Starting Anew: Three Easy Steps to a Happy New Year

WhooHoooo!  Here comes another one!  A brand new, never-before-seen year is inching toward the horizon.

What are you going to do with it?  More of the same?  Something new?

If “more of the same means” life has been grand and your intention is only to make it even better, super!  And if you want to change a few things, that’s great, too.  “Better and better and better” is what gives life its zing.

Of course we don’t need a whole brand new year in order to make new beginnings.  Every morning, every moment, holds the potential for making new choices and reaffirming old ones.  The key to personal power is owning the choices that are ours to make.

The problem is that it’s not always easy to recognize those choices, let alone embrace them.  We get so mired in programmed behaviors and old stories that we lose sight of our alternatives.  But here’s a way to spot them, and it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Finding Your Path to Happiness

If you’re looking for ways to define the choices that can give you fresh direction for the New Year, think about what brought you the greatest joy, satisfaction or personal pride in the year that’s so quickly coming to a close.  Then decide to do more of it.

That’s a formula that’s sure to bring you good fortune.   And unlike formulating  resolutions based on heavy “shoulds,” you won’t give up on it three weeks down the road.

It’s easy and fun to do.  Here’s a simple 3-step process:

Step 1

Look back over the past year—longer, if you like, and jot down ten experiences that brought you happiness, satisfaction, or meaning.   You can use the following question to trigger positive memories.

  • When did you feel most alive?
  • Whose company did you most enjoy?
  • What achievements left you with a soaring sense of accomplishment?
  • What activities gave you the most pleasure?
  • When did you feel most relaxed and complete?
  • When did you feel most authentic?  The most free?
  • What did you learn that was most valuable for you? What helped you grow?
  • What gave your life a sense of meaning in the past year?

Step 2

Let yourself remember and savor the experiences that  you wrote down in Step 1.  Which five stand out as the best?  Try to re-create the memories that triggered them so they’re vivid and alive for you.  Where were you?  Who was with you? What did it look like?  What did you hear?  What did you feel?

Ask yourself what made each of these five experiences so good for you.  What part of it was especially pleasurable, or meaningful or satisfying for you?

Step 3

For each answer, brainstorm a list of ways you could bring more of these kinds of experiences into your life in the year ahead.

Why Bother?

When I read lists like the one above, I usually just read them and stop there.   The idea of doing the exercise is interesting, but actually doing it sounds too much like work.  Besides, if you’re like me, you probably tell yourself that you don’t have time right now.

But let me ask you, is that really true?  What would it be worth to you to have a genuinely clear, vibrant, appealing sense of direction as you step into the weeks ahead?

Well, according to happiness researchers Foster and Hicks, one of the things that the happiest people among us have in common is that they know what brings them joy. (See Who’s Driving Your Happiness Bus?  ) Not only that, but they make the conscious choice to ensure that they give those things have a place in their lives as often as possible.

Planning for increased happiness is wise because happiness brings all kinds of benefits in addition to experiencing the pleasure, satisfaction and meaning it provides.  According to the work of positive psychology researchers like Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and Sonja Lyubomirsky, it promotes better health. It enables you to be more resilient and resourceful when life’s challenges come your way.  It makes you more attractive to other people because they enjoy its contagious effects.  It gives you greater calm and a greater sense of authenticity.  Looking forward to positive events increases your sense of purpose.

It makes you strong.  It makes you whole.

And all this can begin by simply writing down a little list of the things that brought you joy and choosing to do more of them in the New Year.

That’s why you should bother.

It makes you strong, and vital, and whole.

Give it a try!  You have everything to gain, including a fresh, new direction for your brand new year.

 

 

Photo: stock.xchng

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Options for Happiness: The Flexibility Factor

Happy people choose to be so, according to happiness researchers Foster and Hicks, through a series of specific choices they make about how they will respond to life.   One of the choices they make is to be open to change, to give themselves options.

It turns out that giving yourself options is a very wise choice.  It’s easy to get attached to an idea about what will bring us greater happiness.  But research by Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert has shown that we’re very poor predictors of what will make us happy.

We imagine scenarios where a different job, a different mate, living in a different locale, or having a lot more money would make us happy.  So we choose one of our scenarios, make it our driving goal, and then learn that it isn’t doing the trick.  What then?

If we’re unable to make good predictions about what will being us greater happiness, how can we go about directing our lives?

Opting for Adventure

Foster and Hicks discovered that the happiest among us tend not to have a sole outcome in mind.  They keep their prospects open.

“Happy people,” they tell us, “thrive in an ever-changing world by opening up their lives to a daily bounty of possibilities.”  Rather than holding rigidly to their plans, they approach each day with flexibility, open to seeing new options as the day unfolds.

Their only expectation as they begin a day is that it will hold new opportunities for adventure and discovery.  They let themselves remain flexible and open rather than rigidly clinging to predetermined goals.

That doesn’t mean you have to live without planning and structure to be happy.  It means being willing to alter your  plans or to create new ones if a new discovery or possibility presents itself.   Happy people embrace the “what if” scenarios that present themselves instead of dismissing them out of rigid adherence to a previous plan.

When setbacks and disappointments strike, they look for hidden opportunities.  They ask themselves how they can look at the situation in a different light and search for the options that might be available, aware that life is full of endless possibilities.

They don’t worry about what’s realistic or certain of success.  They follow their hunches and step out in a new direction.

Flexibility: The Risks and Rewards

Sometimes the options that come along are as scary as they are inviting: Giving up a settled career to pursue something that you love, leaving an unhappy relationship to gain the freedom to carve out a new life, moving to an unfamiliar city to take a new job.  The familiar gives us a sense of security, however unsatisfying it may be. Choosing another option threatens that security.

But security is an illusion.  None of us knows what the future may bring.  And to tie yourself to an unfulfilling or even miserable situation deadens your spirit and sucks all the joy from your life.

Taking risks allows you to find new ways to use your strengths, to grow into a broader, more well-rounded person.  It allows you to discover and develop more of your capabilities.   It adds a dimension of exhilaration to your life and makes you feel more connected and alive.

More than that, it leads you to an appreciation for life’s magic, as one option after another enriches your range of experience and reveals to you more and more of who you truly are.

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