Our Best Advice on How to be Happier in 2017

By Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp, CFP Markets Fool.com

In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are stepping back from their usual focus on investing, financial health, and retirement planning to think about a question that is equally important: What can you do to be happier?

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After sorting through a raft of scientific studies on happiness, the team has found a handful of essential tips to share.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This podcast was recorded on Jan. 10, 2017.

Alison Southwick:It's time for Answers, Answers and this week's question comes from Ziv. Ziv writes: "I love your show to the point where I think my friends will soon stop inviting me to parties because I always try to get them to start listening." Aw!

Robert Brokamp: Invite us to the parties, then.

Southwick: Yeah, we're free. "My wife and I are in our early twenties and have a chunk of change sitting from our wedding gifts that we won't be using for at least another three to five years, maybe more. It's sitting in the checking account, which feels like committing financial sin, but we are in the second-longest bull run on record, so investing in the stock market seems nuts since I'm fairly certain that there are darker times ahead. Where do I park my money in the meantime? Bond ETFs? The goal is to wait for the next slump and then park it all in index funds for as long as possible a la Buffett and Bogle's advice. Looking forward to your sage input." Sage, Bro!

Brokamp: Sage. Well, I don't know about sage, but in the meantime, I'll give you some input. Ziv, you are right. We are in the middle of the second-longest bull market in history, surpassed only by the bull market that started in the late eighties and went up until 2000, and certainly by any measure, the U.S. stock market is not cheap.

The problem is people were saying that a year ago, and what did we get in 2016? Well, we actually had a pretty good year to be an investor. The S&P 500 up 12%. The S&P 600, of small-cap stocks, actually up over 20%. So even though we were in a long bull market back then, and stocks looked pricy, things still went well. I just read a review of various big-name experts, and [every single one of them expect the market to go up in 2017].

Southwick: Oh!

Brokamp: That said, I often cite an article from 2007 in Businessweek in which they asked a bunch of experts how they expected the market to do in 2008. They all expected it to go up. What happened? We got the worst stock market since the Great Depression.

The point, of course, is in the short term we don't know what is going to happen. That said, we have been on a long run. The stock market is not cheap, which makes it a little more risky. If you really do need the money in the next three to five years, I think it does make sense to keep it out of the stock market.

Where do you put it? Well, you had suggested bond ETFs. Those are not as volatile as the stock market, but they also have risk. In 2013, when interest rates went up, the bond market went down about 3%. Over the last three months, the bond market is down about 3% as interest rates have gone up again, so there is risk. If you're going to go with that, go with a short-term bond ETF like the Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index Fund, symbol BIV. Its yield is only about 1.5% and it is down about 1% over the last few months. So you could do that, but it still has risk.

Frankly, the safer option is just to go with something like a two-year or three-year CD. There you could also get about 1.5%. Then you'll see where rates are. Then you'll see where the stock market is. You can make a decision, then, as the CD comes due.

Now one thing I will say. Whenever someone says "I need the money in the next three to five years," I ask how important that need is. If it's like your kid is going to college in three years then yes, you play it very safe. The way Ziv asked his question, he said three to five years. Maybe more. He's going to wait for a slump and then put it in index funds.

This isn't a situation where he really needs the money in the next few years, so if you stay on the sidelines for too long, you could have really missed out on some returns by waiting for three, five, seven years for this big correction that may not come. We don't know.

So generally I think you're on the right track, Ziv. You want to play it safer with money you really do need. But if it's possible you won't need this money for five to seven years, I think it's fine to put it in the market and just ride it out.

Southwick: I was expecting you to say dollar-cost averaging. I had that on my Bingo card and you did not say it.

Brokamp: Well, because he's got a lump sum of money. He could do that. One thing I did think of is what if I were in his situation, and it was something like I'm going to take my family to China, which is a goal we have because our youngest daughter is adopted from China. We don't know when we're going to do it -- hopefully in the next five years or so -- but we could adjust it if the market drops.

I think I would split it up. I would do like a third in cash, a third in maybe a short-term bond fund, and a third in the market, and then adjust accordingly depending on how things go and as we get closer to that goal.

