As you reflect on the past year, what feelings and thoughts come to mind?
Did you find yourself spending a great deal of your time wishing you were happier with your life and feeling less stressed? Were you often feeling frustrated by a general lack of progress in a particular area of your life? Are you already feeling a bit frustrated and overwhelmed about the new year ahead?
Most of us take our happiness cues from the outside world, basing our happiness on what happens to us, what we have (or don't have), and how well we think we're doing. And this can create a big challenge if you don’t feel you meet others (our your own) expectations, standards, or ideas. In fact, it's one of the biggest reasons we feel challenged when it comes to personal fulfillment and happiness: what we perceive becomes what we believe.
As you look toward a new year, rather than placing your happiness into someone or something else's hands or things outside of your control, it’s important to remember that true happiness comes from within. And that's great news, because that means you get to control it, foster it, and have even more of it!
Tip #1: Move away from negative thinking.
It may sound easier said than done, but if negative thinking has been a challenge for you, it’s definitely something you’ll want to put some energy into changing in the coming year. Negative thinking can become a vicious cycle that leads to increased stress, anxiety and depression. And it's often self-generated, driven by excessive worry and spending a lot of time in "what if" land. Which is why breaking the cycle is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body and mind.
Practicing being in the present moment is a great way to stop the negative thinking spiral in its tracks. It helps you put some distance between yourself and the things that trigger those negative thoughts and feelings by bringing you back to the here and now so you can focus on what you can control (spoiler alert: it's your mindset). It also forces your mind to become aware of negative thoughts when they pop up so you can learn how to recognize and redirect that thinking.
Not sure if you're stuck in a negative loop? Think back to the last week or month: do you tend to see situations from a negative angle, think about the worst case scenario, or perceive gloom and doom is just lurking around the corner? Or do you often see the glass half full, seek opportunities, highlight the positives and look forward to possibilities?
Maybe you just realized, "oh shoot! That's me! Now what?" Have no fear. I know it can feel challenging to flip this type of automatic thinking around and shift to a more positive perspective, especially if it's become a habit. And listen, life may have dealt its fair share of challenges over the past year (or more) that lent a hand to this now automatic response. The good news is you CAN change it.
And a great way to start is by actively putting a positive slant on situations that would normally stress you out or bring your mood down. In the New Year, practice reframing negative thoughts as they pop up, such as "oh my gosh this traffic sucks!" to "I can't control the traffic but now I do have a bit of extra time to listen to that podcast/audiobook!" (personally this is one I've practiced quite a bit the past year...) Over time, you’ll train your brain to look for and see the positives in your situation, helping you problem solve and explore opportunities that will leave you feeling empowered and happier as a result.
Tip #2: Choose authentic experiences.
Many of us link our happiness to outside factors, which may send a jolt of joy initially, but it doesn't last long. Instead of setting goals related to material objects, money, or a number on the scale, that you assume will make you feel more satisfied with your life, trade them for authentic experiences that genuinely make you feel happy. Focusing on things like hobbies or activities you truly enjoy, spending time with friends who add light to your life, or loved ones who you share common interests with can help you to feel genuine joy and other positive emotions that foster feelings of contentment and relaxation.
This was backed by a study carried out by a psychology professor at Cornell University. He set out to see whether spending money on specific objects or material items vs. having experiences ultimately made people happier. The end result? Experiences had the power to increase happiness, partly due to the fact that we tend to experience them with other people. This gives them more meaning and makes them more memorable, leading to happiness that lasts beyond the moment.
Tip #3: Practice self-acceptance.
In a 2014 study that looked at “happiness habits”, self-acceptance was one of the habits that was deemed most likely to lead to genuine happiness. The reality is we’re often a lot kinder to other people than we are to ourselves. And if this is true for you, there is no time like the present to improve this.
Being kind to yourself is one of the best things you can do to make this next year a great one, filled with more joy and fulfillment. For some of us, genuine happiness may feel difficult to achieve, especially if you’re used to talking negative about your life, you circumstances and yourself.
If you feel you’re not good enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not capable, statistics show you’re more likely to look outside of yourself for happiness. Which frankly, is a never-ending journey. While setting your intentions for the New Year, why not add a bit of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-worth to the mix? You may just be surprised by all your able to achieve and the amazing blessings you feel along the way simply by loving and appreciating yourself more.
Tip #4: Practice gratitude.
As you've likely heard, gratitude and random acts of kindness have both been shown to improve happiness and overall life satisfaction. One of the reasons for this is the fact that it helps you to feel better about yourself and your world.
Being thankful has been shown to have a major impact on our wellbeing, in fact studies have linked keeping a gratitude journal to optimism, improvements in mental and physical health. Which is just one reason why journaling and powerful journal prompts are such a big part of my weight loss programs. Having a more positive outlook on life will help you reduce daily stress and decrease negative thinking, making it easier to take action and make traction toward your goals.
And gratitude journaling isn’t the only way to feel more thankful. Other ways that you can embrace an attitude of gratitude are to send heartfelt and handwritten notes to people who have made a positive difference to your life, taking a walk in nature and feeling grateful for an able body and the world around you, and reflecting on the food your about to enjoy at mealtimes, appreciating the work that went into getting it onto your plate.
Research has repeatedly linked kindness to feeling happier. One theory for this involves the production and release of hormones that create a 'high,' through the production of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. It also encourages your brain to release oxytocin (also known as the “love hormone.”) Imagine, just a few minutes a day practicing gratitude could pay big dividends into your happiness bucket!
Bottom line: whether you've found yourself feeling less joyful or you simply want more happiness in your life, there are simple ways we can all increase feelings of joy and satisfaction in our life. And finding more reasons to smile, lean into gratitude, and love yourself will help you stay inspired, motivated and excited about your goals and see the small opportunities you have to make meaningful progress each day!
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