Keys to happiness: Give back and play


March 26, 2012 9:52:28 AM PDT
The economy, depression and obesity are just some of the reasons the U.S. is one of the most depressed nations in the world. While your genes account for a third to half of the reason you might get the blues once in a while, you are in control of the rest of your happiness.

Whatever it is, when it comes to happiness, we can learn a little something from grandma and grandpa. A Gallup-Healthways poll found people over 65 are happier than any other age group. So what's the secret? Clinical Psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo says happiness is a skill and can be learned.

"Happiness is a state of mind," says Lombardo. "It's how we interpret our world."

Shift the focus from you to others. Most seniors give back. 17-year-old McKenzie Bearup is starting early. Four years ago, she started collecting books for abused and homeless children. Today, she's collected nearly 50,000.

"It just makes me really happy to know that I can hopefully help change their lives," said Bearup.

Surround yourself with positive people. A study found that knowing another happy person increases your own happiness by 15 percent. Finally, take a lesson from kids and play! CEO of the National Institute for Play, Dr. Stuart Brown calls play exercise for our brains.

"The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression," said Brown, MD.

Another Gallup survey found the happiest days of the year happen during the holidays and the most stressful days fall during tax season.

Research by Duke University found exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressants for people with clinical depression.

"When you are happier you are going to be a better worker, you're going to be a better parent, a better spouse and a better friend," said Lombardo.