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How to Be a Happier Person For the Rest of Your Life

Awhile back I wrote about 10 things all kids should learn before moving out or becoming adults. But what about the people who never learned simple things like don’t crowd the baggage carousel and let people get off the elevator before trying to getting on? Are they doomed to a life of being unhappy and obnoxious adults? Not at all, anyone can change assuming they want to and are given the opportunity. I’m not a very big fan of specific resolutions on New Year’s because I have crashed and burned with so many of them (Make my bed every day? Pffft, that one was cute.) But being happy? I can manage that one just fine, thank you.

I am really happy here at the beginning of 2013, really my only goal is to end the year just as happy, if not happier. But how does one do that, being happy in today’s society is so haaaard. It’s actually pretty easy, it’s just about making a few changes in yourself and your lifestyle and building upon them throughout the year until kindness is second nature and before you know it? Boom, you’ll be a happier you come 2014 (heck, before next week if you’re ambitious. Happiness is contagious like that.)

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  • Help a crying stranger 1 of 18
    Help a crying stranger
    Most people feel uncomfortable around someone who is crying, especially if that person is a stranger, yet a lot of us want to help but aren't sure how. I've learned the absolute best way to help a crying stranger is to have a little pack of tissues on your person at all times. You can hand them off silently, you can offer them with an "Is there anything I can do for you?" or if you're comfortable you can even add in a shoulder pat. No one wants to resort to using their sleeve when they're crying, stepping in and simply saving a shirt from snotty future is a very good thing indeed.
  • Help the needy 2 of 18
    Help the needy
    I always disliked driving by people asking for money at the end of an off ramp or downtown, I disliked it even more once Addie was old enough to (loudly) ask what they were doing, read their signs and wonder what I was doing to help them. Somehow telling her I contribute my money to charities that help people without homes didn't seem like enough so I started handing out bottles of water or granola bars when I came across someone asking for help. Since I always have them in my car or in my purse, why not share? More than once I have received the response "I don't want water, I want money" and it certainly caught me off guard, but I know I'm at least trying to help.
  • Walk away 3 of 18
    Walk away
    How often does someone bring up a heated topic of debate around you? How often do you fire back? A long time ago I chose what I would stand up for and turned away from the rest. Arguing with people (especially online) just made me angrier and never brought about real change in anyone (including me.) I choose to stand up for mental illness (ESPECIALLY with pregnant and postpartum women) and for women who are not physically able to breastfeed, everything else? I just ignore it or walk away. (There are other times I rant and rave to Cody until I feel better, Cody? You're the best.)
  • It could be worse, but it’s not 4 of 18
    It could be worse, but it's not
    There isn't anything I dislike more than people undermining other's suffering. I was once having a really rough parenting day and my dad's response was "Think of all the women without babies because they're dead." Well, yeah. That totally helps (No, it doesn't.) However, I've learned that when I acknowledge how much worse the situation could be for myself? A lot of the self pity washes away. Vivi barfed all over herself during a 3 hour drive last week, my first thought? "Good thing we're only 5 minutes from the next town and not in the middle of the desert!"
  • Avoid the media 5 of 18
    Avoid the media
    I would be willing to place a generous bet on how much better you would feel after a week without the violence, terror, anger and despair multimedia brings into your life. Turn off the news, avoid violent movies and television shows, read uplifting books and articles. My brain simply cannot process violent imagery or gore which is why I stopped partaking in all of it several years ago and nothing has made a bigger difference in my demeanor and spirit. If you simply cannot turn off the news and you do hear of a terrible story, look for the helpers. Look for the little bits of humanity that shine through tragedy, bonus points if you can be one of those shining bits for another person.
  • Rescue an animal 6 of 18
    Rescue an animal
    If you find yourself with an abundance of love to give, but aren't sure where to direct it, rescue an animal. Rescue an old animal no one else wants, let them grow old in your home and live out their life in your home's sunny spots. Let them be loved by you and let them be a part of your family. To my right is a brown tabby who sleeps with my eight year old every night and lays on my feet when they are cold. To my left is a one eyed cat who spent more than eight months alone at the Humane Society because no one else wanted him. My "deformed" cat is basically the best cat to ever exist and I simply cannot imagine my life without either of them. Rescue pets know when they are saved and their gratitude comes through in a special brand of unconditional love.
  • Acknowledge others 7 of 18
    Acknowledge others
    Think of the last checker you had at the store, what did they look like? Can you even remember if they were a man or a woman? With technology and the rush of everyday life I think a lot of us forget to actually look people in the eye and acknowledge them. I'm not expecting you to ask the guy bagging your groceries about his favorite football team, but perhaps you could at least look him in they eye and smile when he asks if you found everything okay. You never know when someone is having a terrible day, and something as simple as a genuine smile and actual eye contact can make a huge difference.
  • Practice random acts of kindness 8 of 18
    Practice random acts of kindness
    I once had a $20 gift card to Starbucks and when you don't drink coffee, $20 is a lot of hot chocolate. Rather than making myself sick on hot chocolate and caramel apple cider, I bought myself and Addie a hot chocolate and left the gift card with the cashier to pay for the person behind me. I have no idea how far it spread or if it spread at all, but I have to believe that restored at least one person's faith in humanity, even if it was the shocked cashier I left the gift card with. Look for chances to commit random acts of kindness and follow through without any expectation of reward.
  • Ditch the road rage 9 of 18
    Ditch the road rage
    If someone is driving slower than snot tell yourself they have a wedding cake in the backseat and if they go too fast it will topple. If someone is driving like a complete jerkface, tell yourself they probably just found out a loved one is in the hospital. Chances are neither story will be true, but they may be and there are times when we all deserve the benefit of the doubt, even the jerkfaces.
  • Hug yo’ kids 10 of 18
    Hug yo' kids