Southwick: But the bottom line is no one knows where the top of the market is.

Brokamp: No one knows. I wish I could tell you. I really wish I could, but I can't, and no one else can, either.

Southwick: So this week we are tackling how to be happier in 2017 and I did a lot of research on this.

Brokamp: And I imagine there's a lot out there.

Southwick: Oh, my gosh. There is so much research out there.

Brokamp: Part of it must be what the definition of happy is, to a certain degree.

Southwick: Oh, there are equations. There are literal equations...

Brokamp: Really?

Southwick: ... to what makes someone happy. Yes. I also had to weed through studies like why Swiss chard makes you happier and it was rough. It was rough going. But there are three studies that I think are pretty fundamental and that all of the other millions of studies roll up into, so those are the ones we're going to focus on today.

Brokamp: Excellent.

Southwick: All right, wonderful. First off, when it comes to happiness, it turns out you should just blame your parents. The University of Minnesota has found out that your genes, and not Swiss chard consumption, is responsible for about 48% of your happiness. It's just in your DNA whether you're a naturally happy person or not.

Brokamp: Well, as I've mentioned before, my wife is a mental health counselor and has a lot of books lying around that I've read plenty of. And I do know that many health issues are inherited, so that makes sense to me to a certain degree, for sure.

Southwick: So we know that 48% of our happiness comes from our DNA and our ability to be resilient or generally optimistic. So where does the other half come from? Well, we're a money podcast, so of course the answer is money.

Brokamp: Of course. The more you have, the happier you'll be. Right, Alison?

Southwick: Well, I feel like a lot of these studies are ones that you have spouted at me in the last ... Well, that sounds mean. That you have ...

Brokamp: Lovingly handed? Delivered?

Southwick: Yes -- to me. According to Nobel Prize scholar Daniel ...

Brokamp: Kahneman.

Southwick: ... it turns out that once you're middle class, more money really doesn't make you that much happier. So, all right, let's rule out money.

Brokamp: Right. And if I remember correctly, it was a 2010 study and it was around $75,000 a year. It depends, of course, where you live and adjusted for inflation, but that's, generally speaking, the figure that they threw out.

Southwick: So after my many days of research into this, here are the three studies that I think point to three keys to being happy. Are you ready?

Brokamp: I'm ready.

Southwick: Happiness Key No. 1. And this is one I got from the "you already knew this one" file and that's to exercise, sleep, and eat better.

Brokamp: Thanks, Mom!

Southwick: Yeah, you're welcome.

Brokamp: I think I've heard that one before.

Southwick: There is a ridiculous amount of research out there that shows that exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating better will make you happier. But here's some of the ones that I thought were the most interesting.

First, sleep. I feel like I shouldn't even have to tell people why it's important to get more sleep, but here we go.

Brokamp: But you do, because we know there are plenty of studies that show that people aren't getting enough sleep.

Southwick: That's true. So according to a Stanford study of nearly 19,000 people who had sleep apnea (which is where you wake up continually during the middle of the night), they are five times more likely to suffer from clinical depression, and researchers think that's because [having] their sleep disrupted over and over at night alters their brain activity and the neurochemicals that affect your mood and your ability to think straight.

And sleep deprivation can be a vicious cycle. If you're an insomniac, maybe you can't sleep because you're anxious, you're stressed, and you've got things on your mind. Then you can't sleep, which you makes you even more anxious and more stressed, and then it's just this vicious cycle.

Brokamp: Right. You become less productive and you can't get everything done and do the things that are probably causing you stress to begin with.

Southwick: Downward spiral.

Brokamp: Right.

Southwick: That was just one study about sleep. Again, there's millions more. Exercise makes you happier because it leads to an increase in the production of antibodies, which are the seek part of your body's seek and destroy mechanism to get bacteria, viruses, and sicknesses. Exercise also creates endorphins and those are the chemicals that make you happy. Like drugs. Like opiates.

Brokamp: I'm in the middle of a book that also argues that exercise increases your cognitive functioning so you'll be smarter if you exercise.

