Yes, it’s that time again. A new year means creating new intentions, setting new goals and embracing change for being better with our health, career, finances, relationships, community and spiritual well-being.
According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology 2012, the most common New Year’s resolutions by Americans — self-improvement, weight, money-related and relationship resolutions — are only successfully achieved by 8 percent within a six-month time span.
While many assume happiness is a derivative of success, studies have proven that isn’t quite the case. Many professionally successful people and those with notable wealth are actually not happy — often quite the opposite. Even more surprising is that what you might perceive as success could actually be hindering your happiness.
As a society we’ve gotten it backwards: It is happiness that leads to success, not vice versa.
Scientific studies actually prove that we are the ambassadors of our own happiness in that we have full control over this enviable state of mind, which is a powerful precursor of success in terms of the true meaning of the word and how it impacts the human experience.
An array of credentialed psychologists and other respected researchers have studied people around the globe to discern how money, culture, attitude, health, memory, altruism and daily habits affect our well-being. The field of “positive psychology” has dug deep and formerly recognized that a person’s thoughts and actions can have a significant effect on their happiness and life fulfillment.
With this in mind, here is a list of 10 scientifically proven happiness strategies:
» 1. Savor ordinary events. Study participants who took the time to do this “showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression,” psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky notes. Reflecting back on moments of your day, even those you might ordinarily hurry through, is a worthwhile effort.
» 2. Avoid comparisons. Focusing on your own personal achievements instead of making comparisons to others will better impact your happiness and self-esteem, according to Lyubomirsky, which leads to greater life satisfaction. It’s easy to lose sight of what achievements, both personal and professional, have enriched our life, and we must remind ourselves — often.
» 3. Put money low on the list. According to researchers Kasser and Ryan, those who put money high on their priority list are at greater risk for depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. “Money-seekers also score lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization,” Ryan says.
» 4. Have meaningful goals. As humans, we thrive on having a purpose, but what is purpose if there is no meaning behind it? “People who strive for something significant, whether it’s learning a new craft or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations,” father and son team Diener and Biswas-Diener found.
» 5. Take initiative at work. Researcher Amy Wrzesniewski says that “when we express creativity, help others, suggest improvements or do additional tasks on the job, we make our work more rewarding and feel more in control.”
» 6. Make friends and treasure family. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we need relationships. Sometimes we underestimate the importance of such connections.
» 7. Fake it until you make it. This actually works, according to Diener and Biswas-Diener, who assert, “Happy people see possibilities, opportunities, and success. When they think of the future, they are optimistic, and when they review the past, they tend to savor the high points.” This may take some practice, so try to smile even when you don’t feel like it.
» 8. Keep a gratitude journal. When you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, you can either become a time bomb waiting to go off or you can recalibrate. An excellent tool for detoxing and redirecting your thoughts is with a gratitude journal. Those who write in a journal on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to achieve personal goals, according to author Robert Emmons.
» 9. Get moving. According to a Duke University study, exercise may be as effective as drugs in treating even major depression. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone. Duke researcher Blumenthal suggested that “exercise may be beneficial because patients are actually taking an active role in trying to get better. Patients who exercised may have felt a greater sense of mastery over their condition and gained a greater sense of accomplishment.
» 10. Serve others. This is often referred to as a “helper’s high.” According to ethicist and researcher Stephen Post, helping a neighbor, volunteering, and donating goods and services results in more health benefits than exercising or quitting smoking. Researcher Elizabeth Dunn similarly found that those who spent money on others reported greater happiness than those who spent it on themselves.
With so much science underscoring that we are active participants in the process, I prefer to regard happiness as a verb. Navigating happiness is a journey filled with a series of actions. It’s not an outcome. No matter the circumstance, we all have the capacity to be happy. The only question is, what next step you will take to foster your own?
“America’s Happyologist” Jackie Ruka of Summerland is a lifestyle expert who founded the Get Happy Zone personal development organization. She is also the author of the soon-to-be-released book Get Happy and Create a Kick Butt Life: A Toolbox for Rapidly Activating the Life You Desire. Contact her and take her Fearless Quiz online by clicking here.