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Happiness 101: Only You Can Make Yourself Happy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Can you teach yourself how to be happy? An emerging field in psychology looks at ways people can manufacture their own happiness.

The happiness problem is a topic being tackled on college campuses across the county, from a course on happiness becoming the most popular offer ever at Yale University to one taught closer to home at the University of St. Thomas.

"I think a lot of people are unhappy," said Ryan Bremner, a psychology professor who teaches the course at UST. He says a common misconception is being happy comes with conditions.

"I'll be happy when I get married, I'll be happy when I have kids, I'll be happy when I finally have this promotion," he said.

Duncan Anderson signed up for the professor's class when he realized his own joy was too focused on the future.

"My happiness was very much conditionalized in future events, so I can't be happy until I get this test done, I can't be happy until class is over, I can't be happy until that package arrived from Amazon, the list goes on and on and that's very exhausting," Anderson said.

Human beings have accomplished great things. We've sent man to the moon, cured deadly diseases. Why can't we solve the happiness problem?

The answer: Only one person can make you happy, and that's you. The good news is that most of us have the tools to be happy anywhere at any time.

First, find a buddy. Research shows the number one predictor of happiness is social - meaning human, not an app - connection.

If you don't have close family or friends, join a bowling league, book club or self-help group.

Second, get spiritual, about anything -- religion, spreading human kindness or taking care of planet earth.

"That kind of spirituality gives you a sense of meaning, which is important for happiness and flourishing and pretty much everything in life," Bremner said.

Third, think about your thoughts.

"A lot of them are irrational and we have a hard time realizing that when we are just thinking it," Bremner said.

When having or obsessing over a negative thought, Bremner suggests writing it down.

"One of the things that writing it down does is gives us a distance from it, gives us perspective," he said. "How big of a deal is this in comparison for everything else in my life or the world for that matter."

Finally, every day jot a couple things down in a gratitude journal.

"It could be anything, anything that you really wish that did not disappear. It could be your partner, your kids, it could be God, it could be the tree outside your window," Bremner said. "That can train you throughout the day to be looking for the small things and then while you're doing that you're not thinking about all the desires that are unsatisfied."

For Duncan, focusing on the small things, changed his outlook.

"Just right now sitting in front of you, I have two legs that got me to this interview, I have a healthy body, I have clothes on my body," he said.

And the class, is now one of the things he can add to his journal.

"I can definitely say that activity in the class led to me to cultivate significant degrees of happiness that I didn't have in my life before," he said. "All of the conditions for happiness are right here in this moment."

How happy are you? You can take the Authentic Happiness Inventory test offered at Yale to see.

Mental health experts also say it's important to know the difference between unhappiness and depression. To understand if you should seek professional help, click here.

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