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Four Steps to a Happier Life

You want to be happy? You can be!
Do you want to be happy? You can be!

One of the side effects of a regular exercise program is happiness. People who workout consistently tend to be happier than those who don't. For more than 20 years researchers have also known that people who exercise live longer.

So why aren't all the depressed people getting out and exercising?

It's a matter of motivation. You may be so depressed; even the idea of starting an exercise program is beyond your capacity to imagine. Who wants to exercise when you're singing the blues? You have to break out of the depression cycle. To help you do that, I'd like to share four actions you can take to put a little more bounce in your step.

Make a happy face, even if you're faking it. A study at the University of Kansas took 169 university students and made them do things that induced stress, like plunging their hand into icy water. Then they were instructed to do one of three things. Smile, NOT smile or hold a chopstick in their mouth in a way that forced their face into a smile.

The researchers found that participants who had any sort of smile were less stressed and recovered faster from the pain or frustration of the challenge than the people who didn't smile. Even the people who were faking it with the chopstick in their mouth did better than the ones who didn't smile. So when you're in a difficult situation or feeling down in the dumps, flash a big one. You'll start to feel better.

Watch a funny movie, visit a comedy club or read a joke book. A portion of our brains are made up of "mirror neurons." Located in the brains frontal lobe, mirror neurons synch up our emotions with people we're watching or the people around us that are doing the same things we are. Surround yourself with happy people and those mirror neurons will kick in to start making us feel better.

Quit thinking about yourself and do something for others. A young lady named Cami Walker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006 and struggled with the symptoms for two years. She fought the pain, fatigue and insomnia while popping so many pills she had to track them on a spreadsheet. That's when a friend told her to give away 29 gifts in 29 days and write about the experience.

Cami followed her friend's advice and it started a movement that's mobilized tens of thousands of people doing good around the globe. By giving to others, you feel better about yourself. Giving 29 gifts in 29 days forces you to reach out to the people around you and lessens feelings of isolation and loneliness. As you make other people happy, those emotions come back to you.

Ask your doctor to prescribe a placebo. You read that right. You should knowingly ask your doctor to give you a pill for your depression that has no clinical value. It may seem a little crazy, but a groundbreaking study done by Harvard Medical School in 2010 proves it can work. In the study, researchers prescribed a placebo for patients with irritable bowel syndrome, a chronic condition that isn't life-threatening and doesn't typically respond well to medication.

At the end of the study, lead author Ted Kaptchuk said, "we got a huge placebo effect in the pill-taking group. The results were as good as those of the most effective drugs ever tested." People who took the placebo reported twice the symptom relief of those who didn't take anything. In several clinical trials, placebo pills have been shown to produce significant positive responses in both mental and physical health. Take one daily to encourage your mind to get better.

Once you start feeling better, keep the good times rolling and get your body moving. Walk, skate, ride a bike, jump rope or skip down the street for 15 minutes. After a few weeks, you create a "positive feedback loop." The exercise pumps up your mood, your body gets stronger and people around you start noticing and complimenting how you've changed. Everyone wins as you become a happier, healthier person.

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beginning any diet or exercise program.