People seem to confuse happiness with pleasure and/or peak experiences of joy. We are not meant to constantly be in a state of “happiness,” which means we are chasing something that doesn’t exist. Generally, we all experience peaks of pleasure/joy with valleys of disappointment and pain, while mainly living in a baseline state of contentment.
Happiness may not even be an emotion as much as it is a decision we make to notice more moments of joy and pleasure (and be present in them). It is a conscious choice to focus on the positive more than the negative in life, and seems to come around more often when our minds are in the present moment (not floating between the past and future in our minds).
Here are a few simple ways to increase your overall happiness in the New Year:
- Keep a Gratitude Journal – write down at least 3 things that you are grateful or thankful for each day. Focus on the very small things in life, rather than the big things (or at least after you run out of the major things you are grateful for in life). Did you see the sun rise/set and enjoy the colors? Were you able to notice a bird singing and listen for a few seconds? Did you take a moment to literally smell the roses? Did you share a smile with a stranger?
- Listen to music – make an effort to listen to music that is uplifting and puts you in a positive mood daily. Music has the power to shift our moods, so utilize it more frequently.
- Notice your thoughts – Be aware of your thinking process, especially when you are focused on the negative. Then, choose to disengage from these negative thoughts. Thoughts are just thoughts. Thoughts are not necessarily true. We do not have to engage with every thought we have. Simply choose to disengage.
- Watch less TV – TV is shown to increase our anxiety overtime. This may, in part, be due to the fact that television viewing seems to encourage comparisons of others’ lives to our own (and we always lose). Choose to live your own life more, and live vicariously through TV lives less.
- Do something for others – It is known that doing something good/nice for others makes us feel good too. It does not necessarily have to be a grand gesture at all. It can be as easy as giving a smile to at least one person every day. You could volunteer your time for an organization, and/or simply be a thoughtful listener to someone in need of an ear.
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, per say, because so many of us make them too grand and are unable to stick with them. Consider the above ideas as a lifestyle change instead. Or, consider them to be intention(s) that you consciously choose to renew daily. Work toward these as goals, making baby steps instead of giant leaps. If you do this, you’re well on your way to a happier & fuller 2017.
Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in private practice in Princeton, NJ and Doylestown, PA. She specializes in sexual health, intimacy and relationship issues. For more information, please check out her website at kimatwood.com