Southwick: Yeah! And the thing about exercise is whereas not getting enough sleep is a vicious cycle, getting exercise becomes a virtuous one, because the healthier you are, the more likely you're going to be happier, and the more likely you're going to want to exercise, and it just keeps on paying dividends.

Brokamp: Excellent.

Southwick: Wonderful. Eating better! And again, Swiss chard. A study out of the University of Queensland found that if you go from eating no fruits and vegetables to eating eight servings a day, it's the happiness equivalent of going from unemployed to employed.

Brokamp: Wow! I guess that's good, right? It depends on what your job is.

Southwick: Well, that's true. And I'm also reminded that my mom was a hospice and a home health nurse. She had this story where she was talking to this woman who was in hospice or home health. [My mom] was saying, "Oh, isn't it so wonderful that you're surrounded by your friends and family? That's the most important thing in life, isn't it?" And here's this old woman in bed and she's like, "No! Your health is the most important thing!" Because if you don't have your health, you don't have anything.

Brokamp: That's true. That's true.

Southwick: How can you enjoy your friends when you're not healthy? So Key to Happiness No. 1 (and again, you already know this) is to exercise, sleep, and eat better. Key No. 2 to being happier in 2017 is to maintain close, intimate relationships.

Brokamp: Well, goodness gracious.

Southwick: Now, you know this one because you are familiar with the Harvard Happiness Study.

Brokamp: I am.

Southwick: It is the longest-running study of human development, apparently. It dates back to 1938 when they took a bunch of Harvard men such as John F. Kennedy and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and they tracked every aspect of their lives. Then, in 1940, they actually started tracking the lives of inner city Boston kids growing up in tenements.

The study was taken over by Harvard psychologist Robert Waldinger. He did a TED Talk that you can watch online if you want to get more of the gist of the research. He said that there's one clear takeaway -- that the happiest and healthiest participants in both groups (meaning both the Harvard men and the men from Boston) were the ones who maintained close, intimate relationships.

Brokamp: If you look at studies of people who are happy in retirement, it's the same thing. The people who are among the happiest, number one, have good health and number two, they have maintained social networks.

Southwick: So the people they found who were lonely were less happy, they had earlier health declines, and their brain function declined earlier, too.

Brokamp: Oh, wow.

Southwick: Yeah! So the guy who's in charge of the study said that people tend to think that commercial well-being (meaning wealth, fame, career success) matters the most, but it's really about your health. That's what really makes you happy and maintaining connections with other human beings. Aw!

Brokamp: Aw, that's nice.

Southwick: Shoopy! Key No. 3 is having a sense of control in your life.

Brokamp: It make sense to me.

Southwick: OK, good. Then let's just move on.

Brokamp: We're done. Get control, everybody.

Southwick: So according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, money, good looks, and popularity are nice; but autonomy and the feeling that your life, its activities, and habits are self-chosen and self-endorsed is the number one factor to happiness.

Brokamp: Wow!

Southwick: Feeling like you have control over your life. Purpose. That what you do matters is the number one thing.

Brokamp: I believe this was one of the main points of a recent Dan Pink book in which he talked about what motivates people and found that giving employees more money isn't necessarily a great motivator. Giving them autonomy and control over their jobs was much more motivating.

Southwick: Yeah. So here's a crazy study if you believe people are similar to mice. Some scientists decided to give mice an option of getting cheese or getting shocked, except if they got the cheese, they also got shocked. No matter what the mice did, they got shocked. And eventually, the mice just became listless and they slipped into depression! They didn't do anything!

Brokamp: I think I would, too.

Southwick: Right? They said in the study that the state of being helpless is regarded as a central aspect of depression. So [the mice] are like, "No matter what I do, I'm going to get shocked, so you know what? I'm just going to sit here and not do anything." That's so sad!

Brokamp: It's horrible.

Southwick: I'm reminded of a time here at the Fool. Here at the Fool they're really big on having mentors and coaches. And one of my coaches -- I won't say her name -- was listening to me complain about my job for whatever reason. And there are very few days where I complain about my job, but they do exist. And she just kept saying over and over, "Well, you have options."

