A new year is an act of hopeful symbolism. We know, despite our optimistic lists and fresh attitudes, that the calendar has no control over further terror attacks, upsetting politics, hatred, or the loss of those loved by the masses. We cannot control inevitability. Yet we insist that this time we will be more positive and happier throughout it. This world that appears to be making every attempt to weigh us down with grief is not likely to change just because it is January 1–so how do we make sure that 2017 is a happy year for us, even in the face of adversity? Here are five simple shifts we can undertake to be stronger as we seek joy and contentment.
Understanding people–even those we disagree with–and moving ourselves to help can improve our health, our outlook, our well-being, and our relationships. Compassion can make us more resilient to stress. The Dalai Lama once said, “ Compassion is not religious business, it is human business. It is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability. It is essential for human survival.” To move people towards kindness, we must meet them on their own ground and find a way to love them. Do not hold onto anger–use its energy to move you to understand and inspire.
Let quiet in.
We live in an extraordinary world where we can know anything we want whenever we want. But this overstimulation of noise–both literal and mental–wears us down when we aren’t paying attention. Embracing silence during our day allows us to quiet our brains and boost our happiness. Turn off the news notifications on your phone and dedicate one time per day to sit and read about what’s happening in the world. Remove your work email from you phone. Be mindful about what online content you are consuming. Drive home from work with the radio off. Step outside without headphones on every day. Wake up and drink a cup of tea without a screen. Look up at the sky instead of at your phone when you find yourself waiting for something. Let yourself relax into the discomfort of being quiet and alone. Pay attention to what your brain does and how your heart feels. You’re likely to notice a difference.
People who read are happier and feel as though their actions are more worthwhile. They are empathetic and emotionally intelligent. They understand the nuances of humanity. Read novels. Read nonfiction books that excite you. Read read read. Every day. It will never make you unhappy.
Gratitude is directly connected with our happiness. When we express gratitude, we activate and strengthen parts of our brain that help us see the positive and deal with the adverse. Spend a few moments each day reflecting on what you are genuinely grateful for. Write it down. Put it in a jar. Tell somebody. We all have somebody or something to be thankful for. The smell of fresh laundry. A delicious meal. A comfortable pillow. A smile from a loved one. Don’t overlook those little things; they add up to a fuller life than we thought.
Make a difference.
When we set out to make a difference, we are also setting out to defining our own sense of satisfaction. Those who choose to intentionally make the world a better place or to help those who need it report greater joy and contentment in their lives. What is your passion? What do you wish you could change? Start with your local environ–something at work or in your town. Start with people. Start with things that you feel are important. Making a difference is critical to our local and global communities, but activism is also happiness.
Go take on 2017. Make an attempt to understand somebody you disagree with. Create and settle into quiet moments. Read. Be grateful. And go make a difference. May it be a Happy New Year, indeed.