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Parent to Parent: Taking summery steps to happiness

Editor’s note: Betsy Flagler is on vacation. This column originally ran in June 2012.

If you or your kids have been feeling blue, there are things you can try that could help – and now might be the perfect time to break out of that “blah” box.

“Most people don’t realize that happiness is a choice,” says Todd Patkin, author of “Finding Happiness” (StepWise Press, 2011). “Happiness is learning how to live your best life by figuring out a better way to react to what happens to you.”

Patkin adds that there’s no better time than the lighter, more relaxing days of summer to make small changes that can have a big impact on your outlook. Try these tips on leading a happier lifestyle.

Tip one: Exercise. Take advantage of the wonderful weather and increase your activity level. Exercise will begin to relax you, make you feel stronger and improve your sleep. It’s also a natural antidepressant that will boost your attitude and outlook.

“Exercise is the single most important thing you can do to improve your life right now,” Patkin says. “It’s a fantastic energizer, and it actually opens you up to future change by invigorating your mind and body.”

Tip two: Plan some fun activities that play to your strengths. The days are longer, schedules are more relaxed and you’ll probably be taking some vacation days. Resolve to spend some of that time developing your special abilities and talents. If you want to be happy, you need to recognize, use and share your gifts, says Patkin. Each of us has been given special strengths, and when we are using them, we feel much better about ourselves – and the world at large is better off, too.

“Your kids get to go to special-interest activities and camps during the summer,” he says, “so why shouldn’t you get in on the action, too?”

Tip three: Live in the present. There are so many moments to treasure, and they’re often especially vivid in the summer: the sound of your kids playing outside, the scent of the herbs in your garden, the feeling of sand between your toes. Are you really experiencing and enjoying these moments? Or is your mind obsessing over the past or worrying about the future while only your body is physically present? If it’s the latter, you’re only exacerbating your anxiety and unhappiness by choosing to dwell on things you can’t control.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to truly appreciate the present moment,” Patkin says. “And hopefully, this season will offer plenty of good opportunities to do that.”

Tip four: Break out the barbecue. Summer is known for cookouts, pool parties and front porch sittin’. Don’t be “that family” who always keep to themselves. Try to host at least one or two events between now and September and invite over the people you love. “It’s worth putting work into improving your relationships with your family and friends all year-round, because the quality of your bonds with the people closest to you can make or break the quality of your life,” Patkin says.

Tip five: Be friendlier. Spend more quality time with the people who are most important to you this summer, but also continue to make new connections. Make an effort to be friendlier to others you encounter. Introduce yourself to the family next to you at the pool or beach, for example, and say hello to folks you pass while walking in the park. You’ll also be setting a great example for your kids.

“Extending simple human kindness to others can make a huge difference in their lives, and in yours,” Patkin says.

Parenting tip

Avoid household products that look like candy, such as Tide Pods laundry detergent. The colorful packaging is eye-catching – so much so that toddlers have swallowed the pods and gotten sick.

Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and preschool teacher. If you have tips or questions, please email her at or call Parent to Parent at (704) 236-9510.