By Nancy F. Clark

You may be thinking, “Things are getting even worse. I can’t begin trying to be optimistic until the situation improves.” No matter if current events aren’t what you’d most like to see, some of your optimism, or happiness level, is under your personal control. How much? Wouldn’t 5 percent be great? But you may be thinking, “I’ve got bad genes. You don’t know my family. They have problems, so I have problems as well.” You deserve a break. How does 20 percent sound to you? Good news! 20 percent is definitely yours to control. In fact,

I bet you’re thinking this should be a required class. Kudos if you are. Instead of a class, I’m going to give you a choice of 3 things. If you do 1 of these for only 5 minutes that’s enough to make today a better day than it is right now.

Your First Choice Is 3 RAOK’s

Your first choice is to do 3 RAOK’s—that’s 3 random acts of kindness. For each, think of some little thing you can do that would be nice for someone else. Think of what you could do and how it would make a positive difference. Your intention will be to benefit the other person, but the action also makes you feel more positive about yourself—more of those good chemicals go to your brain. Dopamine and oxytocin are produced. Dr. David Hamilton says , “Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin and therefore kindness can be said to be cardioprotective.”

Do a variety of acts, and for 3 different people. It doesn’t matter if the recipient doesn’t see you do it. After you do each one, write a few sentences about what you did and how it made you feel.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky , who has studied happiness for more than 20 years, says “People who engage in kind acts become happier over time.” She recommends making it a habit to do positive acts once a week. Taking her advice years ago I’ve adopted this motto: If it’s Wednesday, it’s “do 3 acts of kindness day.” This doesn’t mean I won’t do kind things on other days, but having focused intention one day a week works wonders. Try it.

I’d love it if you decide to boost your intention to the upper level and do something big. How about making an important email introduction for someone in your company?

Your Second Choice Is 3 G’s On Paper

Think of 3 things that happened in the last 24 hours that you’re grateful for. Make each very specific and tell why it made you grateful.  Put in as much detail as possible about the situation and how it made you feel.  Name the good emotions you experienced. Now this is counterintuitive and important—you have to write each one down on paper, even on a scrap of paper.  Did you think, “Why? I have a computer.” Brain research shows:  thinking is good, speaking is better, typing on a computer is okay, but writing by hand is by far the best for conceptual long-term memory!  So devote 5 minutes to paper if you’re taking this second choice.

Your Third Choice Is Relish, Smack, Or Tang

That’s another way of saying “savoring.”  Spend a little extra time to look at 3 pleasant everyday events with fresh eyes and appreciate what you’re seeing.

“It’s been presumed that when good things happen, people naturally feel joy for it,” says Fred Bryant, a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago. His research suggests that we don’t always respond to these good things in ways that maximize their positive effects on our lives. Bryant recommends several ways you can practice savoring:

  • Share your good feelings with others
  • Take a mental photograph
  • Congratulate yourself
  • Sharpen your sensory perceptions
  • Remind yourself how quickly time flies

Since our brains are wired to pay the most attention to negative things, Bryant says, “Avoiding negative thinking is just as important as thinking positively. After a difficult day, try not to focus on the negative things that occurred. Studies show that the more negative thoughts people have after a personal achievement, the less likely they are to enjoy it. People who savor the positive sides to every situation are happier at the end of the day.”

If you choose to take this third choice and savor 3 things today, how long do you think each will take you? I’m guessing 10 to 30 seconds at most. So since we’re allowing 5 minutes today, this gives you extra time. With 1 of your extra minutes, please do me a favor. Tell me about a random act of kindness that you did, or that you witnessed. It will give all of us ideas of how we can pass kindness forward!

Nancy F. Clark is the Founder of Positivity Daily, and Director of Forbes WomensMedia. You can follow her on Twitter @NancyFClark,  Google+, and LinkedIn.

Article photo by Susana Fernandez