    At some point my mom stopped hugging me, which sounds like a terrible opening to an autobiography, but it's true. When we hug now it feels awkward and forced, which is sad. My dad on the other hand has always been a hugger, to this day he can hug me for no reason at all and it is comforting and familiar. I make a point to hug my kids everyday and often if for no other reason than to keep it from becoming awkward.
  • Show affection like a boss 11 of 18
    Show affection like a boss
    Hug like you mean it. I used to hate hugs and hugging, but I think I was both hugging wrong and hugging the wrong people. I love hugs now, and not to toot my own horn but I'm pretty good at them. There's something so trusting and comforting about a hug, but when you half ass it it comes across as fake and forced. No one likes a fake and forced. No one. Same goes for handshakes, look the person in the eye, keep your hand taught and squeeze just hard enough so they know you mean it when you say "Nice to meet you." I once had an OB who had the handshake of a warm dead fish, which is a good set of hands to have when it comes to my vagina, but in a handshake? Nope. It's honestly one of the reasons I left his practice, I didn't like his handshake (neither did Cody, worst handshake EVER.)
  • Respect yo’ family 12 of 18
    Respect yo' family
    I was (and still occasionally am) very guilty of disrespecting my spouse and children. How can I insist that my kids treat me with respect when I'm just as guilty of rolling my eyes and snapping sarcastic remarks at them? Oy. It's shameful. It has been unspoken in our relationship over the past few weeks, but Cody and I are both working on respecting each other a little more each day. Saying thank you for mundane things, taking care of things for each other and not rolling our eyes or responding with snide comments. I would never snap at a stranger with a mean dig or heavy sigh, so why on Earth so I occasionally do it to my own family?
  • Honor the elderly 13 of 18
    Honor the elderly
    Last month I offered my table to an elderly couple in JFK airport, they had already positioned themselves and their luggage against a wall so as they moved towards the chairs, I moved their luggage towards the table. "You didn't have to do that, but I'm glad you did." the old woman said. "I didn't know there were still nice people out there." said the old man. You guys, these are the people that raised our parents, who have made it through an entire lifetime of radical changes and have seen more war than we could ever imagine. While we have our faces buried in our phones and computers talking to the people who live inside them, most of the elderly are still out here in the real world alone. Pay attention to them, respect them, offer them your seat or a smile. Okay? Okay. (If it's not asking too much, teach your kids the same thing please, one day we're going to be old and need those young people to move our luggage at the airport too.)
  • Peace and quiet, quite 14 of 18
    Peace and quiet, quite
    Many of us are inside for so much of the day, we rarely have the chance to breathe in nature or feel the sunshine on our faces. With it being the dead of winter right now sunshine is a rare commodity in the Midwest so when it shines? I am in it. We call it "lizard time" and everything stops in order for us to enjoy it. When you've been trapped inside under gray skies, lying in a warm sunny patch on the floor with your eyes closed for five minutes will restore and recharge your sun starved soul. If you live somewhere where it is sunny all the time? Invite me over. But really, take a moment to enjoy nature, even if it's the sun on your face through a window or closing your eyes on the beach and breathing deeply. A Sioux Indian once told me that when we feel that connection to the air and nature around us, it's Mother Earth welcoming us back to where we started from.
  • Keep a gratitude journal 15 of 18
    Keep a gratitude journal
    Don't write down the negative things, even if they are at the forefront of your mind. Write down the positives, the good memories, the moments worth remembering, even if they are miniscule in the grand scheme of the day. In a year when you look back at the things you are grateful for, as well as the things that went well and positive, you will realize how blessed your life has been as the memories and their positive feelings wash over you as you read your words. Write something negative down? All those negative feelings will wash over you and drag you down faster and harder than the positive ones can revive you. Start in a blank journal or if you like more form and function in your life buy one that is already meant for this very purpose like The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal.
  • Send snail mail 16 of 18
    Send snail mail
    I love getting mail, like real mail from my real friends. Not my so called friends at the power company or mortgage lenders. There's something about getting a handwritten card or letter in the mail, it means someone thought of you when they saw the card, thought of you as they wrote the card and thought of you as they walked/drove/skipped to the mailbox. When you have a moment, stop at a Hallmark, or even the grocery store card aisle, and read the cards. I can promise you'll be inspired to send at least one to someone, even if you haven't talked to that someone in months. Chances are your intuition was right and your card will arrive exactly when it is needed most in that someone's life.
  • Give often 17 of 18
    Give often
    Keep only what you need, save something for a proverbial rainy day and give away the rest. I have a terrible habit of giving things away, or loaning them under the impression that I will one day get them back. However it's only a terrible habit when I look at it from the perspective of my husband because it's his money and his stuff too. I take care of our obligations and save what I can, but I also realize that $20 or a spare printer I have lying around my house may make a lot more difference in the life of someone else. I've spent so much of my life trying to acquire things but it never brought me any happiness until I could start giving some of them away. I also know for a fact that the more you give away, the more you will receive (assuming you continue to pay it forward.)
  • You are magnificent 18 of 18
    You are magnificent
    Go out into the world realizing you are just as important as everyone else, if not more so. You could be the one person to say one thing to someone else that could change their entire life. I love that saying "While you may only be one person in the world, you may be the entire world to one person" or something like that. You make a difference, and when you cultivate kindness and an attitude of love and giving your ability to change the world magnifies exponentially. "If you work hard and are kind, amazing things will happen."

Equally important? Surround yourself with good people.

If you’re angry and downtrodden after being with someone? Phase them out, check in occasionally with them, but do not spend your precious time and energy allowing them to trample your spirit. You should walk away from your friends and family feeling uplifted, not dejected. The same goes for you, how do people feel after they walk away from you? Good, I hope.

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Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.

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