With the 24-hour news cycle constantly blasting bad news about school shootings, depressed economies and the spread of Ebola, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the negativity. Rather than succumbing to the negativity, shift your focus to gratitude this Thanksgiving — it is the true secret of happiness.

At Thanksgiving, most people take time to express their gratitude. The research on gratitude and happiness shows that happiness springs from the expression of gratitude, not the other way around.

To maximize your happiness this Thanksgiving and throughout the year, follow the tips below:

1. Bring sunshine to someone else’s day
I have a longtime friend who has recently been admitted into Alzheimer’s care. At this time last year, he was doing his own taxes, managing his portfolio, driving a car and caring for himself. Today he can’t remember the street address where he lived for over 40 years.

When I went to see him, I made a point of visiting with some of the other patients. We were seated at lunch with another patient, Louis. My friend was happily enjoying his salad with his fingers. I kidded Louis about not keeping up. Louis took a piece of lettuce and ate it with his fingers as well. He then gave me the biggest smile. Later during the meal, two different caregivers stopped by to cut up Louis’ food and feed him.

I continued to kid Louis about not keeping up and he continued to work on the salad one bite at a time. He was almost giggling. One of the caregivers stopped by and was astounded that he was smiling: “Don’t make my Louis mad,” she said. A second caregiver came by and said, “I’ve never seen him like this — he looks so happy.”

When we finished the meal, I said goodbye to Louis, explaining that I live in Texas and would enjoy seeing him the next time I was in California. He took my hand and squeezed it tightly. His smile said it all — he was happy.

As I spoke to other patients, it dawned on me how much a warm smile and a few minutes of conversation could improve someone else’s day. The point is that helping others is one of the best ways to help you feel happier, too.

2. Choose your focus
You can focus on what brings you joy, or you can focus on what drains you. If you surround yourself with happy people who are giving back to others, it’s much easier to be happy yourself.

Turning off the TV news is one of the best ways to minimize negativity in your life. When I made the switch to listening to classical music, especially when I was driving, my stress level dropped tremendously. Moreover, a new study from U.K.-based Mindlab International shows that listening to music while you work actually increases your productivity.

3. Live as large as you can
To be happy, try as many new, fun things as possible. It can be trying a new flavor of ice cream or doing something you have never done before, such as taking a zip line through a forest.

4. Take a bite rather than insisting on having the whole thing
Instead of longing for it all right now, why not experience what you long for on a smaller scale that you can access now? For example, you may not be able to afford that 55-foot sailboat that you have always dreamed of owning, but you could rent a smaller sailboat for a long weekend.

5. Life is a long-term project
No one has a perfect life. Everyone has ups and downs. A great point to remember is that the down times help you to appreciate how good the up times are. For example, if you watch people getting off a roller coaster, they’re almost always laughing. The reason is that when the intense fear ends, their bodies respond with relief and laughter. Without the difficult times, it’s hard to appreciate when times are good.

6. Trust that the right things happen in your life — even when they hurt
We all have times when we are in pain. It can be an illness, a hurtful situation or even a physical injury. Nevertheless, painful events are often some of the most meaningful things that happen to us.

The question is how to cope when you face a trying time. The first step is to recall a difficult time from the past. What strategies did you use to survive? What worked? What might work in this situation? Who was supportive? Tap into these same resources to determine how many will work in your present situation.

Second, ask, “What can I learn from this?” Even better, “Is there something that I can laugh about from going through this situation?”

Third, allow others to help. For example, if someone you love is facing the end stages of cancer, allow others to help you. It could be running errands, cleaning your house, or just making some food to have on hand so you don’t have to cook. They feel they’re doing something to help and that makes them happy. It also supports you to get through your ordeal.

7. You cannot add tea to a cup that is still full
At Thanksgiving, many of us overload our plates with too much food. We often do the same thing in our lives and our businesses. When you have too much on your plate and you don’t have enough space, remember this quote from Buddha:

“You cannot add tea to a cup that is still full.”

So empty your cup of any negativity and refill it with helping others, laughter and new experiences. These are the secrets of happiness. Happy Thanksgiving!

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Discover why leading Realtor associations and companies have chosen Bernice’s new and experienced real estate sales training for their agents at www.RealEstateCoach.com/AgentTraining and www.RealEstateCoach.com/newagent.

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