A Resolution to Be Happier?
“I hereby resolve to find more happiness in the New Year.”
What do think of a New Year’s resolution to increase your happiness? Some people might judge it to be a selfish goal. If so, it may be because they automatically associate happiness purely with a narrow hedonism — that is, the pursuit of pleasure without regard for others. While in my opinion, there is no happiness without pleasure, happiness is much more than just a pleasure experience.
Other people may object to the idea of a happiness resolution, because they don’t think that you can decide to be happy. Those people may believe that, in the words of the famous quote*: “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” I emphatically disagree with this position. Much research, including that described here and here, shows that happiness is not random. It is the result of deliberate activities and choices.
Still others might argue that the pursuit of happiness is a trivial goal. But study after study links happiness to a wealth of desirable outcomes — longevity, health, lower stress, creativity, and better relationships, to name a few. And let’s face it, most of us agree instinctively with the Dalai Lama that “the purpose of our lives is to be happy.”
Of course the resolution “to be happier” is too vague to provide a specific blueprint for action. In the rest of this blog, we’ll look at some super-specific resolutions that will help you succeed in your quest to be happier. But first... a quick definition.
The Three P’s of Happiness
What is happiness? I like the definition proposed by researcher Tal Ben-Shahar: “The overall experience of both pleasure and meaning.” Substitute the word “purpose” for “meaning,” and you’ve got two P's of happiness right there. Purpose includes pursuing your higher motivators, such as your deepest values and goals. Pleasures are activities that give you a sense of joy or well-being in the present moment.
Dan Buettner, author of the new book The Blue Zones of Happiness, has proposed a third P: Pride. Buettner defines pride as “how one evaluates one’s life as a whole” and includes “how satisfied people are with their accomplishments and positions in life.”
Having identified these three strands of happiness, what specific activities could you weave into your day that would make you happier?
Specific Resolutions to Increase Your Happiness Quotient (HQ)
Below are ideas for 19 specific happiness resolutions, organized by the “3 P’s” concept. Of course, the number of possible resolutions is infinite. Feel free to create a resolution of your own, based on what you know about yourself and your needs. Just remember that effective resolutions are SMART — Specific, Meaningful, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Based. You may need to “smarten up” a few of my recommendations so they'll fit your personality, your schedule, and your life.
These resolutions will increase your happiness by helping you pursue a more meaningful life, one that is in harmony with your deepest values, goals, and strengths. Examples:
1. “I will see a career counselor.” If your job is not fulfilling, find a way to add purpose. A career counselor can help you infuse more meaning into your present occupation or help guide you into a more suitable one.
2. “I will keep a purpose journal.” Writing coaches often recommend a technique called “the one-sentence journal.” To enhance purpose, you could write one sentence per day about an incident that gave you insight about your purpose in life, or that propelled you further along the road toward your most meaningful goals.
3. “I will speak out when I hear racist or sexist comments, or comments that demean another person.” This goal is a challenge! You may need to rehearse what you will say. For ideas about standing up for your beliefs while acting respectfully towards others, see this blog about assertiveness.
4. “I will make my marriage (or significant relationship) more loving and harmonious by doing these specific things: ____ and ____.” Time and time again, research shows that good relationships make for a meaningful and satisfying life. There’s no better resource for specific ways to improve your marriage than John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Many of these principles apply just as well to children, friendships, and colleagues, too.
5. “I will volunteer for x hours/week for a cause that I believe in.” Step one: Make the call.
6. “Every day I will express appreciation to someone for something they did or said.”
7. “Before I fall asleep, I will think of three things I am grateful for.” Numerous studies show the effectiveness of this activity to increase well-being. Gratitude is the cousin of happiness, as I like to say.
Everyone needs to experience moments of joy, comfort, and ease on a daily basis. You could add pleasure resolutions to your self-care routine or find moments of joy that come from a physical activity, a hobby, or a human connection. If you worry that pleasure is too shallow a goal, remind yourself that without some self-care and pleasure, you might not have the energy to fulfill your meaningful roles in life — partner, parent, worker, caregiver.
Examples of pleasure resolutions that would not hurt you or another person:
1. “I will schedule time every __ weeks for a massage, a mani-pedi, or a coffee date with a friend.”
3. “I will devote at least 30 minutes per ___ to this pleasureful play activity: ______”
4. “I will set up an 'out-of-routine' experience like a movie, concert, or meal once per weekend.”
5. “I will become healthier by ____ (exercising for 20-30 minutes/day, limiting sugar or alcohol, meditating for 5 minutes/day).” Many people groan just at contemplating the idea of changing a ho-hum health habit, like diet or exercise. But changing a harmful habit can indeed make you happier. The research is here.
As I note in my book Changepower, “Isn’t it a relief to know that you don’t have to give up pleasure to find happiness?”
Pride can be a measure of your happiness over time or a by-product of activities that enhance the other two P's — purpose and pleasure. As you look back on your life, or just your day, what have you said or done that stands out as a point of pride with you? To rev up your feelings of pride, try one or more of these resolutions:
1. “I will take a class in ______ to increase my competence in this area.”
2. “I will save ___ amount of money each month to protect myself and my family if hard times should come.” Financial security = peace of mind.
3. “I will write a personal letter to my children (or grandchildren or partner) describing my successes and failures, points of pride, hardships I have overcome, people who helped me along the way, and other significant events in my life, so that both my family and I can learn and grow from assessing my experiences.”
4. “I will act with kindness towards at least one person per day.”
5. “I will contribute something to my community, city, or country, such as participating in a clean-up, working for historic preservation, or donating toward a park or trail, or ____.”
6. “I will transform a negative experience into a positive one by…” A few amazing role models: the women who founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) after losing a loved one to a drunk driver; the men and women of the #MeToo movement; and Tina Meier, who founded an anti-bullying and suicide prevention foundation after her daughter committed suicide as a result of cyber-bullying.
7. “Instead of exchanging birthday presents, I will make a deal with my friend to donate money to each other's favorite charity.” I exchange gifts this way with a friend, and I always get a warm feeling when I receive the notice of her donation to my cause... and vice versa, I trust.
You may have noticed that sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a pleasure goal, a purpose goal, or a pride goal. Some specific goals include all 3 P’s; a daily walk, for example, could be a source of pleasure, health (purpose), and pride. Also, a pleasure for one person might be a source of purpose or pride for another — showing kindness, for example. And, of course, just fulfilling any cherished goal is a pleasure in itself! Yes indeed, your brain will reward you with a nice spritz of dopamine every time you take a clear step forward toward your goal.
I hope these ideas for resolutions will make it easier for you to create a “happiness practice” in the New Year. Luckily, many habits of happiness are relatively easy to create and sustain. Who doesn’t want to be happier?
If you do decide to make a happiness resolution for the coming year, choose a specific activity to implement, make space for it in your schedule, and anticipate and remove any barriers to success. Periodically evaluate what you are doing to see if your daily life is indeed richer.
You may find that the pursuit of happiness is not a shallow goal, but one with unexpected depths and meaning. As Aristotle wrote,"Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."
© Meg Selig, 2017. All rights reserved.
For 10 ways to make yourself happier in 30 seconds or less, check out this blog.
"Aren't you relieved that you don't have to give up pleasure...". Selig, M. Changepower: 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success. (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 89.
"..how satisfied people are...". Buettner, D. The Blue Zones of Happiness (Washington, DC: National Geographic Partners, 2017), p. 22.
"How one evaluates...". Hui, M. “Blue Zones Author.”