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Expert: Happiness Can Be Learned This Year

Research says anyone can learn to adjust their outlook for a more positive attitude, no matter what kind of upbringing they had. (5deMayo/morguefile)
Research says anyone can learn to adjust their outlook for a more positive attitude, no matter what kind of upbringing they had. (5deMayo/morguefile)
January 5, 2016

ST. LOUIS - 2016 could be your best year yet, according to a Missouri psychologist who says research has shown what can point anyone in the direction of a happier life. Some of the tips are common sense - getting enough sleep, exercise and outdoor time, and making time to help others.

But psychology professor Tim Bono, assistant dean and lecturer at Washington University, says people who take just a few minutes a week to acknowledge the good in their lives and the things they're grateful for, tend to see significant increases in their happiness.

"It's also one of the easiest behaviors for us to incorporate into our daily lives," says Bono. "And it really doesn't even involve changing anything about our lives rather, it's taking just a few minutes to shift the focus of our attention to those things that are going well for us."

Bono studies happiness and teaches a 15-week course about the science behind it. He says New Year's resolutions work best when they are aimed at incorporating healthy, long-term habits into your life and research shows that adding gratitude is one of the most effective.

Bono says even curmudgeons and procrastinators have the ability to change their thinking, and says our genetics and upbringing only account for about half of the happiness picture. He says willpower plays a big role, and suggests starting with little things, like not checking your phone or email constantly.

"If you can exercise strong willpower in those small behaviors, eventually that will accumulate to giving you the willpower to carry out the larger goals you have for yourself," says Bono. "Like running a marathon, like eating healthier, getting more involved with the community."

He adds one of the major barriers to happiness is social comparison - the tendency to size up how your life measures up to others. To minimize that concern, Bono suggests limiting time on social media and connecting more often the old-fashioned way with a good, face-to-face conversation.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO