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10 steps to happiness

Bad weather, large credit cards bills, failed New Year resolutions, swine flu and not much to watch on the telly.

Is it any wonder that many of us feel under the weather at this time of the year? So the last thing you want to be told is to work at being happy. Yes, you would think you'd be owed some happiness after getting drenched, having your wages taxed more, trying to detox on carrot juice and keeping your snow boots by the front door just in case.

Here are some ways to get happy which don't require a gigantic effort. You might find these tips improve your mood from damp and dreary to optimistic.

1 Lower your expectations of yourself

There is a reason you're told to take it easy in January, as the number of frantic and frazzled women increases at this time of the year. When you should be de-stressing after Christmas, you are instead trying to lose two stone and give up wine and bread, and are spending every free night in the gym. And you wonder why you are beginning to unravel?

2 Plan a social life

The office parties, family gatherings and drinks with friends which make up Christmas are over. Your social diary is blank, and you are looking at a stretch of weeks ahead with nothing to do and, if you are paying off Christmas bills, probably not much money to spend.

3 Declutter

It's nearly impossible to relax when every surface in your home is covered in magazines and bills, used mugs, bits and bobs of make-up and DVDs, and the floor space is filled with shoes and bags. Not only will you be saving yourself from a nasty bruise when you fall over, but a clearer room will also clear your head and improve your chances of cheering up.

4 Make a change

Just the one, and this isn't another opportunity to make a long list of resolutions. This can be anything from dumping a toxic friend, having a health check you have been avoiding, getting a pet or signing up for a course which will improve your job prospects.

Doing just one thing to enhance your life can have an uplifting effect on your approach to any number of daunting tasks.

5 Indulge in mood foods

Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids block chemicals called cytokines which can cause low mood. Oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna), flaxseed oil, nuts and seeds are all good sources. Some studies also link diets low in folate to low mood; cabbage, broccoli and sprouts are good sources of folate.

6 Plan a holiday

Researchers from the Netherlands set out to measure the effect that holidays have on overall happiness and how long it lasts. They studied happiness levels among 1,530 Dutch adults, 974 of whom took a trip during the 32-week study period. The study showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a holiday. After the break abroad, happiness quickly drops back to baseline levels for most people.

7 Eat your breakfast

In an attempt to lose weight at this time of the year, many women make the mistake of skipping meals. Yet low blood sugar can affect energy and mood, while a bowl of porridge provides mood-friendly B vitamins, iron and zinc, and keeps blood glucose levels steady. A banana is a very good source of vitamin B6, a vitamin essential to a healthy nervous system and brain function, and can provide a more uplifting start to a day.

8 Be grateful for what you have

Depression robs you of your dreams, and anxiety prevents you living life to the full. It is scientifically proven that people who each day count their blessings and reflect on the positive aspects of their lives (their health, friends, family, liberty, employment etc) experience a better sense of well-being.

9 Stop thinking thoughts which make you unhappy

Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings. So you think a friend is too busy to talk to you, and you feel rejected. Later, you start feeling that nobody likes you. Examine your thoughts, because it's probably not about you. Most of the time, other people are thinking about themselves, not you. Nip negative thoughts in the bud.

10 Eat chocolate

In moderation. Chocolate contains anandamide, a brain chemical that helps brighten our mood. Scientists believe that other chemicals in chocolate cause anandamide to stay longer in the brain, thus enhancing its positive effect. The sugar in chocolate also boosts your levels of endorphins, another hormone that makes you happy.