habits to foster everyday happiness:

1. Create a Want-to-Do List Most everyone one I know makes a "to-do" list each day or week. Why not create a list of things that make you happy? Every week make a "want-to-do" list of things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Make a commitment to do these things every week and review it every day to stay on track.

2. Write a Set of Questions to Ask Yourself Each Week Write a list of questions related to your well-being. At the end of each week, set some time aside to reflect on the answers. They could be questions such as: Did I get 7-8 hours sleep? Did I walk or have some form of physical activity every day? Did I socialize with friends? Did I take some quiet time each day? Did I make room for play? Did I eat healthy nutrient-dense foods? If you fell short in some areas, don't beat yourself up but instead just become aware of how you want to make a change tomorrow or next week. Even better, get friend or colleague to make their own list and touch base to support each other.

3. Spend Time in Gratitude Every Day One of the people I interviewed for the Five Secrets ended every day by reflecting on the things he was grateful for from that day. Take some time each day to reflect on gratitude, on the "happiness of that day." Over a period of weeks and months you will train your mind to notice the good things happening in your life. You might even want to create a gratitude journal like Oprah suggests.

4. Start Each Day Doing Something That Energizes You and Makes You Happy The way we start our day often sets the tone for the entire day. Find something you love to do that can be done in a short time period, and start every day with that activity. For example, I love to walk outside so I begin about 90 per cent of my days with a 10-20 minute walk. A friend of mine loves to have quiet time for herself so she sets the alarm early to start her day with a quiet time by herself at her kitchen counter with her favorite brew in hand. Start the day with a shot of happiness even if it is a small shot.

5. Surround Yourself with Happy People Identify those people in your life who make you happier, more optimistic and who help you feel better about the world and yourself. Like a good daily vitamin, make sure that spend time with someone who makes you smile inside. Not only will it make you happier, but it will give you the energy you need to pay it forward to someone in need of a little joy. Happiness is caught as much as it is taught.

6. Remember, Happiness is a Choice Those older people I interviewed for the Five Secrets kept telling me that happiness is not out there, it is actually inside of us. It's about making a simple choice. So next time you're unhappy, practice choosing happiness. You just might find you have more power over your mind than you think.

Happiness is a habit just like any other habit. Neuroscientists say it takes 3-5 months for a new habit to replace an old one. So try these six things for four months. Go ahead and take the happiness challenge.