This Woman Walked 7,000 Miles to Discover the Secrets to Happiness. Here's What She Learned

How far would you travel to uncover the secret to happiness?

Vermont-born Paula Francis has already walked nearly 7,000 miles on behalf of Gross National Happiness USA, a nonprofit dedicated to changing how we measure success. She recently told a CBS affiliate that her research thus far points to caring, compassion, and listening as the key ingredients to a happier life.

You may not be ready to wear out your tennis shoes like Francis (she’s going on 14 pairs), but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your own happiness factor.

When Francis studies people, she absorbs their stories, a technique that combats self-focused negativity. It’s tough to be hard on yourself when you’re concentrating on being in the moment with another person. Plus, learning about someone else’s personal journey can put your own woes into perspective.

Does it take intention to forge a better life? Of course, but making a few smart choices will go a long way. For me, it’s simply a matter of switching up my attitudes and routines.

1. Choose nontoxic friends.

We’ve all had the experience of dealing with an emotional vampire at work, someone who sucks our soul dry of energy and happiness. You may not be able to fully cut ties with this person, but you can keep your distance.

As one long-time Harvard study indicated, being happy for the long haul has more to do with positive relationships than anything else. The stronger the connections between family members, co-workers, and friends, the greater the sense of joy. So ditch the folks who bring you down and find ones who pick you up.

2. Ghost your phone sometimes.

When Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, says he needs to take a step back from his phone, it’s a wake-up call for all of us. So much screen time leads to bad sleeping habits, missed opportunities to deepen human connections, and fear of missing out (FOMO) stress.

You can add some joy to your life by breaking an unhealthy routine. If you spend too much time in the virtual world and not enough in the real one, keep your phone out of the bedroom for a week. You might wind up like the study participants who reported more happiness, less stress, and improved relationships when they stopped sleeping with their phones.

3. Give to get.

Lending a helping hand is a surefire way to feel happier and get more enjoyment out of your day. After all, our brains experience the same rush when helping someone as we get from a nice meal. If a co-worker is swamped, ask what you can take off his plate. Doing someone a solid will make you feel good, too.

Outside of work, pick causes you’re passionate about and volunteer occasionally. Alternatively, you may want to give money or items to an individual or organization. As long as you do it with altruistic intentions, you can expect a positive return in the form of adrenaline and happiness.

4. Follow the “benefit of the doubt” rule.

Not everyone is out to get you, no matter what you’ve heard. When you start to tell yourself that a co-worker is trying to use you, ask yourself why you feel that way. Is there a historical reason? Or are you just assuming the worst about human nature?

Our biases can lead us to misjudge actions and words. Instead of convincing yourself that you’re the target of a conspiracy, let yourself accept the possibility that you’re not being mistreated by those around you. It may give you a freeing lift.

5. Push yourself just enough.

Happiness comes from exceeding expectations, so put a bit of pressure on. Try out for the company softball team. Add a yoga class to your weekly schedule. Tackle a big project for the head honcho.

You’ll feel some stress, but it’s the kind that lends happiness based on a sense of accomplishment. Even if you don’t succeed in doing a Tough Mudder or snagging the corner office, you can celebrate the progress you made along the way–and feel happy with how far you’ve come.

6. Celebrate others’ successes.

Why be stingy when you can share some good vibes? Look for opportunities to support those around you when they succeed. For instance, when your colleague receives a bonus, be happy for her rather than feeling like you deserved it more.

By being able to remove yourself from the center of the universe, you savor the happiness of connecting with others. Plus, you set the stage for the people in your life to see you as a trove of optimism.

I didn’t have to travel across the U.S. to boost my happiness, and you don’t, either. You can raise your happiness quotient with just these few tweaks in perspective.

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