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7 Ways to Get Happy This New Year

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Happy New Year!

So is it going to be one or not? A happy year? Sometimes happiness is counter-intuitive. At 40 years old, I have come to realize that I can drift toward unhappiness. There's a lot that plays into this for me. I'm a melancholy personality (INTP) with a chemical propensity to depression. But I've also found that I can make choices that increase my capacity for happiness.

Here are some practical steps I have taken over the last decade that have helped me. Maybe they will help you too.

1. Exercise.

I know, I know. But it works. Not magically or instantly, but an active lifestyle over time limits the blue days. If you hate to work out in the gym, don't start there. Go for a walk. Play paintball. Trade in your riding mower for a push mower this summer. Just start moving... the more you do, the more you will want to do more.

2. Eat better.

I know, I know. I'm not a calorie or carb nazi. I used to be. For me, being "all or nothing" when it comes to my diet is actually something that can feed my angst. I have seasons where I don't eat well. (Like, say, the last six weeks.) The key is to snap out of it. Realize this is connected to your happiness. Eat healthier within reason. Have a beer and some wings on the weekend. Some summer days demand ice cream. Just not every day. Let treats be treats, not staples. You'll actually enjoy them more that way.

3. See a pro.

I avoided any sort of professional emotional care for years. I can point to the day I started seeing a therapist as the turning point in my overall health and happiness.

4. Listen to your supporters.

A sure fire way to spiral into darkness is to listen to your critics or to obsess on pleasing people you barely know. Most of us have people in our lives who really know us and love us despite our flaws. Let them have more sway over your emotions than those who don't really know you at all. It really can be a choice. Decide who is worthy of affecting your emotions... and who isn't.

5. Follow your dreams (slowly).

Most people aren't in their dream job. A lot of us have jobs (or are looking for a job) just to survive. There are two ways that having a less-than-desirable career leads to unhappiness. The first is to assume that you will always hate your job. The second, quicker way to depression, is to quit your job hastily without a plan. (Maybe money can't buy happiness, but not having any money is worse.) Create a long-range plan to get the job you want. It may be five or 10 years away, but having a plan makes today better. It puts today in perspective.

6. Question your beliefs.

What do you believe about God? Life? Goodness? Many of us have accepted (or denied) the faith of our parents and grandparents without asking the quintessential questions of meaning for ourselves. As an ex-pastor I have come to believe that a large number of people are depressed because they don't live in step with what they believe. For some, their actions need to change to match their beliefs. For others, they need the freedom to adjust their beliefs to match their actions. This is hard work but key to coming to an understanding of God -- or if you are an atheist or agnostic, an understanding of goodness, fairness and meaning. Living one way and believing another causes great psychological stress.

7. Give more.

The great moral and ethical teachers of all ages tend to agree that giving is better for the soul than receiving. It's counter-intuitive, but the more we give away the more joy comes back to us. There comes a time -- what Fr. Richard Rohr calls the "second half of life" -- when we realize that the world doesn't exist for us as individuals. Somewhat ironically, we can't find our individual bliss or peace until we die to needing to be important to be happy. A life lived for the benefit of others is the best kind of life to live. It frees us from our self-preservational obsessions and allows us to experience the mystery of deep time and space. We become part of a whole that is eternal and meaningful.

Joe's latest film, A Strange Brand of Happy, releases on DVD nationwide today. Visit www.strangehappymovie.com for details.

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