THE BLOG
07/23/2013 12:13 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2013

5 Steps to Making Happiness a Habit

The second part of this story is a clincher for considering that happiness can be a choice. An elementary school teacher in rural Arkansas made a bracelet of charms of each student in her class so she could continually remind herself of how she cared about each one, and her passion for teaching them. She wakes up each morning with the painful fatigue that most face when they have the chronic, erratic and incurable disease called multiple sclerosis.

Many would give up and quit working, yet some don't, as Shawn Achor shows in his new book Before Happiness. Why do different people in the same situation find a way to feel happy while others get depressed, give up or worse? The secret, he discovered, is that they "were literally living in different realities."

If you want to change your life, you first have to change your reality

Here are Achor's five steps toward experiencing more moments of happiness and feeling more engaged, motivated and alive. I've taken the brash liberty to slightly alter them in ways that most help me, as you might want to do too, thus emulating his underlying "manage your reality" theme:

1. Choose the most valuable reality: See multiple ones in each situation and choose the one that is most likely to lead to positive growth.

2. Map your meaning markers: These are the specific things to identify to chart the best route to accomplishing your goal(s) towards that most valuable reality.

3. Find the X-spot: Use success accelerants to propel you more quickly toward your goal(s).

4. Cancel the noise: Boost your capacity to hear the helpful signals that reinforce your chosen reality and may attract the opportunities and resources that can reinforce that reality, and also dim the noisy signals that can distract you from that reality

5. Create positive inception: Amplify the effects of your positive mindset by contagiously spreading your positive reality to others.

Here are three happiness-boosting points from the book and related ones from elsewhere:

A. Pessimistic people "literally see a narrower range of opportunities and possibilities," as Positivity author Barbara Fredrickson discovered. Erickson recommends a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences for healthy living. Methinks I will strive for a higher ratio, more akin to John Gottman's "magic 5:1″ for a healthy marriage. When feeling negative they are blind to many options and go into fight or fight mode. To counter that downward spiral of perceptions and behavior, Achor suggests you map out your options as soon as possible, focusing first on drawing the possible paths for a successful outcome because what you first map becomes most vivid in your mind. Then, look for "escape routes" to avoid worst possible outcomes.

B. To buttress that habit, know that pessimistic people tend to see events that feel negative as being permanent, pervasive and personal. In Learned Optimism, Marty Seligman offers concrete ways to dilute or even eliminate those happiness-sapping responses.

C. Just as football running backs run faster the closer they get to scoring, we can create a surge of energy and motivation when we are at the stage towards our goal when we deeply believe we can actually achieve it. "The X-spot is the exact moment," Achor says, when "your brain realizes that attaining your goal is not only possible but probable, and it releases a potent stream of chemicals that help speed you up." Notice, writes Achor, that "you work more diligently and efficiently when the completion of a big project is in sight?" Hint: Find a way to make the end goal seem eminent so you benefit from the extra spurt of energy to make it be true.

D. We are innately attracted to funny people -- perceiving them as "being smarter and more credible," discovered Achor, and the reason may be that "to comprehend or create humor" we must be "able to see a version of reality that others might miss." As you create your most productive reality you are able to experience positive emotions more often. Using Barbara Erickson's language, you "broaden and build" the range of realities you see. Consequently, Achor found that you are more likely to see and speak to the humorous side to negative events, and attract smarter support sooner.

For more by Kare Anderson, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.