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Chuck, I think laughing is an underrated health practice. Agree? – “Longing for Levity” in Louisiana

Over the past few weeks, I’ve highlighted the clinical evidence about how nine actions can decrease depression and increase the happiness in our lives. They were: Prioritize marriage and family over career and material success; don’t go it alone; practice small acts of kindness; belong to a faith community; eat well; move your body; drink enough water; set aside daily time to recreate; and get a sufficient amount of sleep every night.

If you missed any of the first three parts of this series because of the busyness of the holidays, you can find them, in order, here, here and here.

This week, I want to explain the last few actions that can jump-start joy in our lives.

Practice stress-reducing habits.

I realize most are doing their best to fight stress, but when’s the last time you engaged in an unconventional action to lower it? Let me explain.

A while ago, I noted how a nationwide poll conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed that more than half of Americans say they are living with moderate stress. And nearly a quarter of Americans admit to feeling severely stressed.

I don’t need to remind you of the negative effects of stress. And you know that depression is chief among them. There is good and there is bad stress, but what’s overwhelming about both is that they can flat-out become overwhelming.

Men’s Health magazine recently “spent the past several months devouring studies and cross-examining experts to find the 52 best stress-busting tips of all time” – some expected and many unconventional. I encourage you to go online and read about each of the magazine’s “52 Ways to Conquer and Control Stress” and the rationale behind each one.

Here are a few of my favorite: Put a green dot on your phone; drink more OJ; shut up and smile; ditch the dingy shower curtain; add 10 minutes to your ETA; turn it into a game; drive like Keith Moon; unwind online; and find your smell.

No one is a master of stress. Practice makes perfect. So practice the above techniques, as well as others, such as deep breathing, sitting in serene locations, working on behavioral modifications, choosing to maintain a positive and optimistic attitude, yoga, prayer or meditation, and my next two action points.

Laugh often.

Laughter – or even the anticipation of a good laugh – can lower stress hormones significantly.

Melissa B. Wanzer, professor of communication studies at Canisius College, reported in ScienceDaily in 2008 that aging adults experience greater levels of coping efficacy and life satisfaction when laughing more.

Wanzer even discussed laughter’s employment benefits: “If employees view their managers as humor-oriented, they also view them as more effective. Employees also reported higher job satisfaction when they worked for someone who was more humor-oriented and used humor effectively and appropriately.”

In such cases, laughing is an effective way of dealing with on-the-job stress.

The fact is that we always should be free enough from life’s burdens to laugh. It doesn’t take much time or effort to pause and laugh several times a day.

Here are eight of my favorite ways to chuckle more (no pun intended!): Watch a funny YouTube clip; swap a joke or favorite comedy movie line with a friend or co-worker; do something silly with your kids; go out and watch a comedy movie; hang out with fun people; laugh at yourself by telling a funny story about yourself; keep comical materials in places where you, co-workers or guests are likely to pick them up and read them, such as in the break room, on the coffee table and in the bathroom. (Bringing levity and laughter into our lives is why I wrote my comical and inspiring book, “The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book.”)

Laughter is a powerful ingredient in life’s recipe for happiness. As it says in the Good Book (Proverbs 17:22), “a joyful heart is good medicine, but depression drains one’s strength.”

Be grateful every day.

A few years ago, USA Today documented a multiple-university study researching the power of gratitude. The article reported that those who practiced a thankful attitude lifted their moods, felt less stress, lowered blood pressure, felt less hostile and had lower risks of several disorders, including depression, phobias, bulimia and addiction.

Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, explained: “When you express a feeling, you amplify it. When you express anger, you get angrier; when you express gratitude, you become more grateful.”

And grateful people don’t focus so much on pain and problems.

Emmons added that practicing gratitude changes brains that “are wired for negativity, for noticing gaps and omissions.”

Dr. Chris Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, further elaborated that being thankful isn’t a cure-all but can do more than we might imagine.

USA Today paraphrased him as saying, “Gratitude won’t get … people new jobs or replenish their retirement accounts, but it could give them the energy to tackle their challenges.”

Bottom line: Thanksgiving shouldn’t be bottled up into one holiday a year. Thanks-living should be something we do each and every day.

The pursuit of happiness is not only a constitutional right but a God-given one – an inalienable right. It’s not a pipe dream but an American one you can experience if you’re willing to nourish it daily by practicing the actions I’ve outlined.

Fifty-six of America’s Founding Fathers weren’t merely pontificating when they proclaimed this truth among truths in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

But we must never forget that the pursuit of happiness is not going to happen unless each of us makes it happen.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.

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