THE BLOG
08/04/2010 04:12 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Happiness Boot Camp: How to Take Charge of Your Own Happiness

Most people know the importance of exercising the body. Did you know that you can actually exercise your brain to increase happiness? Neuroplasticity proves that with certain practices, the brain can change. Enter Happiness Boot Camp -- a new way to train your brain. Every person possesses parts of the brain that act as happiness centers. With consistent specific exercise, these grow larger and more dependable, even in tough situations. If you've ever wanted to be in charge of your own emotions instead of them running the show, here's the Happiness Boot Camp Challenge.

In this series, you'll learn simple ways that make a big difference, if you practice them regularly. I know, sounds good ... except for the practice part. The thing is, patterns of thought that influence our happiness have been ingrained in our neural pathways for years. So, these often outdated patterns (like blaming other people instead of taking charge of our reactions) become the default in dealing with the world. It just seems natural to react that way. The good news is that science appears to suggest that with certain regular practices, like the ones below, we can turn up the happiness centers in the brain and activate new neural pathways. The brain can change! What if we could practice ourselves into a place where happiness became our new default? Here are three ways that can change your perspective, your brain and your happiness quotient.

1. Gratitude: A Springboard to Happiness.
By finding people or things to be grateful for, we can shift our perspective into greater awareness and enjoyment of the good stuff that is happening right now. Since, what we put our attention on tends to grow, when we focus on gratitude, then things or people to appreciate (and who in turn appreciate us) show up more and more. Practice: During the day or before bed, take a few deep breaths to quiet the mental chatter. Think or jot down, "What am I grateful for today?" Practice everyday or no less than twice a week. You may be surprised how such a simple thing can add to your contentment.

2. Connecting With Another: Giving of Yourself.
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself." One of the fastest ways to makes yourself happier is by connecting with others and trying to make them happy. Some easy ways to connect: volunteering, mentoring or expressing care for a person, animal or even a plant. This helps us get out of the "woe is me" thinking and remind us that we do make a difference. The result is a happiness that money cannot buy. Try to connect with someone or something every day. Even a smile or kind thought (a.k.a. lovingkindness) counts.

3. Catching the Inner Critic
Imagine if we could catch ourselves almost every time we said to ourselves something critical or harsh. Thoughts like "I'll never get this" or "I look soooo bad today..." There is power in just noticing these mean mental messages as they sneak on in. I've tried it and it's amazing how many there are during one day. This practice can even be entertaining. "Oh, hi, it's you, yet again. Caught you and bye!!"

Randy Taran is the founder of the non-profit, Project Happiness, and co-author with Maria Lineger of the Project Happiness Handbook. Catch Randy and get updates on her vision for a world happiness (r)evolution via Twitter @randytaran and the Facebook Project Happiness group. Don't forget to sign up for the free nifty Project Happiness Newsletter. B Happy 2.