In an often negative world

Happiness is within your reach. Even if life has dealt you challenging cards, you still can be happy — if you learn the mental strategies that create positive feelings.

Learning to be positive is well worth the effort. People who have a positive outlook not only enjoy their lives more but have stronger immune systems and live seven to nine years longer, on average. They also tend to exhibit better intuition, more creativity and improved problem-solving abilities.

Ways to become more positive…

1. Trigger the laugh effect. Our bodies produce biochemicals known as endorphins when we laugh, which makes us feel more upbeat. We also can trick our minds into thinking that we’re laughing by pretending to laugh. Phony laughter might sound fake to your ears, but it can trigger the same wave of endorphin-driven elation that you would get from legitimate laughter.

2. Count those blessings. Each night before bed, write down three good things about the day. Drifting off with positive thoughts in your mind can help you sleep better — and getting more sleep will reduce your stress and make you feel more positive the following day.

3. Exercise. Our bodies become flooded with adrenaline when we feel stressed, which can make us feel panicky or combative. Physical activity — even a brisk walk up and down a set of stairs — burns off adrenaline, allowing us to feel positive. There even is evidence that 30 minutes or more of exercise three times a week is as effective at treating depression as the anti­depressant Zoloft.

4. Use “What’s the good word?” as a greeting, not “How are you?” Using the word “good” at the start of a verbal exchange encourages people to offer positive responses — and their positive words can help you be positive.

5. Savor the positive. Our minds tend to rush past the good and ruminate on the bad. Force yourself to slow down and fully appreciate small things that you enjoy. Savor each bite of a good meal… delight in a compliment, and reflect later upon how wonderful it felt to receive it… stop and drink in a beautiful view. Discuss your enjoyable moments with those who share them — talking about experiences helps us absorb them. If no one else is around, call or e-mail a friend, or write about the experience in a journal.

6. Create a list of the 10 most positive experiences of your life. Label each with the primary feeling that it provided, such as joy, accomplishment, empowerment or enchantment. When you feel trapped in negativity, choose the feeling you most need from this list, then mentally re-create the experience. See what you saw when this experience originally occurred… feel what you felt… and hear what you heard.

Example: A salesman is depressed because of a lost account. He mentally re-creates the experience of winning his company’s salesman of the year award three years earlier. He hears his name being announced by the CEO, followed by applause. He feels himself rise and climb the steps to the stage. He feels the trophy in his hand.

By recalling the sensory feelings of an experience in as much detail as possible, we can trick our brains into believing that we are experiencing it again, triggering the same biochemical reactions and moods as the first time.

7. Spend time in nature. We all feel more positive when we spend 20 minutes or more each day surrounded by nature. Being in nature refreshes the spirit and reminds us that we belong to something larger than ourselves.

When you can’t find time for the outdoors or the weather is bad, spend a few minutes enjoying a photo or poster of a nature scene. Remarkably, looking at pictures of nature can have the same uplifting affect on our outlook as actually being in nature.