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Four Keys to Happiness

Each human being strives to be happy. Only our needs for survival and safety are stronger. Since most of us able to receive this article have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, it's safe to say that we're spending much of our time and energy seeking happiness.

Consider these four keys to increased happiness.

1. Examine your fundamental belief about happiness. Do you expect to be happy? I once overheard two young people talking. One young man said to the other, "I never expect anything good to happen, that way I'm never disappointed." This young person traded his hopes of happy life events for the certainty of avoiding disappointment. Listen to the lunch table talk of those around you-perhaps even your own talk-do you hear expectations of happiness?

There is much social research-as well as spiritual teaching- supporting the theory that we get what we expect. Expect to be happy and you will be. Expect to be unhappy and that, too, will come to you.

So the first key to your happiness is that you must believe that happiness is possible for you. If this is too difficult a belief based on where you are now, then accept that happiness is coming soon. You must begin your quest for happiness with a positive foundation. At the very least, make a bargain with yourself. For thirty days, allow yourself to believe happiness is not only possible, but on the way. You have nothing to lose, so give it a try.

2. Find three things to appreciate at the start and end of each day. This second key to happiness is all about recognizing that which you already have. Even the dreariest of days and the most onerous life circumstances have some positive aspects. Start your day by finding three things to appreciate. This can be as basic as appreciating that you woke up to another day and you're alive. Appreciate the weather, not just a sunny day, but also a cloudy day. See the beauty in a rain or snow storm. Appreciate your job if you have one, even if you dislike it. Appreciate your car, even if it's a clunker. Find three things for which you can summon up an appreciative mood.

At the end of the day, repeat this process. This time focus your appreciation on three events of the day. Something good must have happened to you today-after all, you're still alive. Appreciate something new you learned today, even if it was that you can survive a dressing down by an irate customer. Appreciate the welcome you received from your spouse, child, or pet, the safety of your home, or that you have food for dinner.

3. Accept, change, or separate from that which prevents your happiness. Don't dwell on the sources of unhappiness in your life, but do notice them. The third key is to make the conscious decision to do one of the only three things you can ever do to change a source of unhappiness-fully accept it, work to change it, or separate from it. These are your choices unless you really don't want a change-the choice to remain unhappy so you can feel the victim is also available. Many people choose this one.

Fully accepting something means embracing it as your own- choosing it. It doesn't mean whining or complaining about it. It doesn't mean pretending it isn't there. It means accepting it as part of your life. If that isn't feasible for you, then...

Work to change it. If your source of unhappiness is a lousy job-something you just can't contemplate continuing for more than a few months-consider how you might change it. Do you have any room within this job to change some aspect of what you do or how you go about doing the job? Are there problems outside your responsibility that interest you? Ask your boss if you can take on a problem in addition to your regular responsibilities. Few bosses will begrudge you taking on more work. Perhaps you can gradually shift your responsibilities to things that are more interesting and better aligned to your abilities. If you can see no possible way to change your situation, then...

Decide to separate yourself from the source of unhappiness. Life is too short to continue in a situation that you can't accept and you can't change. So leave it. Even in this poor economy with many people out of work, there are still jobs available. Start looking-unless you prefer to keep things just as they are and complain. Be honest with yourself about this. Some people really do prefer to complain than to correct.

4. Focus on that which makes you happy. The fourth key is to consciously control your thinking so that you focus all your thoughts, all your energy, and all your time on things that make you happy. Simply decide to reside within the positive areas of your life. This may initially impress you as "sticking-your-head-in-the-sand,"-but it's not. Life surrounds us with diverse experiences. We can choose those to which we give our attention. Does it make you happy or unhappy when your lunch crowd starts whining and complaining? Steer the conversation to something more positive. Or mentally distance yourself and enjoy the drama that each person is playing. Avoid feeling sorry for yourself, bitter about your bad luck, or envious of others. Stick with thoughts and activities that feel good and watch your happiness index go up.

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