Happy woman

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By Robert Holden, PhD

Your happiness is a gift. It is a gift to your friends, partner, family and children. Happiness studies prove that happiness is more than just a pleasurable emotion that makes you feel good; it has essential properties that bring out the best in you and that also help you to be genuinely friendly, loving, forgiving, altruistic and kind.  Happiness is good for you, and it's good for everyone else too.

Since 1994, I have run an eight-week happiness program called Be Happy. It has been tested by independent psychologists and scientists, who have described the program as "a genuine fast track to happiness" that "not only changes your life but also changes the way your brain functions," thus allowing for long-lasting benefits and improvement.

I have created an eight-day mini version of the Be Happy program. I have selected eight exercises for you, one for each day, to be completed over eight consecutive days. I recommend that you give each exercise at least 15 minutes a day. If possible, do this program with a buddy, as this will give you a chance to get into some rich conversations and also offer you extra support.

Start your 8-day happiness course right now!
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Day 1: Defining True Happiness
What is your definition of a happy life? Are you living it? Do you remember to include yourself in your definition? Think carefully on this because your definition of happiness will influence every other significant decision in your life. For instance, if you think happiness is outside you, you will turn happiness into a search, a pursuit or a destination; whereas if you know happiness is inside you, then happiness becomes a compass, a guide and an enabler that helps you to live a rich life.

Be Happy Exercise: There is a world of difference between searching for happiness and following your joy. Your first assignment is to reflect on the question, When am I at my happiest? Identify what inspires you, nourishes you and fans the flames of joy within. Being clear about this will help you to be true to yourself, to be honest, to make better choices and to have the courage to say a big YES to what really matters most to you in life. Say YES to joy today.
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Day 2: The Happiness Contract
As a child, you experience happiness as being natural and easy. Happiness is your original energy. Playfulness is your true nature. Joy is your spiritual DNA. In the years that follow, your personality creates a Happiness Contract that is full of learned ideas and false beliefs that limit your daily allowance of joy. Some examples of this conditioned thinking include fears like "too much happiness is selfish," beliefs like "I must deserve happiness," rules like "I must earn happiness," and self-made laws like "I must sacrifice myself for others' happiness" and "it's not okay for me to be happy if others are not."

Be Happy Exercise: The Happiness Contract is a metaphor, but its effects feel very real. The good news is you can rewrite your Happiness Contract by being willing to accept happiness more unconditionally in your life. Today's assignment is to complete the following sentence 10 times: "One way I limit my own happiness is..." Free-associate. Don't think too much. Let your answers flow. If you draw a blank, simply move on. Afterward, examine your answers carefully, looking for any learned rules, laws and fears that you can surrender and let go of. Happiness is free—there are no conditions.
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Day 3: I Choose Happiness
As soon as you wake up, you start making choices. Most of your choices are to-do choices, like taking a shower, getting dressed, fixing breakfast or drinking caffeinated or decaffeinated. There is another category of choices which are your "to be" choices, like being present, being loving and being happy. So, here's a big question for you: From 0 to 10, how happy have you decided to be today? Is your score a 5 out of 10, or 3 out of 10, or 9 out of 10, perhaps? Can you find the place in your mind where you have already made a decision about how good today will be?

Be Happy Exercise: Some people chase happiness, and other people choose happiness. It all depends how much time you want to save. Try to find the place in your mind where you have already decided how good today will be. Are you happy with your decision? Set a positive intention right now to let today be even more enjoyable than you thought it was going to be. Now, turn your positive intention into action by doing three things that make your heart glow.
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Day 4: Beware Unhealthy Sacrifice
To be happy, you have to know the difference between healthy sacrifice and unhealthy sacrifice. Healthy sacrifice is giving up something that is not helpful, authentic or smart for something that is, e.g., stop saying yes to everyone, cut your to-do list in half, quit trying to please everyone and stop denying your own needs. Unhealthy sacrifice is when you try to sacrifice your happiness, your health or your integrity for something else. The reason this type of sacrifice is so unhealthy is that it doesn't work in the long run for you or anyone else.