I'm like, "OK, yeah, whatever." But she kept saying it like a mantra. You have options. You have options. And basically she was trying to tell me that I do have control over how miserable I am and you don't have to suffer in this job if you don't want to. And I thought she was telling me to ...

Brokamp: You could go get another job if you want.

Southwick: Yeah! Go get another job if you don't like working here. But actually, she meant it in the tone of, "You can go get another job!" Like in a very optimistic way, because a couple of weeks later she put in her notice.

Brokamp: I was going to say. I know who this Fool is and she no longer works here.

Southwick: I know! I thought she was saying to me, "Fine. Love the Fool or git!" But she was basically being like, "No. If you don't love the Fool, go ahead and git. You're not trapped, here," and that's exactly what she did.

Brokamp: I hope she's happier.

Southwick: Career advice from someone who is abandoning ship. Great!

Brokamp: But that is true. Feeling stuck is a lousy feeling, and I could see you recognizing that you're not necessarily stuck. There are things you can do, and there may be options that don't involve you leaving the company.

Southwick: Yes, that's true. Anyway, the idea is, of course, that you're miserable when you're surrounded by chaos and when you're feeling like nothing you do matters. And if you don't have control, then you don't feel like you have purpose, and you don't feel like you're making progress, and that makes you miserable. So scientists say that it's all about increasing your internal locus of control...

Brokamp: Mm-hmm ...

Southwick: ... which sounds very important, and you can start doing that by making small, deliberate decisions in your life. For some people this means saying no more [often] to things. This might mean having tough conversations rather than rolling with it. Finally just saying you've had enough and quitting, [including] the people you mentor. No, get back here, Rick! Geez! And then also they suggested just setting small goals and tackling them.

So to recap. What are the three keys to happiness? Being healthy, maintaining strong relationships, and taking control over your life and knowing you have options. But Bro, how could you do that in your day-to-day life?

Brokamp: That's a really good question, Alison. Would you please answer it for me?

Southwick: I would love to!

Brokamp: Oh, thank goodness.

Southwick: All right. So here are three things that you can do in 2017 that should tackle each one of those keys to happiness.

Brokamp: OK.

Southwick: Are you ready?

Brokamp: I'm ready.

Southwick: All right. The first one is to start a journal.

Brokamp: Really?

Southwick: Yes. Why do you sound so skeptical?

Brokamp: I'm listening.

Southwick: OK. All right. So the idea is ... and even Oprah has a gratitude journal, so this is not just me.

Brokamp: Oh, yeah, yeah. OK.

Southwick: This is Oprah telling you this.

Brokamp: I see where you're going.

Southwick: What do you mean?

Brokamp: I am agreeing with what I think you're about to say.

Southwick: Oh, OK. All right. You believe Oprah, but you don't believe me. So the idea is that you start a journal so that every day you are focusing on key aspects of feeling gratitude, meditating on the positive things in life, and then also tracking your successes in life.

So I talked to a couple of different people about how they do their daily journal, one of which is Naima. You might remember her from last week's episode. She talked about the Digits app. So I was talking to Naima about how she does it, and she actually bought a little, physical journal, and every night before she goes to bed she answers four questions.

The first question she asks is "What am I thankful for today?" And we've talked a lot on the show about the importance of gratitude ...

Brokamp: Right.

Southwick: ... and how showing gratitude just naturally makes you happier and connects you more with people.

Brokamp: Even Ron Lieber of The New York Times mentioned that as he's waiting for the subway, he just sits there and thinks about things he's grateful for.

Southwick: Yeah. So the first question is what I am thankful for. The second question is "What made you happy?" This helps you focus on the positive aspects of your life. What has brought you joy.

The third question is "What did I accomplish today?" And this is one that Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In and Facebook employee No. 4 ... I don't know. After her husband died ... do you remember her husband had a heart attack?

Brokamp: Yeah, it was so, so sad.

