By Anna Lustig, GSN Intern
One of the simplest and most common new year’s resolutions is to be happier. The pursuit of happiness is an innate driver behind many of our actions. By nature, humans are always craving more—there is never truly an end to the amount of happiness one can attain. To actually achieve this goal in the new year, it is important to realize that happiness is in many ways a choice. It is completely within your power, and this year is the year to make it happen if you choose to do so.
Although happiness is a deeply personal and internal concept, it is inevitably affected by the people around us. Studies show again and again that it is the way we process the events in our lives that ultimately determines their meaning. Although many events in our lives are out of our control, the way we frame and internalize these events is in fact entirely in our control.
A good way to start shifting your outlook to a more positive one is through forgiveness. With forgiveness comes a refreshing peace of mind—a good starting point in the path to happiness. From a psychological point of view, those who choose to forgive their transgressors, to let go of this form of useless negative energy, derive extreme benefits towards their psychological and physical well-being. In many studies, forgiveness has been linked to reduced cardiovascular reactivity, reduced susceptibility to mental disorders such as anxiety, substance abuse, and depression, and even improved ability to cultivate positive relations with others (Lawler et al., 2003; Kendler et al., 2003; McCullough et al., 1998). To achieve forgiveness, start with self-reflection—try to frame the narrative in the most accurate, impartial way—and try to accept what happened for what it was. It is in the past now. You can’t change the past, so why continue to let it drag you down? Choose to move on instead. Try to feel empathy for your transgressor, don’t forget what happened, and create a safety net, a plan for the future that will allow you to avoid further hurt. If you can accomplish all of these sub-goals, and forgive the people contributing to the negative energy in your life, you will be able to feel a remarkable sense of calmness. You will immediately feel lighter and happier.
Another strategy to attain happiness is though gratitude. Similarly to forgiveness, gratitude can also play a positive role in physical and mental health. It has been associated with lowered anxiety, depression, and PTSD as well as lowered stress and improved sleep (Wood et al, 2010). Coming into the new year, it is important to recognize all of the good in our lives—to take the time to reflect on all that we have and to acknowledge the people who contribute to our happiness. This can be done through meditation, simple reflection, or even writing a letter to someone special (whether you give it to them or not, writing is a very useful way to reflect). Even a couple minutes of thought about gratitude can change your outlook.
Although many new year’s resolutions are overwhelming and difficult to actually follow through with, the resolution to be happier is a very achievable one. Start your year with forgiveness and gratitude, and you will already be on a good start.