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How to squash worry and grab more happiness out of life in tough times

By Judy Dutton
Surround yourself with people that make you happy can hike your odds of being upbeat, experts say.
Surround yourself with people that make you happy can hike your odds of being upbeat, experts say.
  • Enjoy the present, meaning do less multi­tasking and worrying
  • Physical activity is a power­ful ally to greater well-being and joy
  • Regularly taking quiet time -- meditating or sipping tea -- helps you appreciate the moment

( -- These days it can feel like the age of anxiety is winning over the pursuit of happiness. An uncertain economy and the swine flu are just the tip of our worry iceberg.

In fact, scientists say women are wired to worry -- at least more so than men. In a recent Health magazine poll, 54 percent of women said they worry more than their spouse, with only 12 percent claiming their partner worries more than they do. That's thanks, in part, to the hormonal roller-coaster women ride month to month and through the years.

"The highs and lows can make women prone to feeling everything from anxious to depressed," says Jerilyn Ross, a licensed independent clinical social worker, president and CEO of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, and author of One Less Thing to Worry About.

And while men tend to be linear problem solvers, "Women are more in touch with their emotions, and worry is an emotion," points out Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life. Still, experts say that with some practice we all can learn to be a little less worried and a whole lot happier.

Here's your recipe for a more joyful life. Read on and say, "So long, dark side."

When we get caught up in cycles of brooding and worrying, our minds are stuck in the past or the future.
--Lori Hilt

1. Find your joy

One of the keys to finding happiness in tough times is "simply being aware of what is happening right now, without wishing it were different," says James Baraz, a meditation instructor and founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. That may require a little less multi­tasking and worrying and more stopping to smell the roses, says Lori Hilt, an anxiety specialist at the University of Wisconsin.

"When we get caught up in cycles of brooding and worrying, our minds are stuck in the past or the future," she says. "Get out of the cycle by focusing on the present, noticing the cool breeze on your skin, the taste and texture of a bite of food." 9 secrets to boost your energy

"When I'm blue, I'll mix up a fruity drink, insert one of those festive straws -- umbrella open, of course -- and pretend I'm at a party. It's impossible not to feel happy when your drink has a pretty paper umbrella! -- Diana Estill, 55, Murphy, Texas

2. Lighten up

Looking for joy means looking for reasons to smile. Happily, just the act of smiling makes you happy! Even a forced grin tells your brain, "My mouth muscles are moving up, so I must be happy," and leads to a release of happiness-inducing endorphins, psychologist Sybil Keane says.

"Because of the threat of layoffs, my job is stressful. I cope -- people think I'm nuts -- by watching those funny cat videos on YouTube. It's a nightly ritual that always cheers me up!"-- Termeh Mazhari, 25, Great Neck, New York

3. Get moving

Physical activity is a power­ful ally to greater well-being and joy. "Exercise, yoga, or any kind of regular movement helps get you out of your head," Baraz says. "In addition to being a healthy activity, it triggers endorphins that have a profound effect on lifting your spirits. It makes you come alive." A new prescription for happiness

"I row myself into a better mood. Being out on the water, I forget about all the day-to-day things that cause worry and focus more on what I can do every day that will make a difference." -- Linda Jackson, 51, San Francisco, California

4. Look for a joy buddy

It's harder to be happy when you're isolated. That's why Baraz suggests that you find a partner in your pursuit of happiness, what he calls a "joy buddy." Having someone rooting for your well-being and reminding you to look for the good in your life is a very effective way to stay on track, he says. That buddy can be a friend you trade positive text messages with every day or a joy group you meet with once a month.

Being still reminds you that life isn't about racing as fast as you can to get to the end of your to-do list.
--James Baraz

Surrounding yourself with other happy people can hike your odds of being upbeat by 9 percent, studies show. But steer clear of complainers: Downer friends bring you, well, down, says change expert Ariane de Bonvoisin, author of The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier, and founder of

"Heading to the park with my dog, Scoobie, is my favorite cure, no matter what's weighing on me. It's impossible to worry when I'm surrounded by dogs running and tumbling over one another -- there's something about the innocent joy of their play that relaxes me." -- Carol Huang, 43, New York City

5. Practice being happy

Most people discover that happiness isn't related to objects or experiences, though those things can give us fleeting pleasure, says Baraz, whose book Awakening Joy will be out in January. "Studies show that happiness comes with certain states of mind and heart, such as generosity, kindness, or gratitude," he says. Getting there may take practice, but the more you consciously focus on the feeling of joy -- whether it comes from giving a compliment or laughing out loud with your kids --the more deeply that feeling will register and the happier you'll be.

"Digging in the soil makes me happy. It helps me feel as if I have control over something. And the pride I feel when I look at my garden makes me feel successful. The connection with nature brings me into the now." -- Angie Mattson, 36, Charlotte, North Carolina 10 ways to go from tired to terrific

6. Do a song or dance (really)

If an apple a day keeps the doc away, Baraz would say a song does, too. He believes that singing is one of the surest roads to finding joy.

"It's hard to stay in a funk if you're singing regularly," he says, and research bears him out: University of Manchester researchers discovered that an organ in the inner ear (that responds to singing sounds) is connected to a part of the brain that registers pleasure. So singing, alone in the car or in a crowd at church (and even if you're very, very bad at it), makes you happier. If singing isn't your thing, Baraz says, paint, dance, or write.

"When I was in the minuses in my bank account, I was beside myself with worry. So in the middle of changing my clothes, I would dance, nude. The movement helped move the worry right out of me, and the nude part worked symbolically for setting me free." -- Elisabeth Manning, 39, Marin County, California

7. Be very still

Regularly taking a little quiet time -- meditating or perhaps sipping a warm cup of tea -- helps you appreciate the moment and your life, Baraz says. "Being still reminds you that life isn't about racing as fast as you can to get to the end of your to-do list."

"Whenever I start turning over all of my worries in my head -- bills, car, kid, marriage, everything -- I wash dishes. I may not be able to control how much my mortgage payment is, but I can wash the dishes. Once I focus on the present, everything else seems to just fall away." -- Jen Matlack, 39, Bethel, Connecticut

Don't let $$ worries steal your joy

Worrying about money sure can drain the joy out of life. But instead of just lamenting, do something about it, says financial expert Jean Chatzky, author of The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even the Toughest Times, who blogs at "The people who assert control over finances are significantly happier than the ones who don't," she says. Signs you might be clinically depressed

For instance, worrying about the stock market, something you can't control, is useless, she says. Instead, go to the retirement calculator at and crunch your numbers. "Then say, 'All right, what if I saved this much more? What if I work a little longer?'" she says. If you can't figure out what to do, hire a certified financial advisor, Chatzky advises. "Just have them do an annual assessment, as you would a checkup with your doctor."

Kimberly Holland contributed to this report.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011