Are you relying on other people to make you happier? What if you could take some simple actions to have a happier new year?
Maybe you’ve wished for more compliments or quality time from your spouse. A better job. Less stress. More money. Respect from your children. I occasionally get caught in that trap.
All these things have one thing in common: They rely on other people to do things to make us happier.
I remember a column I wrote about happiness for my junior high school newspaper. I wrote about my dog Heidi. Heidi was our family’s reddish-brown miniature dachshund. She joined my family when I was about 5 years old. Heidi quickly became my best friend.
Heidi enjoyed snuggling up against me when I’d sit on the couch. Sometimes, she’d also sleep on my bed with me. Heidi also liked to play. She’d chase me down the hall of our apartment, snapping her teeth at the hems of my pajama pants or the heels of my slippers. If she got a hold of the hem, she’d pull on it and growl, wagging her tail with excitement. Heidi also liked to play with old socks. We’d enjoy a friendly game of tug-of-war, with her pulling on one end of an old sock, and me on the other, until one of us would get tired.
Heidi had a strange habit, though. She’d chase her tail, trying to bite it. She’d never catch it, though. She’d turn her long body as far as she could stretching to reach it. But with every turn and stretch, the tail would escape the reach of her snapping teeth.
The point of telling a story about Heidi in my school’s newspaper is the same as it is in telling it now. Pursuing happiness is like a dog chasing its tail. As long as we believe happiness is something outside ourselves to be chased until we catch it, it’ll always be just out of reach.
5 Proven Secrets to Happiness
The Bible frequently encourages us to rejoice. Rejoice is another way of saying. God designed us to be happy. It’s no wonder, then, that science has discovered that there are some simple actions we can take to be happier.
If you’re looking for more happiness in this new year, it’s possible. But the key to achieving it is within you. Adapted from research done by Shawn Achor and written about in his book The Happiness Advantage, here are 5 things you can start doing today to have a happier new year.
1) Be Grateful x3
Write down 3 new things each day that you’re grateful for. Write them anywhere–on your calendar, on your bathroom mirror with a grease pencil, on the notepad in your smartphone. By doing this daily, your brain will develop a habit of looking for positive things in your world.
2) Write about 1 Positive Experience
Start a simple journal, and each day write a few sentences about a one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours. You don’t need a fancy, hardcover journal. Keep it simple. Use a notepad, or a spiral bound notebook. Or start a journal on your smartphone. I’m using a simple iPhone app called Day One. This simple activity of journaling about a positive experience allows your brain to relive that experience, doubling the dose of joy you get from it.
Exercise produces pleasure-producing endorphins. It boosts moods, protects against depression, and helps relieve stress and anxiety. If you don’t already exercise, start by walking for at least 10 minutes a day. Walking 15 minutes right after each meal is best–if you do it after each meal, you can easily work up to 45 minutes of exercise a day. Before starting any exercise program, it’s best to check in with a trusted healthcare professional.
4) Prayer and Meditation
Prayer and meditation for at least 5 minutes a day strengthens the part of your brain that produces happiness (your left prefrontal cortex). Prayer can be as simple as talking to God as you would a close friend. To meditate, means to simply focus your mind on a single subject for a period of time. In my meditation, I prefer to focus on memorizing passages of the Bible. If you find your mind wandering during prayer or meditation, gently bring it back into focus and continue your prayer or meditation.
5) Be Kind
Conscious acts of kindness reduce stress and improve mental health. They also spread happiness. Send an encouraging email to someone. Phone someone you know is hurting and offer words of encouragement. Give compliments to your children or spouse. Hold a door open for a stranger. The opportunities are virtually endless.
Starting a Happiness Habit
If you do these things for 21 days in a row, you will have developed some new habits. These habits, continued throughout the year will produce greater happiness for you, and for those around you.
Will you commit yourself to a happier new year? If so, share your commitment below. Just say, “I’m in!” Then cheer up someone else by share these simple secrets to happiness with someone you care about (it’ll be one of your random acts of kindness for today).