December is a time when many people make a list of goals and resolutions about what they will do better next year. Most New Year's goals fall into one of four categories:
2) Give more
3) Accomplish more
4) Enjoy more
If you want to maximize both your short-term joy and your long-term sense of having a meaningful life, you want to make sure to move your life in a direction where you have a nice balance of all four categories.
Exercising more, eating more veggies, getting more sleep are examples of self- care-oriented behaviors, and this type of goal is very common on people’s New Year’s resolution lists. The more room there is for improvement in your self-care routine, the more critical this category is. That said, very few people could not use some improvement in this category. Why it matters? You won’t have as much energy for giving to others, getting things accomplished or having fun if you don’t first take care of your health. Flight crews always tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before reaching to help others. Similarly, you need to take care of your health or you won’t be able to effectively accomplish your goals for the other categories.
Less common than self-care goals, but also present on most lists are other-oriented resolutions. These could include things like increasing your volunteer work (or starting it). This category can also include spending more quality time helping friends and family members who may need more attention. Donations to charity also fit in this category. Obviously, it is good for others if we do more for them, but how does this category contribute to our own personal happiness and well-being? It turns out our self-esteem and sense of purpose in life are both elevated when we help others. We also get that good feeling called “warm glow” when we do more for others. As an added bonus, if you are feeling guilty from not doing enough for others, working on this category can help to alleviate some of that distress. Finally, it is worth noting that one of the most common regrets people voice at the end of their lives is that they did not spend more quality time with loved ones. While time with loved ones can be a mix of giving and fun, research suggests that it is critical not only for your happiness but also for your health.
This category is often included on the resolution list of type A personalities. This may mean studying more hours a week if you are a student, making the case for a promotion if you are employed, reducing debt, saving more money, or achieving some sort of concrete athletic, professional or academic goal. While type A personalities are most likely to make accomplishment oriented resolutions, they probably need this category the least. Still, having a goal makes it a lot more likely you will accomplish it, so clarifying your objectives in this category is worth doing. More recent examples that often make it into this category include spending less time online (as time online often stops us from accomplishing more offline). The important thing is that you have something that is meaningful to you that you would like to accomplish.
Perhaps the most neglected category in New Year’s resolutions are the goals that focus on having more fun. These could include traveling more (or less if you do too much of this for work), going dancing more often, taking a fun class you want to take, or spending more time doing things you enjoy with people you enjoy being with. Important to note is that while more people right accomplishment goals than fun goals, on people's deathbeds, more people regret the fun experiences they missed out on than that they did not work harder or accomplish more.
For all of the above categories, make sure to translate your goals into concrete measurable objectives, so you know when you have hit them and when you have not. Make sure your objectives are realistic. For example, I have committed to work out for at least 45 minutes at least five days a week. I will also go out dancing at least three nights a month, call my mother at least twice a week, and write at least one blog post every four months. (Boy, will I be embarrassed if I mess up on this last one. You will all know!)
Do you need to write an equal number of resolutions for each category to lead a balanced life?
The answer is no. Which category or categories are most critical for maximizing your own happiness and well-being depends on where you are now. The ideal, like with so many things, is balance. Research shows that long-term happiness is based on a combination of pleasure, meaning, connection, and accomplishing goals. Of course, as stated earlier, if you don’t have your health, you won’t be able to do much else, so self-care is critical for giving you the energy and strength to pursue all the other categories.
While it is great to have resolutions in each category, your focus should be on the categories where you know you need the most improvement. However, this may change with time. My own research has shown that the more you give, the more happiness you will get from doing something for yourself, be it fun or self-care oriented. Similarly, the more you do for yourself, the more happiness you will get from giving to others. If you tend to be overly focused on work (and other types of accomplishments) you may want to shift your energy towards making time for loved ones. All this means that later in the year, you may want to add to your goals in one category as you accomplish more in the other areas.
Of course, once you decide on your resolutions, the whole point is to make them stick. For this, read 8 Tips for Using Emotion to Make Your Resolutions Stick (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-money-and-your-heart/201312/8-...).
Wishing you a wonderful balanced 2018!