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5 Steps to #Happiness

March 11, 2012

By Tom Muha, For The Capital

Most people are aware that their best chance to have a healthy body is to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. But do you know that there are five daily actions you could take to have a happy life? There is strong scientific evidence demonstrating that 5 easily accomplished actions can significantly improve and maintain your level of happiness.

A 2008 review of the work of more than 400 social scientists from around the world identified five behaviors that — when consistently practiced — produced a high level of well-being: 1) connecting to at least one other person, 2) engaging in some invigorating physical activity, 3) appreciating some aspect of your surroundings, 4) learning something new and 5) performing an act of kindness.

Like many other aspects of life, forming the daily habit of engaging in these activities is more easily said than done. But you’ve already accomplished one of the five actions for today — you’ve learned something new, which is the first stage in the change process.

The next step involves making a plan for incorporating these new behaviors into your schedule, followed by two or three months of maintaining your new daily ritual.

Is reading the newspaper one of your normal daily activities? If so, then make learning something new a part of that practice by reminding yourself as you pick up the paper that you’re going to look for some tidbit of information that you could use to make your life better. While much of what you read in the paper or see on TV is focused on what’s going wrong in the world, there are also stories that inspire or columns that inform.

If you consciously change your focus to look for the positive takeaways that teach you something new and valuable, you’ll find that information as well.

How else do you learn? Do you enjoy learning to play an instrument or discovering new recipes to cook for dinner? Do you like taking classes in an academic setting or taking on new responsibilities that offer the opportunity for you to learn something new at work?

This key to increased happiness requires that you relax and enjoy the experience of acquiring new knowledge. That entails a willingness to engage in the sometimes painful process of trial and error learning, knowing that the more you try the less you’ll err.

If you appreciate your progress, you’ll slowly but surely master what it is that you want to learn. Another one of the five daily happiness activities is connecting with the people around you — your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors.

Spending time having a meaningful conversation with someone every day will provide an invaluable source of support that will substantially enrich your life. The best way to create good connections is to ask other people what’s going on in their life, and offer to help them should the opportunity present itself. If you’re socially shy, you’ll find that it’s much easier to focus on the other person.

And because what goes around comes around, there’s a very strong likelihood that the people you connect with will support you when you need some assistance.

Being active and taking notice of your surroundings can often be combined into one activity when you’re scheduling happiness into your daily routine. Go for a run, ride your bike, walk your dog, paddle your kayak or take a stroll around your neighborhood.

Exercising will fire off some feel good chemicals in your brain as well as relaxing your body and increasing your fitness level. And if you start your physical activity with the mindset of being curious and aware of what you’ll see while you’re out in the world, you’ll notice the beauty, glimpse something surprising, observe the unusual and savor the serenity.

Committing an act of kindness is the last but not least of the five daily activities that are required in order to have a high level of happiness in your life.

When you’re in a bad mood, one of the best ways to stop dwelling on your unhappiness is to look outward in order to find something nice you could do for a family member, friend, or even a stranger. When people express gratitude to someone who’s done them a favor, there’s a powerful boost of joy for both themselves and the person they’re thanking. Because they’re in an appreciative mood, recipients of kind acts usually spread the joy as they pass it forward by doing something nice for someone else.

Dr. Tom Muha is a psychologist practicing in Annapolis. Previous articles can be found To contact him, call 443-454-7274 or


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