6 Categories of Resolutions for a Happier Life

For a fulfilling new year, be sure your resolutions include these categories.

Posted Jan 01, 2021

 Quentin Bargate. Dreamstime
Source: Quentin Bargate. Dreamstime

January is a month when many people make a list of goals and resolutions about what they will do for the new year. These are especially important this year, in a world where COVID constraints are still with us.

Most New Year's goals fall into one of six categories, and you should consider all of them, even if you decide not to make resolutions for each category:

  • Care for yourself
  • Give more
  • Connect more
  • Accomplish more
  • Have more fun
  • Appreciate 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 six categories.

The six key categories of resolutions and why they each matter

Care for yourself

Exercising more, eating more veggies, and 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, especially this year where so many of us have lost some of the self-care options we used to count on (such as going to the gym, getting together with groups of friends for a hike, etc.).

Why does this category matter more than any other? 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 in the other categories. This year, my self-care resolution has to do with sleep. I don’t get enough of it, and I am committed to improving on this one.

Give more

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 connecting with 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. In short, helping others actually helps us feel happier and more fulfilled.

Connect More

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. COVID has made this very hard, especially for those of us who are currently in a lockdown (e.g., California dreaming has been replaced with California isolating).

So, if you can’t get together with loved ones in person, the next best thing is a virtual meeting. Even for those in very different time zones (I have good friends on 4 different continents), tools such as WhatsApp let you record long or short voice messages, text messages, and videos easily that your friends can respond to when they are awake. Currently, I am using WhatsApp to stay in touch with friends in Israel, Australia, and England. It also works great for friends who are in the same time zone but on very different schedules.

Of course, sending a thank you note letting someone you care about know they are appreciated is a way of giving to them that also gives you some “points” in the connection category.

Accomplish more

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.

Last year, one of my goals was spending less time online (as time online often stops us from accomplishing more offline). Sadly, COVID turned me into an online teacher with endless Zoom meetings. So, my modified resolution is to get outside for at least an hour, no matter what. The important thing is that you have something that is meaningful to you that you would like to accomplish.

Have more fun

Perhaps the most neglected category in New Year’s resolutions are the goals that focus on having more fun. Let's face it, many of us live in places where restaurants, theaters, dance clubs, and other venues of fun are closed down, making this category especially challenging. So this year, consider things like dancing more often at home (where you control the soundtrack) or taking a fun online class you want to take. There are plenty of happiness related courses on Coursera and EdX you can audit for free. Of course, you can combine fun with connecting by spending more time doing things you enjoy with people you enjoy being with. During COVID-19, this may mean going for a walk with your cell phone and talking to a friend while you walk separately.

It's important to note that while more people make accomplishment goals than fun goals, on people's deathbeds, more people regret the fun experiences they missed out on, rather than not working harder or accomplishing more. In fact, connecting more with others and having more fun are the two categories elderly people report they wish they had spent more time on when younger. So, skip the regrets and give this one attention now!

Appreciate More

What is the use of having good things in our lives if we don’t appreciate them?

Try to appreciate something every day. It can be something very small. For example, today I am appreciating that I am wearing clean, warm socks straight out of the dryer. I am also appreciating my loving family, my awesome friends, my gorgeous houseplants, and my silly affectionate cat, who is currently trying to convince me to play with him instead of work on this blog post.

Make All Your Resolutions Concrete and Measurable

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 dance at home at least every other day, call my mother at least twice a week, do more volunteer work related to sustainability, make time to deeply connect with friends at least twice a day, write out three things I am grateful for every day, 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!)

You may be wondering: 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, contribution, appreciation, and accomplishment. 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 the most 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 and the research of many other scholars have 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 Fun Tips for Making Your Resolutions Stick."

Wishing you a wonderful, balanced new year!