Can you force yourself to be happy?

A recent story in the Daily Mail – Make happiness a habit by Paul McKenna – takes on a few simple tricks that happiness guru McKenna, author of I Can Make You Happy, claims can brighten your mood every day.

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A recent story in the Daily MailMake happiness a habit by Paul McKenna – takes on a few simple tricks that happiness guru McKenna, author of I Can Make You Happy, claims can brighten your mood every day. His prescription is relatively simple: laugh 20 times a day and smile 20 times a day. “Whenever you smile, you release serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. People who are smiled at also report that they feel happier — and the more you smile at others, the more they’ll smile at you,” he says. “Once it becomes a habit to be smiley, you’ll add a steady stream of happy moments to your life and permanently raise your overall level of happiness. And that’s not all. Research has shown that laughter also boosts the immune system and helps the body clear out toxins. Which means that by laughing a lot, you’ll have ­better digestion, fewer colds and fewer bouts of flu.”

According to McKenna, happy and unhappy people both have habits that support their mood. In other words, if you’re generally happy, you have habits that support that state. For people who are unhappy, McKenna suggests that you can modify your habits to produce greater happiness. In addition to more laughing and smiling – even when you’re forcing it – he recommends exercising at least 20 minutes a day (which releases happy-making adrenalin and endorphins), and focusing on happy thoughts and memories.

This all seems pretty intuitive, and I think it’s good to have a reminder that you can turn things around fairly quickly even when you feel like your attitude has fallen off a cliff. A lot of us have a tendency to wallow, and it can be fun to indulge those feelings for a little while. Sometimes, when things aren’t going your way, you need to sulk it out; it can be satisfying to take a pint of ice cream and go throw yourself on your bed, to slam the door and take an anger-driven power walk around the block. The problem becomes when you can’t snap yourself out of your bad mood and move on to enjoy the rest of your day. By forcing yourself to smile, taking a jog around the block, phoning a friend and asking her to tell you about the time her blind date got arrested, you can bring yourself back to a place of contentedness that lets you deal with the rest of the world in a way that can only increase your happiness.

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