Turn that Frown Upside Down
Teach yourself to be happier, even when times are tough
If the gloomy economic climate is dragging your morale lower
than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, you have plenty of company.
We've been barraged for months with depressing news about defrauded
investors, mortgage foreclosures, bankruptcies, employee layoffs
and companies that have gone belly-up.
Chances are that you know someone who has lost his or her job or
home or is pinching pennies to get by. That someone might even be
Feeling more optimistic when the economy is so bleak may seem
like a lost cause. But surprisingly, researchers have found that
adopting a more upbeat attitude is a skill that, like playing
guitar or skiing, can be learned through practice.
Caroline Adams Miller, who holds a master's degree in applied
positive psychology, says she's confident that people can teach
themselves to get more pleasure from life, regardless of their
circumstances. "This is all about rolling up your sleeves in the
service of happiness," she says.
An Attitude of Gratitude
One of the easiest and most effective paths to a happier life is
to develop an attitude of gratitude. It's no coincidence that
giving thanks is a foundation of prayer in every religion and
Expressing appreciation requires you to take stock of the
blessings in your life, which in turn reminds you to acknowledge
that so much good regularly comes your way.
If you're stuck on what exactly to be grateful for, take a few
seconds before you get out of bed each morning to value the
potential in each new day, suggests Gloria J. Burgess, a
Seattle-based leadership development expert. Tell yourself, "I'm
grateful to be here," and you'll find that thought will improve how
you treat yourself and others.
Another way to help yourself be more upbeat even in trying times
is to schedule pleasurable activities. Those anticipated events
don't have to be costly or exotic, but they do need to be a welcome
break in your routine. They can be as simple as lunch with a
girlfriend at your favorite bistro or a stroll through the farmers
market for fresh strawberries. "If I want to have a good day,"
Miller says, "I'll put a spa or
massage appointment on my calendar for a week out."
Schedulers reap a twofold benefit, she notes. They get a rush of
happiness anticipating the enjoyable event, and they then savor the
activity as it happens.
Help Yourself by Helping Others
While nurturing your own mind and body is one surefire method of
staying upbeat, it's only a piece in the bigger picture of
happiness. Reaching out to others is a powerful mood-lifter,
especially when you're connecting with those who benefit from your
efforts. "Doing good for someone raises the giver's spirit,"
Burgess says. "There's always someone out there who needs what you
Consider volunteering at a pet shelter, library, local school or
soup kitchen. Or ask at your community center if you can aid
homebound senior citizens by driving them on errands. Fostering
personal connections turns out to be a powerful antidote to the
self-absorption that can obsess us during trying times.
There's another benefit to community service, says Miller, who
lives in Bethesda, Md. The good feelings that blossom in you as you
reach out actually rub off on others. Known as "social contagion
theory," this principle says that moods, like colds, are easily
transmitted between family members, colleagues and friends.
"The people closest to you are predictors of who you'll become,"
So it's no wonder that a diet of depressing news or too much
time with trash-talking friends can make us feel defeated as well.
But the flip side is, thankfully, true too: Even when times are
tough, we can create a more upbeat reality for ourselves, and that
optimism is equally infectious.
-By June D. Bell