New Year’s resolution and 2020 goal posts seem to be all the rage right now, but I feel like all of these lofty self-improvement goals often lead to disappointment before we hit February. What about just vowing to be happier? More fulfilled? As I get older, overall contentment has increasingly taken precedence over having the perfect body, the perfect home, honestly, perfection in general. At some point during the middle of 2019, I made a silent pact with myself just to be happier. This meant to stop beating myself up – for not getting every item checked off my to-do list, for not taking advantage of every great opportunity, for not being perfect. At the same time, I also made a vow to start giving more self-praise – for everything I do get accomplished (no matter how small), for renewing personal connections or making new ones, and for learning new things (even if they’re from failures). And you know what? I came into 2020 feeling better than I ever have. I have a few personal goals for this year, but nothing crazy. Mostly to continue being kinder to myself and appreciating what I have. So if any of you have similar goals to be happier in the new year, here are a few simple rules I follow that really work.
You can find a multitude of resources on this topic right now, but it’s certainly not new. Maybe it’s become so popular in recent years because we live in social media-fueled FOMO culture of wanting what everyone else has. Regardless, it’s probably one of the cornerstones of living a happier, more fulfilled life. I don’t have any specific regimen, but I like to hit the mental pause button on special moments throughout the day to really appreciate what’s happening. This can be the most mundane stuff like a pretty sunset while I’m sitting in traffic, or my son singing a song he learned at school, or sharing a laugh with my husband about a stupid TV show. For me, appreciating the little things every day greatly contributes to my overall feeling of contentment.
Forgive yourself when you fail.
No one beats themselves up more when they fail than I do. Or at least that’s how it feels, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. As I mentioned, this past year, I made a conscious effort to stop myself when I start to beat myself up. I try to talk to myself the way a good friend would and remind myself others make the same mistakes and move on, so I should too. I listened to a podcast about happiness that had a great tip: when you fail, throw hands up in air and say “woohoo!” It sounds really silly, but I’ve done it and it works. Doing the exact opposite of what I’m feeling when I’m down helps bring me out of the funk and move forward. I also think it helps rewire my brain to see failure is a positive thing I can learn from.
Don’t be afraid to say no.
This holiday season was more relaxing and fulfilling than many in recent memory. I can attribute a lot of this to carefully curating the events I attended and projects I committed to. This meant a lot of turning down opportunities and, as much as it pained me to do so, I was happier in the end. I actually had time to bake, read, and even a few days of nothing at all. I’m trying to carry this strategy into the new year, placing a finite limit on the number of weekday events I can attend and projects I can commit to. For me, it’s always going to be struggle not to have FOMO, but reminding myself how good I feel when I’m not burned out certainly helps.
Recognize your natural productivity rhythms.
For me productivity and happiness go hand-in-hand – I feed good when I’m getting things done. A couple years ago, I read this article on productivity and it states that everyone goes through productivity states of peak, trough, and rebound throughout the day. For most people, this means they’re most productive in the mornings, hit a productivity trough around mid-afternoon and then recover in the late afternoon to early evening. Though it’s not always feasible, I try to knock my big “thinking” tasks like writing, meetings, and problem-solving in the morning. Since I know I tend to encounter an after-lunch slump, I try to save the menial tasks for that time of day. I also know I get a creative boost in the evening, so I often reserve those types of projects for the end of the day. Being conscious of these waves has made a definite improvement on my personal productivity and leaves me feeling less frustrated when I hit a slump, since I know I will eventually recover.
I’ve always struggled with sleep and tried to implement better sleep hygiene over the last few years (I wrote a blog post about it here). One recommendation I see again and again from sleep experts is to make sure you expose yourself to enough daylight during waking hours and minimize blue light at night. Even during winter work weeks, I try to get outside at least once a day, even if it’s just to walk the dog or run an errand. I find it helps elevate my mood and boost productivity if I’ve hit a wall. Getting back to the “natural rhythms” point, mid-afternoon is a great time to do it.
Find times to disconnect.
My husband and I are both very busy during the week, so we try to put the phones down during family meal times and on the weekend. At least once a quarter, we try to plan a weekend getaway that involves little to no cellphone usage. It helps us connect with each other, be more present for our son, and we always feel more refreshed after a break.
And most importantly…
Don’t go crazy with New Year’s resolutions.
So many resolutions fail because they involve drastic changes to your existing lifestyle. Before you embark on any major goal, look at the big picture “why?” If you can honestly say this is going to make you a better, happier person in the long-run (not just because you feel like you should), then by all means, go for it. But be realistic about what you’re trying to accomplish and start small. This fall, I decided I wanted to get back into pilates, but didn’t want to commit to expensive classes I might not enjoy. I started slow with easy videos on Youtube and gradually worked my way up to ones that were more difficult. Now it’s something I actually look forward to and I do it almost every day with ease! By not diving headfirst into a punishing workout, I didn’t make myself sore to the point I wouldn’t want to continue. I think the same philosophy could be applied to healthier diets and a cleaner house – break it down into feasible steps and you’ll want to keep it up. After all, life is too short to be miserable!
I hope these tips help you with your personal happiness goals this year. I’d love to hear your tips!
Photos shot by Pablo Raya at Eaton Workshop.