Be Happy Exercise: When you try to play the martyr, you lose and so does everyone else. One way to undo unhealthy sacrifice is to focus on receiving. People who are carers tend to be better at giving than at receiving, and this imbalance is what inevitably leads to sacrifice, exhaustion and unhappiness. Your assignment today is to be more open than usual, to let life support you and to let people give to you. Being a good receiver is what helps you to give yourself fully without giving yourself away. 
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Day 5: Putting Yourself First
We are a busy generation. Life can be manic. The to-do list isn't getting any shorter. If you don't stop, you become estranged from the real you. You probably promise yourself that you will catch up with yourself soon, but how soon is soon? By not stopping, you get lost in the daily blur, and you end up being a corporate version of yourself, or a caged bird (as Maya Angelou put it). The longing to be more authentic is what saves you. You cannot be inauthentic and happy. Committing to happiness is the key to living an authentic life.

Be Happy Exercise: You cannot neglect yourself and find happiness. Today's assignment is to arrange a meeting with yourself. Give yourself at least 15 minutes to check in with you, catch up on your own news and put yourself first. This is not selfish of you; it is essential for everyone. Tune in to your well-being. Ask yourself, "What are my needs right now?" "What messages is my body giving me?" "How does my heart feel?" and "What is my wisdom telling me?" Maybe it's time for you to ask for help. Life gets better when you treat yourself better.
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Day 6: Your Inner Smile
"Most of the time, I don't have very much fun, and the rest of the time I have no fun at all," quipped Woody Allen. Sometimes life can get so manic, busy and demanding that you end up setting your sights on getting through the day rather than genuinely enjoying the day. You run on autopilot. You are reactive rather than creative. You get into a mode. Life is a daily blur. The heavy tiredness you feel in your body is a sure sign there is a better way.

Be Happy Exercise: Happiness studies show consistently that most people who score higher levels of happiness do not experience markedly better life circumstances. So why are they so happy? Well, one answer is they know how to enjoy their life. The word "enjoy" means to bring joy to something. Today's assignment is to find your inner smile by reminding yourself (1) what energizes you, (2) what you love and (3) what inspires you. Memo to self: Remember to enjoy the miracle of existence today.
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Day 7: Practicing Forgiveness
There are two meta-attitudes that are proven to increase your happiness levels. They are forgiveness and gratitude. Sometimes to be happy in the present moment, you have to be willing to give up all hopes for a better past. Forgiveness is the key to releasing the past and recommitting to your life now. It's impossible to carry wounds and be happy. You can't be a victim and be joyful. You can't keep neglecting yourself and feel whole. Forgiveness helps you to find your heart again, to be true to yourself and to let go of the past and be free.

Be Happy Exercise: Your assignment today is to practice self-forgiveness. Declare today a day of new beginnings in which you forgive yourself for all the past occasions when you have treated yourself in loveless and careless ways. Self-forgiveness is the key to loving yourself. This is so important, because it is impossible to love others and not love yourself. Also, the more you love yourself, the easier you make it for others to love you too. Forgiveness is the key to love and happiness. 
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Day 8: Being Grateful
In the Be Happy course, participants are given a gratitude journal to fill in daily over the eight weeks. Gratitude is often referred to as the shortest shortcut to happiness. How so? First, gratitude helps you to remember what is important in your life. Remember, to be happy you have to be willing to sacrifice what is not important for what is. Second, gratitude helps you to be more receptive. As my friend Chuck Spezzano says, "When the receiver is ready, the gift appears."

Be Happy Exercise: Your assignment today is to review this eight-day mini version of the Be Happy program and make a list of at least eight blessings, breakthroughs and benefits you have experienced. The miracle of gratitude is that the more you practice gratitude, the more things you find to be grateful for. The gift of gratitude is that it helps you to participate more fully in your own life and to notice what is already here. This is so important because, in the final analysis, the only thing that is really missing in your life is more of the real you. 

Robert Holden, PhD, is the director of the Happiness Project and creator of Be Happy, the eight-week happiness program. His innovative work on happiness has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America and also in two major BBC TV documentaries, The Happiness Formula and How to Be Happy, shown to more than 30 million TV viewers worldwide. He is the author of the best-selling books Happiness Now!, Shift Happens! and Authentic Success. His latest book, Be Happy, is published by Hay House. He is also the host of a weekly radio show for Hay House Radio called Shift Happens! For further information, visit RobertHolden.org.