Looking for that extra dash of New Year joy? You're in luck. We spoke to happiness expert Martin Seligman, Ph.D., founder of positive psychology and author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, and discovered his secrets to letting the sunshine in.
Appreciate the little things.
Spend 10 minutes before bedtime writing down three positive outcomes from the day, along with reasons the endeavors were successful. (It's evolutionarily instinctive to focus on negativity; the humans who survived were the ones who saw trouble coming.) "The mind is like your tongue swishing around life, looking for a cavity," says Seligman. Instead, focus on what's going right—and savor it.
Find a happiness partner.
When you're trying something new to improve your life, share your achievements with a friend, says Seligman, who's part of an online community committed to walking 10,000 steps each day. "When I find myself at only 9,000 steps, I walk more because I know my friends will ask for an update," he says. Your partner or support network can provide advice and reinforce good behavior.
Know your hot-button issues.
Everyone possesses a few deeply held beliefs that lead to overreaction in response to daily incidents. Are you always making the same mistakes? Do you experience extreme emotions about things that should be no big deal? You may want to delve into your history to see what's simmering underneath the surface. "This one can be hard to do on your own," Seligman says. If your personal life is complicated or difficult, enlist help—either from good friends or a therapist.
Drop everything and move.
Or walk, or meditate. Most of us are at the bottom of our energy cycle—tired, grumpy, inattentive and pessimistic—at mid-afternoon, says Seligman. Recharge yourself by changing up your routine. "It's not just kindergartners who need breaks," he says. (In fact, they benefit us even more as we get older.) Stand up and stretch, do jumping jacks or, yes, even dance; vigorous movement refreshes your mind and wards off fatigue.
Be a cheerleader.
When a person shares something good that happened, respond constructively. For example, if your daughter shows you the new shirt she just bought, say, "That will look great with your jeans," rather than, "Was it on sale?" Being perceived as a positive person will also improve relationships beyond your family. "People will like you more because you make them feel good," says Seligman. "That in turn will make you feel great."
Originally published in the January 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.