21 days to a new you: Develop a positive attitude

So you're tired of being a Debbie Downer? Or want to turn your attitude around before you become one? Good for you!
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

People who are happy have fewer strokes, heart attacks, and even colds, according to a recent edition of U.S. News and World Report. Happier people also live longer than negative people. But positive people aren't necessarily born that way. Abraham Lincoln famously said, "People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be." Can it really be that simple? Yes, with a few helpful steps along the way.

By Anne Hurley for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 23 Group of happy people (Chabruken/Getty Images)

Day 1: Create a secret, internal "positive password"

When you feel yourself being judgmental, unnecessarily irritated, or extra blue, create your own little ritual to counteract things. Say something to yourself that will take your mind off its downward path. I have a friend who says "Taylor Swift" to herself because she loves Swift's music and can't be angry when she thinks about her. If you're religious, it could be a piece of a prayer, or it could be as simple as silently chanting "om." Interrupting the negative pattern with even a small action that has positive connotations can stop negativity in its tracks.

Video: Accentuate the positive

2 of 23 A woman performing (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Day 2: When in doubt, smile

A 2012 study at the University of Kansas demonstrated that the very act of smiling can be beneficial, lowering the heart rate after a stressful episode, and raising the levels of endorphins in your body. That's a pretty powerful tool you have, right there on your face! Try it the next time you're stuck and frustrated in traffic. Smile and see if you don't actually feel better.

3 of 23 Smiling (moodboard/Getty Images)

Day 3: Take a tip from the wisdom of A.A.

Alcoholics Anonymous tells its newest members: "Fake it till you make it." In other words, act like you are sober, and pretty soon you will actually start feeling that it is the right way to go. It's a great motto that can help you overcome feeling sour, suspicious, cynical, or downbeat. If just for today you act like someone with a positive attitude, assume good intent on the part of people you interact with, and act excited to get out and face the day, you will be amazed at two things: How enthusiastically people will respond, and how easy it will be over time to really become that positive person.

4 of 23 A happy woman (Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images)

Day 4: Join Toastmasters

Your local branch of Toastmasters is a great place to cultivate a lot of great new habits and attitudes; including curing yourself of can't-do notions like thinking you're afraid of public speaking. Workshopping at Toastmasters will also help open your mind to new ways of looking at things as you listen to your fellow speakers make their cases on different topics. You'll encourage your fellow speakers and in turn they will be there to support you. More and more young people are discovering the benefits of joining Toastmasters, and you may be pleasantly surprised — as well as more upbeat and confident — at how much you get out of it.

5 of 23 A man giving a speech (Colin Gray/Getty Images)

Day 5: Prune your negative friends

You might even want to make a list of those so-called friends who are negative and critical, and then slowly eliminate them from your life. You don't need to un-friend them on Facebook, but rather block their complaining posts. Then make a concerted effort to cultivate your positive friendships, and through them, meet more upbeat people to include in your circles. Misery loves company, but so does happiness.

6 of 23 List of negative people (Image Source/Getty Images)

Day 6: Volunteer

Sometimes you just need to get out of your own sorry head to get perspective on your problems. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen or a drop-in center for homeless teens. Not only will you gradually see your own problems shrink in comparison to those of others, but your interaction with people who truly appreciate what you are doing will give you a great boost too. You may find you look forward to this activity more than most others in your week. That will truly lift your spirits.

7 of 23 Volunteering (Emma Innocenti/Getty Images)

Day 7: Take a "Laughter Yoga" class

Created in the 1990s by Dr. Madan Kataria of Mumbai, India, Laughter Yoga is a true yogic practice that focuses on laughing for no reason. If that sounds silly, well it is. And yet its practitioners swear by the delicious relief they feel after attending even one class, which is part meditation and part laughter chorus. Oprah Winfrey has tried it and loved it; so have thousands of others. See if there are classes in your area and try one. What have you got to lose except your sadness?

8 of 23 Laughing yoga (rolfo/Getty Images)

Day 8: Reconnect with an old friend

It really is as easy as picking up the phone or dropping an "I've been thinking about you" email. Maybe her birthday is coming up and you can invite her to lunch. Or extend the olive branch to an estranged relative. Reconnecting with loved ones is one of the key things that keep our hearts and souls happy.

9 of 23 Calling an old friend (Michael Philip O'Malley/Getty Images)

Day 9:Get your Vitamin D level checked

Getting enough Vitamin D, especially in the dark of winter, is crucial to your physical and mental health. Study after study has shown that low Vitamin D levels can cause mild depression-like symptoms. If your levels are low, take extra Vitamin D as well as omega-3 fatty acid supplements to boost your levels. Most people notice feeling better in a vague but perceptible way in only a few weeks of getting enough of the nutrients.

10 of 23 Sun warship (Dave and Les Jacobs/Getty Images)