A new year, a new promise for sanity and a new frontier stretching wide in front of us. What do you want to cultivate in your life this year? Ultimately most of us, more than anything else, want to be happy. We can clean up our shower curtains, we can tidy up the book cases, and we can finally move the clutter out of the garage, yes. But happiness is truly an inside job. There is a Tibetan saying that says: "Seeking happiness outside ourselves is like waiting for the sunshine in a cave facing north."
To make the new year truly happy, we might consider doing things that move the opening of our cave in the right direction -- things that cultivate the internal (and therefore eternal) light. More than a fleeting experience, contentment is a skill that can be learned; It is something that you can practice and get better at in your daily life. Here are four things (that have been researched and proven to boost the mood) that you might consider doing on a regular basis in the new year:
1. Do one totally unexpected nice thing for someone else each day. If you have housemates, do it for someone that you live with. (Note: totally unexpected! Paying your share of the rent does not count!) According to Martin E.P. Seligman, happiness expert and author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, "We scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested."
2. Every night, briefly write down three things that went well and why. This is called the "what-went-well exercise" and has been scientifically proven to boost mood even for the clinically depressed. This activity may feel odd at first, but it's like anything that is new; you have to practice it before it becomes second nature. But by doing so you can learn to re-focus on the positive, to reflect on what went well rather than what went badly. We are programmed to zero in on the negative -- zooming in on what's good typically takes some work.
3. Make regular gratitude dates. Choose a friend or acquiantance who has helped you or positively influenced you in some way. Ask that person to meet you and tell them, in person, why you are so thankful for them. Notice how this affects your mood and theirs, as well as the relationship. (Relationships, after all, are what scientists tell us are the key to a fulfilled life.) Note: It has to be in person, and it is best if it is a surprise!
4. Set a goal for the new year. But, here's what most people don't do: break this big goal down into smaller goals. Research shows that goal-setting is associated with happiness. (If you are following our January Cure, you are headed in the right direction!) What does your ideal life look like? Take the time to think it through and write it down. Psychologist Dr. Laura King found that "people who wrote about their visions showed increases in positive mood, were happier several weeks later, and even reported fewer physical ailments."
If you can dream it, you can achieve it, right?
(Image: Leela Cyd Ross)