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Don't Worry, Be Happy!

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You will either thank or be angry at your parents for your level of happiness.

woman in a restaurant

Dr. Michelle Golland: So are you negative like your father or mother (if they are), or does your skin crawl every time they interject a deflating comment about something you're telling them?

Researchers report that about half of human happiness is genetically determined. Also, around 10 percent of our happiness comes from life circumstances -- for example, where you live. This explains why people who move to sunny southern California from upstate New York may be happier in Los Angeles for a while, but they soon adapt to the sunny weather and lament the rainy days even here in Los Angeles.

Happiness is composed of two main components: 1) a cognitive component, which is how you think about your life, how satisfied you are with your life, and whether or not you feel like you're progressing toward your life goals, and 2) an affective experience, which is how often you experience positive and negative emotions.

With my clients in my private practice, I don't only focus on the past and rehashing the negative experiences of childhood, which can be illuminating and healing. I also use positive psychology to help my clients see their strengths and help them redefine their personal and professional goals with a clear goal of personal understanding, empowerment, and happiness. I also focus on their resiliency and inner strength.

What can give us a real long-term boost in our happiness level is how we think and how we behave. About 40 percent of our experiences of happiness or positive emotions such as joy, interest, love, serenity, amusement, awe, grace, and pride are actually under our conscious control. We can choose to have these experiences in the moment or at least help create them to push out the negative emotions by simply how we think about situations or our life. The goal is not to eliminate negative emotions -- that would be simply living in denial -- but to increase mild positive emotions, which can impact your personal growth and outlook on life over time.

Researchers found that we all need at least three positive emotions for every negative one we experience. Let's face it -- we all know (or we are) those people who are just "Negative Nancys or Debbie Downers"; they truly are unhappy, and certainly we don't like being around them because they bring us down too. They simply seem unable to not rain on someone else's parade, and have no ability to make lemonade out of lemons!! There is hope if you are one of these negative souls -- it will take a good amount of effort, but I promise you it will be worth it.

Here are some simple tips to increase your experience of happiness. Remember: Happiness comprises many positive emotions and is often a fleeting experience, but these emotions are imperative to a content and less negative internal experience.

Move your body: Do something physical at least three times a week. Pick what you truly enjoy. Walking, yoga, running, whatever -- just do it. Physical activity increases endorphins that help lift your mood.

Smile more: Seriously, even if you don't want to, just smile more. If you smile for more than 60 seconds, your body starts to produce serotonin and oxytocin, which increases feelings of trust and intimacy and reduces fear.

Play upbeat music: Listening to empowering upbeat music definitely lifts one's mood. I have a few key songs that I play that instantly change my mood. I often do this when I am feeling annoyed at my kids in the car (which, let's face it, is often for us moms). I put on a fun fast song and we all are required to do our best dance moves while buckled up!

Visualize success:
Olympic athletes are trained to do this -- and they have found their brain waves are activated at the same level as when they actually do the sport. Visualize yourself speaking to the boss, losing the last 15 pounds of "baby weight," or publishing your first book! Creative visualization boosts confidence, improves your mood, and lowers feelings of anxiety.

Come from a place of "Yes":
Okay, this is my nod to Bethany from the Real Housewives of New York! But she is totally right. It is best to come from a "yes" perspective rather than a negative "no" attitude. Being cautious in some situations may be needed, but you must tell yourself "YES I can ..." (you finish the sentence) much more than "NO I can't!!"

Working on increasing the experiences of positive emotions will not only make you feel better about yourself and your life, but it will also help you have closer connections with others -- and you will feel more resilient and optimistic. So now I need to go listen to "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus because it is my current "Happy Song" -- oh, and I will dance around the house too. Remember: I have a 6-year-old daughter, so she has been greatly influencing my song selection and dance moves lately!

So what is your Happy Song??

next: The Preschool Admissions Game
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