4 Little Changes to a Happier You

Follow these real women's lead to transform your life for the betterBy Nina Malkin

The power to change is in your hands. These four women made one simple shift in how they approach challenges and are now happier and healthier. Try their ideas to improve your life. Photo by Coral Von Zumwalt; hair and makeup by Kay Matthews with Zenobia Agency; courtesy of Elton Anderson


'I learned to say no.'

Carol Frazey, 43, Bellingham, WA


Until two years ago, Carol, a fitness and nutrition counselor, was the ultimate yes woman, spending more time than she could afford helping at her kids' school and running races with a group of girlfriends. But when she hit 40, she realized that she often felt stressed and distracted, with too little time for herself or her family. "So I declared 2011 the year of saying no, and began turning down any invitation that wasn't meaningful or didn't make my heart flicker," she says.

It wasn't easy for Carol, who was concerned she wouldn't be liked if she said no. "Disappointing people was difficult, especially for social events-I heard a lot of, 'You can't let us down' and 'Let's not break tradition,'" Carol recalls. Her running friends were initially not happy when she dropped out of the races they did together. "It was hard, but I'd always respond kindly yet firmly." Carol did slip up and agree to some things she didn't really want to do, but after only three months, saying no became much easier.

Carol learned that doing so in the first place felt much better than the guilt of reneging on commitments, and that her true friends-like those she used to race with-would love her anyway. "These days I enjoy more fun time with my family, and I'm able to be mentally present when I'm with them. If I'm not sure about an invitation, I say no-I can always change my mind," Carol says. "This has been one of the most difficult but freeing and empowering experiences of my life."

Carol's stick-with-it tip


"I meditate for 30 minutes each morning, which keeps me focused. I just sit quietly on the couch in a darkened room and pay attention to my breathing."

Related: Discover how to raise a confident woman.

'I try something new every month.'

Chaundra Smith, 41, Durham, NC


Once, when her three kids were small, Chaundra took them to a Japanese restaurant. "I wanted to give them a different experience, but they wouldn't eat a bite-they just wanted burgers!" she recalls.

From then on, the single mom was done with pricey adventures in dining. "I played it safe," she says, believing that it was easier to stick to what she knew in most areas of her life. But the longer she held off on taking risks, the more afraid she became. "I didn't want to be a fearful person," she says.

So when Chaundra's youngest went to college last year, she committed to try something new each month. "The first thing I did was yoga, and I was afraid I'd throw my back out," she admits. A few months later, she and a friend planned a trip to Las Vegas, "but I'd heard it was a dangerous place and I worried that we'd be robbed." But Chaundra forced herself to take the chance. Guess what? Yoga didn't put her in traction, and Vegas was a blast.

Although Chaundra and yoga weren't a perfect match, the point was to try. "With every risk, I encourage myself to step out of the box more," she says. She's proud of herself. "My daughter thought I'd be lonely when she went off to school," Chaundra says. "Now she's like, 'Mom, you're never home!'"

Chaundra's stick-with-it tip

"Keep it light and don't beat yourself up if you don't succeed at first. You have as long as you need to get it right."

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'I improved my relationship with my dad.'

Casandra Roache, 28, Hollywood, FL


All her life, Casandra's father criticized her choices. "Every conversation revolved around what I wasn't doing right" in her career and personal life, she says. "It broke my heart-you want your father to be in your corner."

Casandra swallowed her feelings about her dad until 2011, when a breakup with a domineering man made her realize something had to change. "Once I recognized my pattern of dating men like my dad, I knew I had to straighten out my relationship with him or I'd never be happy," she says.

Before she could talk herself out of it, she picked up the phone. "I took a deep breath and said, 'Dad, I want you to know how I've felt for the last decade.'" It all poured out: how she felt unsupported and how damaging his remarks had been. He was defensive at first but later called back. "He said he'd do anything to have a relationship with his baby girl," Casandra recalls.

Old habits die hard, of course, so Casandra laid some ground rules, including declaring the topics of her business and social life taboo. Now when he brings them up, rather than get upset, she moves them on to other things.

Now, a year later, Casandra says she's accepted her dad for who he is and does not take his negativity as personally. "I realized he's like that with everyone, not just me," she says. "He's set in his ways, but he loves me. On Father's Day we went to the beach and had a really good time together.

Just changing her half of the relationship helped, and in small ways her dad has become more sensitive, says Casandra. When he met her new boyfriend, she says, "He took me aside and said, 'You look happy, and if you're happy, I'm happy.'"

Casandra's stick-with-it tip


"Focus on the end result. My vision is to have a happy, healthy relationship with my dad. The road to success leads through the dump. You might get a little dirty in the process, but hopefully it will be worth it in the end."

Related: Find out 9 fights to have with your husband.

'I reignited my marriage of 33 years.'

Patty Gibbons, 53, San Antonio, TX


When the last of her six kids moved out, Patty threw herself into her wedding planning business-so much so that her marriage suffered. "My husband, Gary, was hurt," says Patty. "He called the business 'my new love.' We argued over the time I spent with clients and I felt he was being unfair."

Things were tense between the couple until New Year's Eve 2011, when something clicked for Patty: "I was at a wedding I'd planned, spending the special night with strangers instead of the one I love. When I got home and he was in bed, I felt so alone-and I realized that I had created that situation. "

Rekindling the relationship
took effort. "I'd been using my work to fill a void after the kids were gone," says Patty. "I had to start paying attention to us again." So Patty put up boundaries between work and home, quit answering her cell when she was with Gary and planned date nights. They began going to the gym and walking their new dog together. Patty even encouraged Gary to buy a motorcycle and now enjoys riding on the back.

Of course she slipped up a few times, lunging for her phone as a reflex, but she's learned to quell the urge, and her business didn't suffer. "Now I'm nurturing our marriage, and it has blossomed," she says.

Patty's stick-with-it tip


"Give it time. At first my husband had a hard time believing I was sincere. But he recognized that I was making an effort, so that helped me stay with it."

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