Christmas is over, New Years has come and gone and now we're left at January's mercy! For many of us, early January is a time to make resolutions and start the year off on the right foot. Gym memberships soar, smokers vow to quit and we make plans to be more involved with family and friends. While we may keep these resolutions for several weeks or even months, why do so many of us find our dedication trailing off as time goes on?
Perhaps the answer lies beneath the surface of our New Year's resolutions. When we choose to give up smoking or take up exercise it is usually for the main goal of improving our health, even though our health is only a fraction of the issue at hand. Often we fail to explore what it is that drives our need to reach for a cigarette, eat the entire box of biscuits in one sitting or have that 'last drink'. When we take the time to consider these underlying elements, we give ourselves a better chance of actually succeeding at keeping our resolutions. If we simply say to ourselves on the 31st of December, this is what I'm giving up/taking up/changing this year, we are missing the underlying factor, that we are using these 'vices' as a crutch because something is making us unhappy.
Some of the most prevalent reasons that we are unhappy include:
- Issues from the past
- Worry about the future
- A negative view of the world/pessimistic outlook
- Blaming others for your situatution in life
- Comparing yourself to others
- Feeling unfulfilled about how you spend your time
- Feeling unfulfilled about your impact on the world
- Assuming your life should be problem free (When in reality no one has the perfect life!)
These sources of unhappiness are part of being human and will come in and out of our lives at different times. So instead of making the same resolutions year after year with varying success, why don't we just stick with one resolution: To increase our happiness. Unhealthy eating habits, drinking too much and smoking distract us from feelings of unhappiness that we don't want to deal with. If we can increase our self awareness enough to discover what is making us unhappy, we can begin to work on changing the real problem rather than its surface issue. The surface issue i.e. smoking will be easier to tackle once you have identified what it is that is making you unhappy.
How do I increase my happiness?
1. Take note of what is making you unhappy.
Did you find yourself relating to any of the key reasons for unhappiness above? If so, note it down and make a plan to change it. Your plan needn't be anything more than taking baby steps to improve your situation. Finding that worry about your job is leading you to drink in the evenings after work? Why not begin by cutting your drinking back one night a week until you are successful, then moving on to two nights less a week and so on. Also address the worry...what exactly is worrying you and how likely is it that your worry will come true? Is there a chance you are worrying over something that may never happen? Or perhaps if your fears did come true are there ways around it? We always have options in life whether we see them straight away or not. By addressing both the surface issue (excessive drinking) and the underlying issue (work anxiety) we have a better chance of overcoming our challenges and keeping our resolutions.
2. Write down the things that make you happy in life.
What things nurture your soul? Write them down and do them often! Maybe you feel refreshed after a walk in the park or out in nature. Perhaps cooking and baking leave you with a feeling of accomplishment and pride. Maybe a monthly meet up such as a book club, meeting to watch the match or just grabbing a coffee adds happiness to your life. Find what works for you and carve out space in your life for self care...it's the best gift you can give yourself!
3. Learn to accept that all human life has unhappiness.
There is no such thing as a life free from all stress and unhappiness. The sooner we learn to let go of the past and enjoy the present, the sooner we open ourselves up to greater peace of mind. If you find you are holding anger towards another person, free yourself up and learn to let go of it. The person suffering the most from your anger is you. If you find yourself going through a rough patch in life where you may be stressed, overworked, not getting enough sleep or feeling depressed, take action and mind yourself. Take a day off work to rest and recuperate - and don't feel guilty about it! Identify where you can fit in time to take care of yourself and make it happen.
4. Incorporate mindfulness into your week.
Mindfulness can be as simple as enjoying the good times to the maximum. If you've made time to do something you love, immerse yourself fully in it. Any time you find your thoughts drifting away from the activity at hand, gently bring them back to the present. What are the sights, smells and sensations around you? How crisp are the leaves on your walk? How amazing was your team's last goal? To increase your enjoyment of life, increase your engagement in the activities that bring you joy.
If you only make one resolution in 2017...make it to increase your happiness! :)