Choosing Happiness: Life and Soul Essentials by Stephanie Dowrick has a title that implies a premise that runs through all four books: that happiness is a choice, not something to merely be hoped for, stumbled upon or given to a lucky few. In fact, no one can give you happiness, Dowrick asserts. People, situations, events outside yourself will affect you, but ultimately, you are responsible for your own happiness. A former psychotherapist and a spiritual retreat and workshop leader, Dowrick explains that by making choices that are right for you and your values, happiness becomes more a way of living that can also . . . . encompass the times when things do not go right or well. She ends each of her seven chapters with a summary section, listing Essential Insights and Essential Actions, such as these from chapter four, Building Self-Respect: Insight Self-respect and respect for others live back to back. What's more, self-respect brings peace of mind, as well as happiness. Action Encourage yourself as you would a good friend. Focus on your strengths. She divides each chapter into brief segments with subtitles such as Workplace Values, The ”Too Busy' Excuse, and Better Than Fighting which make it easy to dip back in for a quick refresher on a particular topic. You'll be glad this book is in your knapsack as you explore the many hills and valleys of the happiness trail.

Dowrick would undoubtedly concur with author and PBS personality Loretta LaRoche, who writes early on in Kick Up Your Heels . . . Before You're Too Short to Wear Them that in order to thrive we need to increase our spiritual path by learning to forgive the past, love the present, and create a future that resonates with our deepest values. LaRoche's book focuses on how to age with gusto, or as her subtitle puts it, how to live a long, healthy, juicy life. She cites many role models of juicy living such as Lily Tomlin, who at age 61 was doing a two-hour, one-woman show on Broadway portraying a dozen characters in a demanding act of physicality and stamina, and other actors, writers, physicians, etc., who dive into new projects with passion and enormous curiosity. If you want to wind up dried up, however, LaRoche wryly offers numerous Ways to Wither : Don't sit down to eat. Walk around the house or office while you multitask. Leave the cell phone on at every meal as if you were a trauma surgeon. Staying vibrant requires other choices and LaRoche supplies plenty of Juicy Tidbits of advice. Get lots of massages, she urges. It's a great way to get touched without having to do anything but lie there and enjoy yourself. Or simply watch some fun, sexy movies starring juicy older men and women. Aging beats the alternative, and while You can't stop the inevitable . . . you can reinvent yourself in many ways. With warmth and humor, LaRoche helps light the happiness trail past the 50-year demarcation line.

In The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, NPR correspondent Eric Weiner shares his experiences and insights as he traverses the globe on a quest for a people exhibiting signs of contentment, peace, serenity . . . in other words, happiness. Although a self-proclaimed grump (note the coincidental irony in the pronunciation of his last name) Weiner's writing is rich with deadpan humor: "Clearly, some words can elicit instant joy. Words like 'I love you' and 'you may already be a winner.' Yet other words 'audit' and 'prostate exam,' " he notices, "clearly have the opposite effect."

As he ventures from places like Bhutan, where "Happiness is other people," to less enchanting nations like Moldova, where unfortunately for its inhabitants, "Happiness is somewhere else," Weiner also comes to the conclusion that happiness is a choice. Despite living in a brutal climate and utter isolation he finds Iceland to be a delightfully quirky little nation where everything wise and wonderful about it flows from its language. "When they greet each other, Icelanders say komdu soell, which translates literally as 'come happy.' When Icelanders part, they say vertu soell, go happy. They could have faced the terrible dark and easily chosen despair and drunkenness," he writes with his characteristic comic flair, "but these sons and daughters of Vikings peered into the unyielding blackness of the noon sky and chose another option: happiness and drunkenness. It is, I think, the wiser option." As you settle down for the night along the trail, The Geography of Bliss will be a joy to pull from your knapsack.

Designed like a workbook, the Field Guide to Happiness: Finding Happiness in its Natural Habitat by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D., will help light your way as you learn to write your way to a happier state of being. Kipfer, who listed 14,000 Things to Be Happy About in a previous book, explains in her introduction that by noting the things that make you happy and setting yourself on a course to ”choose' happiness you can virtually re-script the plot of your life. Her book offers more than 200 suggestions for creating lists, journals, diaries, memory books, and/or mind maps such as Make a List of What You Have Endured in Life That Has Made You Wise, or writing a journal entry about things that make you laugh. Completing even a few of these exercises should make you feel grateful for all you have to be happy for and lift even the most downtrodden spirit. So grab your knapsack, head for the bookstore and happy trails to you!

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