09/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Six Steps On the Easy Road to Unlimited Happiness

Most everyone wants to be happier, the question is how do we get there? What is the easiest path to happiness? The answer isn't some major breakthrough program or elusive ancient secret. Happiness can be achieved through choosing a path of simple, small actions.

I began reading and collecting research on actions related to happiness that were high-impact, but low-hassle. When completed, the list totaled 21 and the result was the book 21 Things To Create a Better Life. The biggest impact begins with the difference between thinking about it and doing something (which is a step that most people never take). They feel the motivation, but don't have the courage to take the initiative. The key to taking control of your life involves making that first small step. That is what the list of the 21 Things is all about. By breaking down the barrier to beginning, we unlock the power of forward momentum. It is like removing the rock that begins an avalanche. And while the 21 Things seem simple, there is research and science behind each one linking it to a greater happiness.

So if you are looking for the easiest path to nirvana, here are the first steps:

1) If you want to be healthy, wash your hands

It seems fundamental, but the reality is somewhat disturbing.

In a Harris Interactive survey prepared for the American Society for Microbiology, 92 percent of people said they wash their hands, but only 83 percent actually did. Women washed more at 90 percent, and only 75 percent of the men washed their hands. These figures do not include the number of people who do not wash their hands after sneezing, coughing, and other necessities.

While the number of illnesses and diseases that can be prevented by this simple activity cannot be quantified, washing hands has been proven to prevent transfer of the common cold virus, influenza, and foodborne pathogens. After all, infectious disease is the largest cause of death globally and third in the U.S.

2) Hug your spouse or significant other for at least a minute every day

The schedule, the rush, the demands on our time, they all work against this simple thing, but medical research is now realizing a greater understanding of how important this show of affection is to our health and our relationships.

Kathleen Light at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill found that warm contact aided in the production of the hormone oxytocin, which appeared to have a positive effect in the lowering of stress and blood pressure. In her study, couples committed to a "brief episode of warm contact," and embrace, had higher levels of oxytocin.

So take a minute to hug your spouse or significant other. It is the best, free, 100 percent healthy drug you can find.

3) Put your household budget on paper and get into the black

This is a big one. The overall process of reaching financial health is quite involved, but the simple thing that you can do is to compile your data and put your household budget on paper.
A survey by the legal Web site found that 30 percent of Americans have no household budget. To some the word "budget" carries a negative connotation. It shouldn't. The exercise of committing things to paper is the first step to being aware, and awareness is the first step to making good financial decisions that lead to fiscal health. All you need is paper, a pen, a calculator, and a few documents.

4) Take a stroll after dinner

How many of us habitually eat dinner and then move straight to the couch, if we aren't already there?

I learned of the impact of this ritual from a friend. His wife was pregnant with their first child. She was diagnosed with borderline gestational diabetes. The recommendation was to get a glucose meter and to make changes in diet and exercise. After eating, her blood sugar would spike. To manage it she began taking a short walk, to the end of the block and back for example. This walk lowered the spike dramatically.

Creating the ritual of a short walk after dinner carries remarkable benefits for your health and your mind and breaks the habit of dinner-to-couch. So take a short stroll after dinner -- the impact will improve your physical and mental health, and help to break sedentary habits.

5) Stretch at home, in your office, even in the elevator!

The effects of stretching extend beyond increased flexibility -- stretching increases blood flow, reduces the risk of injury, enhances muscle relaxation, and much more. In a few minutes a person of almost any fitness level can utilize simple stretches to improve physical and mental health. Try integrating a few minutes of stretching at various times throughout the day to maintain energy at work or at home.