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The pursuit of happiness

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BUILD MEMORIES Savour the world around you
BUILD MEMORIES Savour the world around you

People with a sunnier outlook breeze through life with a smile

Rose Theis is the consummate amateur athlete. At 46, she is an Ironman triathlete, an experienced marathoner, and a year-round bicyclist — a notable feat for a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, where the winters are no joke.

In the summer, she thinks nothing of awakening before dawn for a swim in the cool waters of Madison's Lake Monona. She isn't stopped by minor pains or driving rains. But a school of muskies jumping upstream to spawn, a clump of magnolias spreading their flowering arms, a hot-pink sunrise looming over a glassy lake — those are pleasures worth stopping for.

Theis understands implicitly what Loyola University Chicago social psychologist Fred B. Bryant, wishes he could impart to all of us: finding joy means opening yourself up to it. The value of taking time to appreciate positive experiences seems obvious — trite, even. Yet it's a skill that few people have mastered. The reason is simple: We're busy, and we have a lot on our minds. There'll always be other sunrises, we say to ourselves, but if we don't hit the shower soon, we'll never beat the traffic to work. Under the weight of our daily responsibilities and worries, we reflexively tune out the fleeting, spontaneous events that can happen at any time, and that, if we let them, could bring us deeper joy and greater health.

. Here are 10 surefire strategies that Bryant says everyone can use to discover pleasure and satisfaction in everyday moments:

Share positive feelings

Let your children know how great it feels to spend time with them. Tell your spouse about the compliment your boss paid you. E-mail your best friend to tell her how fondly you remember the camping trip you took last year, and include a silly picture. Sharing happy memories and experiences with others — or even simply anticipating doing so — is one of the most powerful and effective ways to prolong and magnify joy.

Build memories

Take mental photographs of memorable moments that you can draw on later. Recall vivid, specific events, and pinpoint what brought you joy. Do you love your red wool scarf because it's stylish and warm, or because its smell reminds you of your childhood romps in the snow?

Congratulate yourself

Take pride in a hard-won accomplishment. If you spent a year sweating at the gym to reach a fitness goal, bask in your success — and share it with others.

Fine-tune your senses

Close your eyes while you roll a square of dark chocolate over your tongue or fill your lungs with salty sea air or eavesdrop on your grandchildren's play and laughter. Shutting out some sensory stimuli while concentrating on others can heighten your enjoyment of positive experiences — particularly those that are short-lived.

Compare downward

Comparing upward makes us feel deprived, but comparing downward can heighten enjoyment. Think about how things could be worse — or how things used to be worse. Simply take note: Is today sunnier than promised? Are you fitter than you were a year ago?

Fake it till you make it

Putting on a happy face — even if you don't feel like it — actually induces greater happiness, says Bryant. So be exuberant. Don't just eat the best peach of the season — luxuriate in every lip-smacking mouthful. Laugh aloud at the movies. Smile at yourself in the mirror.

Avoid killjoy thinking

The world has enough pessimists. Short-circuit negative thoughts that can only dampen enjoyment, such as self-recriminations or worries about others' perceptions. When you find yourself awash in happiness, give it space to grow. Consciously make the decision to embrace joy.

Say thank-you

Cultivate an “attitude of gratitude,” Bryant says. Pinpoint what you're happy about — a party invitation, a patch of shade — and acknowledge its source. Saying “thank you” to a friend, a stranger, or the universe deepens our happiness by making us more aware of it.

SIRI CARPENTER

NYT NEWS SERVICE

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