Southwick: It was so sad. She did this. Every day she would write down something that she accomplished, and she said some days she was so bereft, the things she wrote down that she accomplished was making a cup of tea. Some days that was as good as it got, but at least she was able to write down that she accomplished something every day. So this helps tackle the issue of feeling like you don't have control. This helps you show yourself that you are making progress and achieving things.

And then the last question that Naima asks herself is "What did you learn today?" And she just does a couple of sentences for each question, closes the book and goes to bed.

Another option for journaling came from Richard Wiseman, which came via Rick Engdahl. Did you actually do his journal?

Rick Engdahl: No, but I read his book.

Southwick: He's the author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot and he suggests that every day of the week you journal but you have a different topic. And that is key -- you need to do it every day. Scientists actually looked [into] it and they found that doing it once a week isn't enough. You need to do it every day.

So Richard Wiseman suggests that Monday is Thanksgiving Day, where you list three things that week you enjoyed. Tuesday is Terrific, and you describe a really great experience from your life. Wednesday is Future Fantastic. You write about your life in the future and imagine becoming the person you want to be. Thursday is Dear, where you write a short letter to someone in your life describing how much they mean to you and why.

Brokamp: Dear Alison ...

Southwick: Yeah. You can go ahead and write that one. Friday is Reviewing the Situation day, where you think back about the week and you make note of three things that went really well and a sentence about why you think it went well. So that's a couple of options and I'm sure there are a million others. Like I said, Naima does an actual physical journal and she writes it, but some people store it in the cloud. They'll do it on their notes in their phone or Evernote, or something like that.

Brokamp: Along the lines of recognizing what you got done, in one of the articles I read for my financial therapy class, a financial therapist does ask people, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how did you do in accomplishing this," or track your spending, or something like that. And even if they say "I only did a 3," focus on why. "Well, that's good. You didn't give yourself a 1."

Southwick: Yeah.

Brokamp: What did you do that warranted a 3? Well, I did this. Focusing on the things that you did, you're going to increase the chances of success and just the person feeling more hopeful about accomplishing what they want to accomplish.

Southwick: Cool. The next happiness action item is learning a new skill.

Brokamp: Oh!

Southwick: Oh! You were surprised by that. Ideally you're going to hit the trifecta, here, if you're learning a new skill that helps you meet new people and is something that's healthy and is also something that you want to do and you can exert control over.

A 2009 study from the Journal of Happiness Studies... published in the Journal of Happiness Studies ...see how much research [there] is? There's a whole journal of just happiness studies.

All right. "Participants who spent time with activities that increased their competency [and] met their need for autonomy [...] increased their happiness on an hourly and a daily basis." They said it's key to choose a new skill to master to challenge you. An opportunity to take you out of your comfort zone. And you want, ideally, to choose something that you really want to do, rather than one that you ought to do. We've talked a lot about how spending money on experiences is better than spending money on things, so there's a happiness bump right there.

Brokamp: Something like taking lessons or something like that?

Southwick: Yeah!

Brokamp: Oh, yeah. That's a good idea.

Southwick: Also, if you can get a friend or family member to do it with you, you're working on your relationship.

Brokamp: Yeah, good.

Southwick: And then bonus points if it's an active thing and you're getting exercise or learning how to be healthier. So, for example, Dayana and I keep talking about how we're going to take tap dancing lessons together. Why are you guys laughing?

Brokamp: I'm going to join you.

Southwick: Would you really?

Brokamp: Sure, well especially after the very tragic passing of Debbie Reynolds. Watching clips from Singing in the Rain. I like the "Moses Supposes" and the great routines. Like, oh man. I want to learn how to do that.

Southwick: Well, you can do it with Dayana and me. We keep meaning to get into it. So that's one of my goals, is to learn a new thing and learn a new skill ...

Engdahl: I'm there for the performance with my video camera.

Southwick: We're going to be good.

Brokamp: Good morning...

Engdahl: I already tap dance. I'm good.

Southwick: Do you really?

Engdahl: [Silence] No!

Southwick: So that's my new skill that I'm going to learn this year is tap dancing with Dayana.

Brokamp: That's awesome. I love that.

Southwick: Do you love that?

Brokamp: Absolutely. Yeah.

