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Andrea Langworthy's column: Happiness can be contagious

Every month I check out websites that list holidays and celebrations for the upcoming time period. That’s how I learned both Father’s Day and Smile Power Day fall on June 15 this year. Think about it: without even knowing about the coincidence, dads will open gifts of ties, golf shirts and macaroni art that day and wear big, powerful smiles, too.

Speaking of coincidence: What are the chances my husband and I would sit down to watch Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” on the first day of this new month and get a lesson on the power of a smile?

Oprah’s guest last Sunday was happiness expert Shawn Achor who firmly believes in the strength of a smile. In fact, Achor recommends we spread happiness by smiling at strangers and greeting them with a hello. Achor had so much to say about happiness that instead of one hour, the normal length of a Super Soul segment, he and Oprah devoted two hours to the subject.

We all want to be happier, don’t we? After all, the pursuit of happiness is one of the unalienable rights promised to us in the Declaration of Independence.

To that end, some friends and I pursued happiness a few years ago using “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin as our guide. Like Rubin, my friends and I weren’t unhappy but felt we could be happier. We began by writing out our own commandments.

One member of the group recently shared that one of her self-directives was to “be happy by making others happy.” Achor, who says, “We need to be happy and emanate happiness to others,” would applaud my friend. It would tickle him that she is a dedicated proponent of a decades-old movement he mentioned; one that encourages people to practice random acts of kindness.

My friend is spreading happiness which Achor says happens when we make happiness a choice.

He believes we can make a positive change in our lives by doing something for two minutes a day for 21 days. Whether it’s meditation or cardiovascular exercise, Achor says even that short period of time every day will turn something into a habit and increase our level of happiness.

Twenty-one days of waking up every morning and thinking of three things for which we are grateful is one of his recommendations. Two minutes a day expressing thanks to someone is another. So is remembering a meaningful experience of the past 24 hours and jotting it down in a journal.

Achor said another way to find happiness is to visualize something in our mind from beginning to end. A vacation, perhaps. In fact, I laughed when he said planning and visualizing a vacation is often more pleasurable than the actual vacation because I often found that to be true.

Achor says we should spread the word about happiness; that people around us need to know happiness is something that can be achieved. With that in mind, I’m passing along some of what I learned earlier this week. To learn more, I plan to buy his books and study, practice and smile.

June is a short month but, if you would like to be happier and spread happiness around, there are enough days left to turn the practice of being happy into a habit. Remember: It only takes two minutes a day for 21 days.