I have a feeling that 2010 is going to be a great year. Dreams will come true, life purposes fulfilled and happiness abounds. But that should be true every year. 

Happiness is never ending. It is always there for the taking.

“The three grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, someone to love and something to hope for,” said Alexander Chalmers, a Scottish doctor who gave up medicine to become a journalist.

I don’t know about his personal life, but it seems as though Chalmers did what he loved and he probably hoped that doing what he loved would make him happy.

Oftentimes, when we wish someone a happy new year, we also say, “and have a prosperous new year.” Although prosperity is sometimes equated with financial wealth, we can also prosper emotionally or physically or through the development of friendships. Chalmers’ quote is just one person’s opinion on happiness, but I believe he nailed it.

A study in the journal Health Economics Policy and Law showed that alleviating psychological distress through therapy is at least 32 times more cost effective than financial compensation. They concluded that improvements to mental healthcare might be a more efficient way to increase the health and happiness of our world than pure income growth. Talking to a friend is great therapy and it’s free. 

In a journal abbreviated as Pers Soc Psychol Bull (bulletin), one study demonstrated that income was more strongly associated with happiness for individuals paid by the hour compared to their non-hourly counterparts. That’s not “bull” at all. Most people would agree that they feel more valuable when paid by the hour versus a salary. You know the saying, “time is money.” Deep down, everyone wants to feel valuable for their time and effort. A fun work environment also makes a huge difference in overall happiness and productivity.

In a Japanese journal simply called Work, researchers looked at lifestyle factors affecting overall happiness or depressive state of employees. They found three main factors affecting overall happiness. They are: sleeping at least six hours a night on average; exercising regularly; and eating breakfast every day. These habits increased with age along with happiness. A feeling of unhappiness was associated with reduced sleep. The researcher concluded that aging was a preventative factor against a feeling of unhappiness. That’s good to know since I will be 41 next week. I may be getting older, but I am also getting happier!

Another Japanese study reported an increased incidence of heart disease amongst men who had less enjoyment in life. For women, however, the perceived level of life enjoyment was not associated with risks of cardiovascular disease incidence or mortality. Whew, thank goodness, since we women can have our good days and our bad days. 

And finally, there’s a study entitled, “It’s good to be good: science says it’s so.” People who help others usually have healthier, happier lives, which all comes back to Chalmers’ quote: “ … something to do, someone to love and something to hope for.” Or else let it all go, go out and help as many people as possible and happiness will forever be yours, especially as you get older.

Do we really need “science” or anyone, for that matter, to tell us what makes us happy? I don’t think so. Similar to good nutrition, happiness is intuitive. We know what’s right in our hearts. It also helps to surround yourself with happy people because happiness is contagious.

When all else fails, comfort food never does. Every time I dine with a friend looking for comfort food, mac ‘n’ cheese is what they seek. Now you can make a healthier version at home. It’s way better than the boxed stuff I grew up eating. Enjoy and have a very happy new year!

Elizabeth Brown is a registered dietitian and certified holistic chef specializing in weight management, sports nutrition, disease prevention and optimal health through whole foods. She can be reached at eat2liv@earthlink.net.

Happy Mac ‘n’ Cheese

6 ounces elbow macaroni, quinoa, brown rice or whole wheat (about 1 1/2 cups dry)

2/3 cup Monterey jack or cheddar cheese (almond, rice or organic dairy)

1/2 cup cottage cheese (measure drained)

1/2 cup almond or organic milk

2 eggs

1/4 teaspoon tobacco

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs or 1 slice toasted bread pulsed in food processor

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon fresh grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the macaroni until done. Drain. Coat a small (8-by-8 inch) baking pan with a little oil. Add the macaroni and cheddar. Toss to combine. In a food processor or blender, puree the cottage cheese, milk, eggs, tobacco and 1/2 teaspoon of the mustard. Pour mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine. In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the paprika, parmesan and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon mustard. Sprinkle over the macaroni. Bake for 25 minutes. 

Per serving: 320 calories, 7g fat, 22g protein, 40g carbs. An unlimited supply of happiness!

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