Southwick: All right, here's the third action item for a happier 2017 and that's to be deliberate with your relationships and turn them into gold. Here's what I'm talking about.

Brokamp: All right.

Southwick: So we already talked about spending money on experiences makes you happier than spending money on stuff. Connecting with people makes you happier and healthier. And then we're going to work in the goal aspect to tackle that sense of control. So what am I talking about?

I'm talking about things like making it a goal to get coffee with a new co-worker every week [and] I'm actually doing that this year. There's this app on slack.com and every week it connects me with another person. It says "you two have been matched to go get coffee." So this morning I went and got coffee with Naima and Jeff Haslow.

Brokamp: That's pretty cool.

Southwick: Yeah!

Brokamp: I like that.

Southwick: OK. Another idea is to make a date to catch up with an old buddy on the phone at least once a week. Because I feel so bad calling my friends out of the blue and being like, "Hey, let's talk for 30 minutes." But if you can make it a date and say "I'm going to do it at least once a month or once a week" then you feel like you're accomplishing something and you're connecting with an old friend.

Brokamp: Like it.

Southwick: Are you ready for my final idea, because there are others.

Brokamp: I am.

Southwick: This is one that I got from the Robletos. Greg Robleto. They started a board game night, where once a month eight of their friends are welcome to come over, eat dinner, and play board games. They basically sent this invite out to 40 of their friends and said [it was an] open house. They made like a Google doc ...

Brokamp: Of course they would.

Southwick: They're like here are the slots.

Brokamp: Greg Robleto works at The Motley Fool, by the way.

Southwick: Yes. Sign up for a slot. He also listens to the podcast. Hey, Greg!

Brokamp: Hi, Greg!

Southwick: And so it's there. It's on the calendar. So once a month they do it and they can have a rotation of friends coming in and connecting. What's important is to get these things on the calendar ...

Brokamp: Right ...

Southwick: ... and make it a goal so that at the end of the year you can say "I reconnected with 24 old friends," or "I met 12 new co-workers that I never knew and have this great connection with."

Brokamp: I love that. Those are great ideas.

Southwick: So that's it. Three things you can do to scientifically be happier in 2017. Start a journal, learn a new skill, and turn friend making and relationship building into a goal on your calendar. I also have some final thoughts and words of wisdom from Jeff Haslow. We actually talked about this over coffee.

Jeff's advice to me -- because he's like "I am a student of the science of happiness" -- is something that he says to himself. A mantra of his own. And it's that everything breaks eventually. His idea is that you should be thankful for the time that you have with a person, or a thing, or a skill. You should take care of your body, because that's going to break one day. You should take care of your relationships, because as we learned in 2016 even David Bowie and Prince are mortal; so if they are, you certainly are.

But the idea is that eventually everything breaks and everything falls apart, so learn to love it and appreciate the time that you have with it. So while that is a little bit depressing to think about and this is a happiness episode, the point is that you need to accept that yes, not everything lasts, and that's OK, and to be happy with what you have. Show gratitude, and love each other, and build those relationships while you can, because it's all... I don't know. Like I find that somewhat uplifting. I don't know why you guys think this is the most depressing thing.

Brokamp: Good for you. Whatever makes you happy, Alison. That's important.

Southwick: We're all going to die one day.

All right, it's time for There's an App for That. Yeah! And joining us, today, is Mohna Shah. She's the director of operations for Motley Fool Wealth Management.

Brokamp: A sister company of The Motley Fool.

Southwick: Thanks for joining us today, Mohna.

Mohna Shaw: Thank you.

Southwick: You agreed to be yet another guinea pig to try out some apps that promised to make you happier this week. You looked at three different apps. The first two had to do with meditation and destressing and that was Stop, Breathe & Think and Headspace.

Shah: Yes.

Southwick: What do they promise?

Shah: Both of them are trying to get you to meditate for a few minutes each day. I tried Headspace first and it had a very lovely British man speaking. It was enjoyable, but in order to get going, at least on the free version, you do 10 minutes a day for 10 days, which I felt was a little more intensive of an intro than I wanted. Certainly after that you can go through and pay their monthly fee for a more guided thing if you want to do one related to running or some other category.

