The “how” of happiness isn’t that tough, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness.

Her research shows that happiness not only feels good; it is good. Happier people have more stable marriages, stronger immune systems, higher incomes, and more creative ideas than their less happy peers.

Best of all, it’s possible to make ourselves happier by practicing small, simple activities on a regular basis. Here are a few recommendations:

1. Keep your thoughts in check.  Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings; likewise, positive thoughts lead to positive feelings. One way to have positive thoughts is to keep your mind engaged by taking a new class, listening to an inspiring lecture, or attending a discussion with one of America’s top contemporary writers.

All of these activities are available to the community at UCR Palm Desert — lectures and most events are free, while classes and workshops are low-cost.

2. Practice conscious gratitude.  Some recommend keeping a gratitude journal, in which you write down a few things each day for which you are grateful, while others express their daily appreciation in other ways. To help you on that journey, UCR Extension hosts mindful meditation retreats at UCR Palm Desert a couple of times each year. 

3. Commit random acts of kindness.  Practicing positive activities may serve as an effective, low-cost treatment for people suffering from depression, according to the paper, Delivering Happiness: Translating Positive Psychology Intervention Research for Treating Major and Minor Depressive Disorders. The research team included Kristin Layous and Joseph Chancellor, graduate students at UC Riverside; Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology and director of the Positive Psychology Laboratory at UC Riverside;  Lihong Wang, MD, and P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, of Duke University.

Such positive activities might include supporting your local cultural community by attending UCR Palm Desert art exhibitions, bringing a friend to the MFA book club, or gazing upon the universe with wonder during UCR Alternative Earths astrobiology series. 

4. Get physical.  Even moderate physical activity can boost happiness, chase away depression, and improve your physical health. Want to get outside? Learn more about the local landscape during the free Wild Coachella lecture series, collaboration between UCR Center for Conservation Biology and Friends of the Desert Mountains.

5. Volunteer.  Boost your happiness and health through volunteering, which provides a sense of purpose. According to U.S. News and World Report, when Lyubomirsky and her colleagues conducted an experiment in which individuals were asked to perform five considerate acts —like donating blood or feeding a friend’s pet—the study participants reported higher levels of pleasure than members of a control group who did no such acts.

The Master Gardener program at UCR Palm Desert involves serving the community through volunteer hours, while the California Naturalists program gets volunteers involved with citizen science initiatives in our own backyard.

For information on all events, classes and lectures, contact UCR Palm Desert at (760) 834.0800 or visit

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