The New Year is just around the corner and as we close the door on the trials and tribulations of 2014, we’re also beckoning whatever awaits us in 2015.
Whether you’ve suffered loss, anxiety or a terrible break-up in 2014, there are a few things you can do in order to stick two fingers up to the bad stuff and embrace the good stuff.
Instead of planning to (quite literally) bust a gut getting rid of your post-Christmas food baby – and feel terrible in the process – make happiness your priority when it comes to New Year’s resolutions.
Life guru Paul Dolan shows us how…
New Year’s resolutions
With New Year’s resolutions you have to work out whether what you intend to change is actually going to make you happier. We tell ourselves stories – “I need to lose weight, I need to read more books” – but a lot of that is based on things we think should make us happier.
You can end up making yourself miserable by not being the person you feel you should be. We have to make sure that the stories we get from our parents or the media don’t get in the way of finding the experiences that really will make us happier.
There are small changes that we can build into our lives on an everyday basis, such as getting ten minutes’ more fresh air, spending a bit more time with people we like, helping someone or listening to music.
I listen to Spotify on my commute in and out of London and it certainly makes me happier because music really does penetrate the soul. You don’t have to give up your job or go and hug a tree in California. Happiness can come from making what seem to be very trivial changes.
Lost happiness is lost forever
Don’t think about your wellbeing and happiness like you do finances. With money, you can save it today to spend more in the future. But happiness isn’t a bank account.
You can’t say: “I’m going to make myself miserable today to be happy tomorrow” because the misery you’re experiencing today is real! It’s like seeing a rubbish film at the cinema and thinking: “I bought the ticket so I’d better stay until the end”.
Why put yourself through it? If something is painful and pointless, you should stop doing it.
Children and happiness
Most of the happiness data shows having children to be neutral at best. We’re told to say our kids are the most amazing things that ever happened to us, but no one’s a bundle of joy 24 hours a day.
The worst thing imaginable would be for something to happen to my kids, but they still bring lots of stress and worry that I didn’t have before I was a dad.
What I would say is that they’ve given my life more purpose, and that helps with happiness. But when people say they’re perfectly happy without children, we don’t have to presume they’re lying!
Technology and happiness
Everyone’s posting on Facebook about what a brilliant time they had last night and you think: “My life’s so grim”. By comparison, misery comes from that.
But there’s also the happiness of contagion. Happy posts can make people reading them feel happier. If you’re using virtual interaction as a substitute for face-to- face relationships then you’re less happy, but if it’s complementary, it can make you happier.
I strongly suggest that people turn off their mobile for a bit each day, otherwise your attention is constantly drawn to it. I’ve identified “phantom vibration syndrome”, when you think you’ve got a message and you look at your phone but you haven’t. We’ve become addicted to technology and it’s not good.
Finding happiness after loss
All the evidence suggests that we’re remarkably resilient creatures. Our psychological immune system kicks in to familiarise the pain of loss and, in time, we’re all right again.
I know it might not help how you feel now, but the pain that you’re feeling isn’t going to last forever.
Finding happiness after divorce
After a break-up, most of us end up with someone better than that idiot we were with before, even if we did think we were going to spend the rest of our life with them.
When people get divorced, their happiness actually starts to bounce back in a way that it doesn’t with separation.
Separation comes with uncertainty and uncertainty is very attention-seeking. My advice is to be brutally honest with the other person and – as soon as you reach the conclusion yourself – tell them that there’s no prospect of getting back together.
We sometimes think closure feels like a bad thing, but that’s a very good example of how our behaviour can be inconsistent with what makes us happiest.
The secret to happiness
I think you’re as happy as you can possibly be when you have the right balance of pleasure and purpose in your life.
Some people are pleasure machines, some are purpose engines, but if you’re at either extreme, you’d be happier if you gave up a bit of what you have a lot of.
If you have a pleasure-seeking life and decide to spend 20 minutes every day doing something that feels purposeful, like gardening or volunteering, you’ll probably be happier – but it’s certainly not the same for everyone.
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