Southwick: So is the British guy saying things like "Imagine your toes. Now breathe in." Like that? With waves crashing?

Shah: It's a little more of an appealing British accent.

Southwick: I don't know about that.

Shah: But it is. It is very much a scan your body. If your mind [were to] sway, bring it back to the feeling. That sort of thing. So I switched over to Stop, Breathe & Think to check that out. That one I felt had a lot more options to get going in the free version, where you could just do a two minute or a five minute. It could be related to falling asleep. It could be related to chilling out -- any number of things -- and I felt like that was a little bit more my pace. I could choose to do it on the train for a couple of minutes. I could choose to do it before I went to bed for four minutes and that felt really comfortable to me.

Southwick: And did you notice that you actually did feel less stress and happier as a result?

Shah: I definitely did. Again, some of it's breathing. Some of it's focusing your thoughts. None of it is emptying your mind. I would never be able to do that, and so I thought this was a really helpful one because it is sort of topic-specific and it asks you to think about certain things ...

Southwick: Oh, OK.

Shah: I thought that was a really helpful way to destress from a certain situation that might have been in my head.

Southwick: I have a hard time getting into meditation. People here at the Fool are really into it and I have a hard time just sitting there and not accomplishing anything.

Brokamp: My problem is I always fall asleep.

Southwick: Do you really?

Brokamp: All the time. I have meditation apps that I've tried and I always fall asleep. Which could be a good thing, I guess, unless I'm driving.

Southwick: And then the third app you tried is MoodKit?

Shah: Yes. MoodKit is a $5 app upfront. It says it's going to improve your mood. It gets touted as one of the best mental health apps, which I think gives it the connotation that you have to have mental health issues to use it, and that's not the case, at all. It has a few different things that it does. It works really well for people who like the concept of doing a journal or a diary, but do not want to sit down at the end of the day and think about what to write.

It has a thought tracker where you jot down a situation that upset you and then it takes you through guided questions to make you think about the situation more constructively, including what biases you might have within the situation and how you can turn it around and make it a more positive experience. And I thought that was really helpful, because people tend to stew about certain scenarios in their life and you really want to pull yourself out of that, and this is an easy way to do that.

The other thing it allows for is it has a questionnaire where you rate yourself on how productive you're being, how positive you are, how social you are. And then it gives you very specific suggestions to create a checklist of things you should do. It could just be things like smile more. It could be set a time limit for your task. It could be instead of doing a chore, do something that you wouldn't normally allow yourself to do, like read a book. And I thought those were all very constructive, active solutions to problems people might have.

Southwick: It sounds like having a little virtual friend who's like, "I'll listen to your problems, and I'll ask you thoughtful questions, and then I'll be like go treat yourself!"

Shah: Yes, exactly, and for five dollars it's cheaper than drinks, right?

Southwick: There you go. That's true. Awesome. So you would recommend MoodKit and then if someone's looking for a meditation app go with Headspace over Stop, Breathe & Think? Or no, wait. It was the other way around.

Shah: Stop, Breathe & Think was my personal preference. Headspace -- for people who want to be more involved in it -- I think that's a great app, as well.

Southwick: Awesome. Well, thank you Mohna for joining us and being our guinea pig.

Shah: Thank you for having me.

Southwick: Hopefully you're happier as a result of doing this.

Shah: Of course. So you're welcome.

Southwick: All right, there you go. That's my best advice for being happier in 2017. Of course, we'd love to hear from our listeners if you have any advice or recommendations for things that you've done to be happier. But you know what? You don't have to be happy all the time. Like it's OK to be sad now and then. I'm a generally happy person.

Brokamp: You are.

Southwick: But I'll acknowledge it's OK to feel sadness. Key No. 4 to being happy -- be sad sometimes. It's OK.

Well, that's the show. Next week we are going to tackle how to be healthier in 2017, so come on back. The show is edited happily by Rick Engdahl. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish everybody.

Alison Southwick has no position in any stocks mentioned. Robert Brokamp, CFP owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.