3 Steps to Becoming a Happier Person

Tips for finding your strengths, setting aside your weaknesses and achieving contentment

Job, financial and life stress, together with information overload, often inhibit our ability to find happiness. Most of us want to be a better person — a happier person -- but we sometimes lose sight of that priority with our daily bustle. There are decisions you can make and steps you can take to increase your happiness. The first step is to make the decision that you want to be a happier person.

Change what you do and how you think

The psychologist Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, stated that people struggle to change their feelings because they continue in the same behaviors that reinforce those bad feelings. Instead, we must change the behavior first, which will change our thinking, which will ultimately change our feelings.

Step 1: Identify physical behaviors that undermine your happiness

Start by examining your physical health and what you can do to improve it. Physical health has a direct impact on mental health, mood and happiness. A staggering number of people take medications for depression and anxiety, and those medications can help. But are we doing all the things we can do individually to optimize our health without medication?

An October 2009 study conducted by the Mayo Clinic confirms that proper diet, rest and exercise directly increase feel-good chemicals released in the brain and decrease immune system chemicals that contribute to depression. Exercise also works like a thermo-nutrient, increasing body temperature and creating a calming effect. And exercise usually increases quality of sleep.

Also be conscious of how sunlight or the lack thereof affects you. Having adequate exposure to sunlight not only provides essential vitamins, but directly affects the pineal gland in the brain. This gland helps to regulate mood.

Step 2: Identify thinking that steals your happiness

A little non-judgmental introspection goes a long way toward discovering patterns in your thinking of which you may not be aware. For every one self-criticism, take the time to identify several things you did right in that situation. Small victories and the acknowledgment of those victories will yield big results in your happiness project. Dr. Joyce Brothers calls a strong, positive self-image the foundation for success. Surround yourself with people who edify you, and steer clear of those who do not.

Step 3: Take inventory of your blessings and goals to build your happiness

Many of us take for granted so many things we have in life that people around the world do without. The recent earthquake in Haiti is a sobering reminder of how so many people lack even basic resources.

Take a few minutes each day to be thankful for all that you have, even in tough circumstances. And, consider the goals you have for your short- and long-term future. Select goals that are attainable and measurable, create a plan with steps for how to achieve those goals, develop intensive commitment for reaching those goals as part of your happiness project and keep an attitude of gratitude as you move forward.

To increase your level of happiness, first identify the behaviors holding you back. You are powerful and talented, capable of great things. Make healthy food choices, exercise and get proper rest and adequate sunshine. Become self-aware to recognize negative thinking patterns and overwrite them with acknowledgment of your successes, however small. Give yourself grace. Surround yourself with people who lift your spirits. And, recognize the many blessings in your life. Be thankful, and develop an effective plan to build upon your gifts with goals that move you to where you want to be, further increasing your happiness.

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