“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” (Groucho Marx). Can you imagine if it were as simple as that? If you had this much power and control over your life? The quote carries a lot of weight, given that it can be liberating yet frightening. Liberating because your happiness is not in other people’s hands or based on life’s curveballs. Frightening because you suddenly realize you had more power than you ever thought.
The New Year is coming. And with it, it brings a blank slate. You get the chance to start over and decide how you want this year to go. You decide to let go of sad events, mistakes, disappoints, and the misfortunes that 2016 carried, and you get the gift of a new year, a new you. We make resolutions and set goals for the year ahead.
For this New Year I decided to let 2017 revolve around one motif, Happiness.
There are plenty of reasons for choosing happiness. Actual research backs up the connection between happiness and health. There is a reason “laughter is the best medicine” is a very popular cliché. This is a resolution you can work at every day AND it can bring forth countless positive results. Instead of focusing on one New Year’s resolution, such as being healthier, happiness can produce better health, more success, more friends, a better perspective, reduce stress; the list goes on and on.
This New York Times study claims that happiness is about 48% genetically determined, and that 40% comes from things that happen in our recent past that are isolated events, such as landing that dream job, moving across the country, or taking an exotic trip. One-off events like these govern a large amount of our happiness, however that happiness is usually short-lived. Soon, it dwindles and new worries and stressors will cloud it. This only leaves about 12%. Although this doesn’t sound like much, at least that percent falls completely under our control. We can fight for that 12%. Although small, it has to be made up of constant, lasting happiness.
So my 2017 resolution is to make happiness a habit and decide how to fill that 12%. The goal is to find small bursts of joy throughout the day and to feel happiness at least once a day. This makes the resolution achievable, attainable, and realistic. It can be hard to pinpoint happiness and it is often considered an elusive concept. However, we can all find small things that bring us joy throughout the day. The trick is to notice them and let ourselves feel the happiness they bring us. So how do we do this?
This everyday work on happiness can be done by following these easy steps.
- Setting the intention. Although the percentage of happiness that is in our control is up for debate, we can agree that at least some of it is in our hands. So we can make the conscious decision to boost our happiness. Rick Foster and Greg Hicks list the intention to be happy as the first of 9 choices in How We Choose to be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People. “Intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy,” they write. “It’s the decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.”
- Bringing awareness to the small things that bring us joy. By realizing what simple things or moments make us happy each day, we begin to notice them, relish them, and try to bring them more often into our day. It is easy to go through the day’s motions not being mindful and rushing from one thing to the next. So the things that bring us joy can often be overlooked, even if they are there. As author William Feather says: “Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.” So instead of rushing these happy moments, such as drinking our favorite cup of coffee, we can stop and actually enjoy it, noticing and embracing the joy that cup can bring to our mornings.
- Finding time to do a thing you love. Although our days are filled with work and other responsibilities, there is always at least 20 minutes we can dedicate to our ME time. This can be a hobby, finding time to write, meditating, doing yoga, taking long walks, it can literally be anything. The trouble is placing it as a priority in your life.
- Exercising daily. As Legally Blonde taught us: Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. There is substantial research that exercise can provide abundant psychological benefits. Our mood can lift by incorporating more exercise into our lives. Exercise will also boost our confidence level and reduce stress. This in turn will also make us happier. So it’s a no brainer that this cycle can only bring more positivity into our days.
- Cultivating gratitude. I heard some time ago of the good practice of listing 3 things we are grateful for each day before we go to sleep. Some will ultimately be the same for weeks in a row, while others can change every day. By observing them, we will shift our mindset from the things that are missing in our life or the things that are going wrong to the blessings we do have. Even if there are some days we struggle to find things to be thankful for, our mind will focus away from the negative while bringing awareness to what is working and ultimately lead us to appreciate the small seemingly unimportant things that often don’t get that much attention. The importance of ending your day on a positive note is listed in Business Insider as 1 of 9 things successful people do every night before going to sleep. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of replaying negative situations from the day that you wish you’d handled differently. Regardless of how bad the day went, successful people typically manage to avoid that pessimistic spiral of negative self-talk because they know it will only create more stress.”
- Letting go. What do we want to manifest and what do we want to let go of? We can’t fully enjoy the present moment or embrace moments of happiness if we are holding onto grudges or anger, so we must focus on letting go of sad events, mistakes, fights, and past struggles. As Buddha says, “Learn to let go. That is the key to happiness.”