Come On, Get Happy!

“ Research has shown that regular workouts are as effective as an antidepressant for some patients with depression.”

Ready to infuse every day with more joy? Here, experts (and members like you) share tips and tricks that will make you smile. - By Julie A. Evans

A giant snowflake is painted on the wall at the Curves facility in Streetsboro, Ohio. It’s there to remind members of the “snow- flake effect”: One snowflake doesn’t take up much space, but when a whole bunch of them join together, it’s a beautiful thing. The same goes for members who visit Curves for their daily workouts, says the club’s owner, Heatherlyn Day. “When you smile at one person, she smiles back and then smiles at someone else. Soon, everyone is smiling. You feel happier, but you may not even know why,” she says. Heatherlyn is on to something, say researchers. Studies show that, like a smile, happiness is contagious. In fact, research from Harvard Medical School and the University of California at San Diego suggests that happiness spreads among people up to three degrees removed from one another. In other words, if you are happy, your friend and your friend’s friend will be happier as a result. And knowing someone who is happy makes you 15% more likely to be happy your- self. Research also shows that people who have more social connections lead happier lives—another reason why joining the Curves community may be a happiness booster in itself.

Perhaps the best news is that happiness, like cholesterol, is influenced both by nature (the personalities we’re born with) and nurture (how we take care of ourselves). This means anyone can increase her happiness…if she knows how to look for it, work for it, and embrace it. What’s more, by doing so, you may even have an easier time reaching your weight-loss goals. According to Bridgette Boudreau, a certified weight-loss coach in Seattle, many women think they’ll be happy only after they lose a few pounds, but actually, the reverse is true. “As you become more engaged with other people and activities and your joy increases, food takes a smaller place in your life. The extra weight no longer seems to belong on your body,” says Boudreau. “That’s one reason I work with clients to start creating joy in their lives right now.” Here’s how happiness experts say you can do the same in your own life, starting today.

Happy thoughts

“Each day when I get up, I choose to be happy and then try to build my day around that.” — Kathy Luper, 60, Curves Wedgewood, Fort Worth, Texas

Go for goals

The happiest people have clear-cut and meaningful goals, says Caroline Adams Miller, author of Creating Your Best Life. Goals that come from your own desires and interests are the ones you’re most likely to pursue with vigor. But it’s the pursuit of a goal, not the goal itself, that brings joy and promotes feelings of independence, self-confidence, and accomplishment. “Happy people believe they can find the resources to get the job done,” says Miller.

Move your body

Exercise is nature’s antidepressant. It releases brain chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin, which can help you feel happier and less stressed. Research has shown that regular workouts are as effective as an antidepressant for some patients with depression. And the greater the length of the exercise program and the larger the total number of exercise sessions, the greater the decrease in depression—another good reason to aim for the milestone of 1,000 Curves workouts.

Happiness Booster: Put Curves on your calendar. 

Depressed or not, make sure your workouts don’t go by the wayside when life gets hectic, says Susan Hyatt, master certified life coach in Evansville, Indiana. Instead, think of exercise as something of value that you give yourself to boost your overall health, energy, and mood.

Make time to talk

In today’s busy society, you have to go out of your way to nurture relationships. But it’s well worth the effort. People who have more friends and a larger social network are happier and more likely to be married or involved in a committed, long-lasting relationship, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. Happiness increases as the relationship deepens.

Happiness Booster: Schedule time with your loved ones.

Set a “date night” every few weeks so that you can enjoy your sweetheart’s company without distraction. And each morning, ask him about what he’ll be doing that day, then follow up with a “reunion conversation” after work. You can do the same with your kids around the dinner table. And don’t forget to make time to connect with your best gal pals at Curves, on the phone, via e-mail, or sending a card.

Be more curious

Happiness is just one of the many benefits of leading a more curious life, says Todd Kashdan, PhD, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. “When we’re open to new experiences and relish the unknown, positive events linger and we extract more pleasure and meaning from them,” he says. Curious people also report having more satisfying relation- ships, and they develop new connections more easily. On the flip side: “Once we think we know something, we stop paying attention. The brain wants to conserve energy and doesn’t care if we’re happy.”

Happiness Booster: Look for something new.

When you’re talking with someone, try to find at least three novel things about him or her during your time together. Is your best friend wearing new earrings? Did she just reveal a hint about what she’d like for Christmas? Does your boss simply love jazz music? The goal is to recognize how complex people really are and to realise how little we actually know about someone. Do the same in familiar settings: for instance, at the grocery store, be on the lookout for new varieties of exotic fruits and vegetables. Or at work, glance around at others’ workspaces for new photos or knickknacks

Spread kindness

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an unexpected gift, good deed, or kind smile, then you know how good it feels to accept an act of kindness. But it feels even better to be the do-gooder who is cooking dinner and doing laundry for a friend who just got out of the hospital, for example. Offering something that goes above and beyond provides a special boost to our well-being, says Lyubomirsky.

Count your blessings

When Michele Woodward, a master coach in Washington, D.C., learned last December that she had thyroid cancer, she made the conscious choice to count her blessings. It may sound Pollyannaish, Woodward says, but counting blessings really helps shift your attention away from the negatives to focus on the positives. “I told myself, ‘My mortgage is paid, I have a great team of doctors, my kids are healthy, and I have a great network of family and friends,’ ” she says. “Focusing on those blessings shifted the whole situation from ‘Woe is me’ to ‘Yes, I have cancer, but aren’t I so fortunate that the best doctors are going to help me figure this out?’ ” HAPPINESS BOOSTER: START KEEPING A “BLESSINGS” JOURNAL. Each day, write a few things you’re grateful for; use the online journal on MyCurves.com if you’d like. Research shows that people who count their blessings tend to be more upbeat, hopeful, and happy (and less consumed by material things) than those who don’t. Curves member Ellie Bernier, 62, of the Rapid City, SD–South Curves, agrees: “Every morning, I write down five things I’m grateful for, things like the beautiful bluebird at the feeder, the scent of lavender from my garden, an e-mail from a faraway friend. Focusing on what’s good in my life gets my day off to a happy start.”

Silence your inner nag

How we talk to ourselves can have a significant effect on how positive we feel. Do you find yourself saying “I should lose weight” or “I should exercise”? Rephrase these thoughts to be more positive. “ ‘Should’ is oppressive,” says Woodward. “It implies that someone else is making a choice for you. There’s a ton of judgment that goes with it.” 

Happiness Booster: Rephrase your self-talk. 

Whenever you catch yourself saying “I should…,” substitute “I choose to….” That simple word shift empowers you and releases you from energy-draining guilt. Examples: “I choose to clean my office,” “I choose to rake the leaves,” or “I choose to eat a healthy lunch.”

So Come On, Get Happy!