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Give Yourself a Happiness Makeover

Longevity expert Dan Buettner traveled the globe to discover what makes people happiest. Here's what he found

  • Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Corbis

    Nestle in the Right Neighborhood

    En español | Where you choose to live is one of the most important determinants of your happiness. If you're looking for a retirement destination, here are some things to keep in mind: People are generally happiest in sunny areas, in the Pacific Northwest and on the water. Look for neighborhoods with sidewalks, meeting places and other characteristics that nudge you into social interaction. Easy access to green spaces and recreation also favors well-being.

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    Stop Shopping; Start Saving

    Research shows that financial security brings much more happiness over time than buying things does. Why? Within about a year the thrill of a new item wears off, while financial security has no expiration date. Indeed, older people's less-materialistic spending habits may explain much of their increasing happiness with age.

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    Make the Most of Your Morning

    While a good night's sleep is critical to long-term happiness — a University of North Texas study found that people with insomnia are 10 times more likely to develop depression and 17 times more likely to have anxiety than are people who sleep well — our morning routine is just as important. Eating breakfast every day can boost energy, and 30 minutes of walking or other exercise raises well-being for up to 12 hours.

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    Trim Your TV Time

    The happiest people watch less than one hour of television a day, according to a study of 40,000 people who took National Geographic's True Happiness Test. Why? We get more authentic happiness from being with family and friends, reading or engaging in a hobby.

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    Get a Daily Dose of Friends

    Studies show that America's happiest people get at least six hours a day of interaction with friends or family. And if you proactively choose the right social network, bliss can be contagious. Harvard University research found that with each happy friend we add to our social circle, our own happiness grows by 9 percent. For each unhappy friend, our happiness declines by 7 percent. So find people you like, and commit to routines that put you in contact with them regularly.

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    Find Your Soul Mate

    People in long-term committed relationships suffer less stress and live longer with fewer diseases. Another bonus: Multiple studies have shown that married people are two times more likely to be happy than nonmarried people.

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    Meet, Pray, Love

    While we're not sure whether churchgoing makes you happy or whether happy people tend to be religious, research shows that people who belong to a faith-based community — regardless of religion — and attend services more than once a week live as many as seven years longer than people who don't.

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    Create a Sunny Sanctuary

    Increase happiness by creating a room at home where you can play an instrument, enjoy a hobby, read a book or spend time with family. Ideally, the room will be full of light, which can increase mood-enhancing serotonin levels.

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    Gain Peace With a Pooch

    Pet owners have been found to have lower blood pressure and fewer stress hormones circulating in their blood. So if your lifestyle and budget can accommodate a pet, visit your local animal shelter and consider adopting one.

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    Ignite a Passion for Compassion

    Giving feels good, and several studies have shown that givers tend to be happier people. In one experiment, one group of people was given money to spend on themselves, and a second group was given money to spend on others. At the end of the day, those who gave their money away reported being happier than those who spent it on themselves. Of course, you don't have to dole out dollars to reap the benefits. Sign up to help out at your grandchild's school, or volunteer at the local cancer center.

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