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The wedding's over. Now what? Add to ...

She could write little affirmation notes to herself and pin them on her palace mirror.

"I married a prince," one could say. "My husband thinks I'm beautiful," another might say.

I'm kidding, of course. The Duchess of Cambridge, the former Ms. Catherine Middleton, understands the gilded cage she has entered and by all accounts she and Prince William have already established a pattern over their eight years together of how to keep their happiness real and lasting - and cute. He likes it when she cooks dinner after his day of flying helicopters. Sometimes, he even cooks for her.

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But let's face it, when they're feeling a little tired of it all, they can jet off to some sunny spot - a nice pick-me-up if you can afford it. As one heavy-wallet friend says, "Money doesn't make you happy, but it sure helps to have the dough to fly off on some vacation when the going gets tough."

Getting happiness is one thing. But then comes the problem of maintaining it. You have a peak moment - a wedding, the birth of a child, a big promotion, a spiritual epiphany - and then what?

Experts can tell you the tenets of positive emotion: engagement, meaning, a sense of accomplishment, good relationships. And it's well known in happiness circles that after a peak moment we adapt to whatever caused it - an influx of money, a new job, a new spouse - and default to our previous, predetermined level of happiness. Studies with lottery winners have shown this - the ecstatic period lasts a few months, but then they return to their pre-windfall moods.

The result is that we often want to have yet more peak moments to raise our sagging happiness. We want Botox for our moods - to keep them firm and creaseless. Peak experiences can be like a drug addiction. You're on a hedonic treadmill in need of another hit.

But the breakthrough in the modern pursuit of happiness - quite apart from studies that show how our assumptions about how to get it are often false - is that it's possible to change an individual's baseline of well-being. There are ways to maintain a heightened level of happiness, in other words. As anyone who has read self-help books knows, happiness tips abound, from my facetious "I-married-a-prince" affirmations to decluttering, altruism, generosity, meditation, goal-setting - the list goes on.

But perhaps the most profound of all is the promotion of emotional resilience. That's the emotional Botox I'm talking about.

In his new book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, bestselling author Martin Seligman even goes so far as to say that we should teach positive psychology exercises in schools. He moved into the study of positive psychology after 30 years in traditional psychology, which "had been almost exclusively about removing the disabling conditions rather than creating the enabling conditions for people to flourish."

One of Dr. Seligman's top exercises is the What-Went-Well practice. (It's also called the Three Blessings.) In order to overcome the brain's "natural catastrophic bent" - our sky-is-falling tendency to dwell on bad things that could happen - we have to learn the skill of thinking about what went well. From an evolutionary point of view, catastrophic thinking is a survival tool. The Neanderthal who focused on how cool his cave was, but neglected to worry about food, did not survive.

"I have never seen so much positive life change in my students or heard the sweetest words a teacher can hear - life-changing - used so often to describe the course," writes Dr. Seligman of his program to retrain our minds through such simple techniques as writing down three things that went well each day.

The doctor, who teaches at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, also instructed students in what he calls the "Signature Strengths Exercise," the purpose of which is to identify their key values or characteristics (such as creativity, optimism, self-control, appreciation of beauty) and then pursue related projects or work. If your strength is the love of beauty and excellence, for example, you might want to take "a longer, more beautiful route to and from work, even though it adds 20 minutes more to your commute."

This ability to recalibrate from negative to positive can - and should - start young. Dr. Seligman describes a program at a boarding school in Australia that embeds positive psychology in the curriculum. King Lear is a tragedy, but students are encouraged to identify the signature strengths of the characters and how those have both a good and a bad side. In geography class, rather than examining only variables such as poverty and drought, students look at the well-being scores of nations, how they differ and why. Athletic coaches use refocusing skills to remind players of the good things they did. Better play was reported among those who overcame "negativity bias."

One of the most fascinating suggestions - which came at a conference at the Positive Psychology Center in 2010 - is that technology could provide us tools to sustain happiness. Rosalind Picard, a leading researcher in "affective computing", presented the idea of a "personal flourishing assistant" - a mobile phone application that pinpoints where you are, who you are with, and what your emotional state is. It then gives you exercises. If you're happy, take a picture of a budding rose bush and send it to your best friend. The PFA tags these "peak moments" so they can be summoned up later, creating a "positive portfolio."

Happiness is not a random thing, the research shows. It's something you can control - not because you can keep the sky from falling, but because you can create your own emotional umbrella.

In the wake of Friday's peak happiness moment of the royal wedding, maybe all of us, not just the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge, can fashion an app (in our minds if not yet on our mobiles) that catalogues and reproduces beautiful moments.

The moment she stepped out of the car, so happy but solemn under her veil. Her dress, elegant but not over-the-top the way Lady Diana's was on her wedding day - a sign, perhaps, that this royal couple wants to keep it real. The way Prince William turned to her at the altar and told her she looked beautiful. The balcony kisses.

When everyday life intrudes with its irritations, imperfections and disappointments, well, you just need to remember to do your exercises to help keep you happily ever after.

Follow on Twitter: @Hampsonwrites

 

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