11 Secrets of Happy People

There’s no shortage of excuses to keep you from enjoying your life to the fullest. Most of the time they work because you’ve been taught to believe that play and leisure are good-for-nothing slacking. When you get a free moment, what pops into your head? "Get busy!" 

The research shows that the more active leisure life you have, the happier you are. But getting around all the obstacles to your life can be tricky -- exhaustion, guilt, hectic schedule with the kids. It takes a different skill-set than we’re used to and more planning. You need leisure skills, the tools of life intelligence. Here are 11 ways to activate those skills and start living your extraordinary life.

Don't Be a Spectator -- Participate!

We’re raised to be spectators, and too often we spend our time staring at screens, day and night. But the real magic is in interactive experiences. They make us happier than material thing; they are the experiences that can't be compared to someone else’s. So instead of just watching Dancing with the Stars, sign up for a ballroom dance class, or have a spontaneous dance party with your kids. You’ll be on your way to a more memorable life.

Guilt is a Waste of Time

If you feel guilty for not working until 8p.m. every night or you feel bad using your vacation days, stop. Psychologists say work-related guilt falls in the “unreal” guilt category. It’s simply a projected anxiety and a manipulation by others. You haven’t harmed anyone physically. Your guilt is telling you there’s no value in leisure time. Don’t buy it. Make a conscious choice such as, “I’m not going in the office on Saturday because staying healthy and spending time with my family is a priority. I’ll finish my work on Monday.” Your decision can set you free from the guilt.

If you're a mom, remember the kids will be fine if dad or grandma looks after them while you get a little break. Your health and vitality depend on quality refueling. You won’t have nearly the energy and patience for family challenges if you’re at your wit's end. The guilt is telling you’re not entitled to have a life. Don’t buy it. It’s bogus.

Push Through the Blues

Sometimes moods can hold your life hostage. We cycle through ups and downs every day. When you get home from work, or have spent all day chasing after the kids, your mood is likely to be funky. Ignore it. It’s momentary -- and a life-killer. Negative moods are momentary. Visualize the state you want to be in and start moving your attitude in that direction. Play with your kids or dog, go for a run or pop in a workout DVD to get into the right frame of mind.

Leave Your Comfort Zone

Trying something new is always a little scary. Don’t worry about looking a fool. Fools have more fun, because they’re learning new things. That’s what your brain wants: engagement, not comfort. Adults are petrified of someone realizing that they don’t know everything there is to know. That keeps you in the bunker. Break out with sublime foolishness.

Seek Longterm Gratification

Choose gratification over shortterm pleasures. Most of the time we go for the pleasures -- food, shopping. It’s over in a flash, with no lasting dividend. When you go for things that allow you to grow, like taking up a new sport, mentoring a child or helping others, you expend more effort but earn long-lasting gratification. That's what satisfies your core needs.

Be a Life-Taster

You increase your odds of finding a passion by trying many different activities -- dancing, hiking, pottery, kickball. If you've got young kids, see if there's an online course you can take or find an activity you can do at home when the kids are napping, like painting, writing or yoga. Think of it as life-tasting, like wine-tasting without the hangover. There’s no judgment needed. You’re just sampling.

Make Time for Play

Turn off the work mindset, with its emphasis on productivity and busy-ness, and switch on the intrinsic play mind, the one that requires no purpose or outcome to justify its desires. Find an activity you want to try and do it for the inherent fun, learning, or challenge -- not for some external payoff.

Practice Makes Passion

You don’t find a passion from across the room. You have to be in it for a while to develop the competence for it to become a passion. Stick with it. Go for the learning, not the perfection. Be a lifelong learner. Enjoy the practice of whatever you’re doing and feel good that you’re a little less bad than the last time. When the passion kicks in, you can add hours of joy to your week.

Happy People are Initiators

Don’t wait for life to happen. You have to make it happen. You’re the entertainment director of your life. Dig through activity listings on the Web and in local papers, follow up on your curiosities. If you've got kids, go online after they've gone to bed and find a fun activity to do this week. Plan your vacation three months in advance. Ask a friend to get together. Bring the kids. Just the social connection can help buffer your stress.

Ignore the Usual Excuses

Don’t fall back on the no-money, no-partner default. You can find free activity classes at the local park or dance lessons for $15. It doesn’t matter if you go alone, because the activity itself will supply a social network that Facebook could never match: real folks, enjoying themselves together in play, where everyone is on an equal footing. There’s no better way to meet people than through a shared passion.

If you've got a family, improvise small outings. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Local parks and colleges are great places to find cheap, fun things to do for the whole family. Try a yoga class or a picnic with a Frisbee.

Be Positive (or Fake It!)

This is one of the real secrets of the universe. Positive affect is the body language of happiness, a buoyant and optimistic spirit transmitted by facial expression, tone of voice, and demeanor. When you have it, the world wants in. This state leads to more fun, friendships and even success. If you don’t have positive affect, fake it, and within a few minutes of putting it into action, you will have it for real.

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