Resolutions: How about trying to make it a happy (and new) year?

Categories: Holidays, Mental Health, Personal Growth, and Stress.

Happy New Year!  Have you made any resolutions for the New Year?  Making New Year’s resolutions is a good idea, despite the bad press it gets sometimes.  This is because they really do work! Research by John C. Norcross has shown that compared to people who don’t make resolutions,  people who make New Year’s resolutions are actually twice as likely to successfully change something in their lives.  Whether you have resolved to get physically fit, quit some bad habit, or chosen not to make a resolution, let me suggest a resolution that will change your life. This is it: work to become a happier person.

A colleague recently recommended a book called “What Happy People Know” by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth.  In this book they describe a very important lifestyle approach called “multidimensional” living.  This means that instead of organizing your life around one dimension such as work, happy people live in such a way that they balance and manage three important dimensions: work, relationships, and self-care.  People are happier when they can work at something that provides them with purpose.  This doesn’t mean it has to be your job, it could be some type of volunteer work that gives you this purpose and meaning in life.  It is also vitally important to maintain positive friendships and relationships.  Don’t allow fear to isolate you socially.  Finally, tend to your own self.  Eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, give yourself permission to enjoy what makes you feel good and that is in line with your values.

Having a positive attitude is a choice, not something you just wake up with one day.   Having a positive attitude has nothing to do with your situation.  My grandmother, who will be 101 this month, says; “Happiness doesn’t happen”, meaning that it doesn’t come from outside, but from within yourself!  I’ve seen people with all the best things and surrounded by people who love them display the worst attitudes possible.  I’ve also seen people that have lost everything, including their health, maintain an “attitude of gratitude” about life.  These examples point out that a positive attitude is something that can be lived out regardless of life’s circumstances.

Working to develop a positive attitude can change everything for you.  As Norman Vincent Peale has said; “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” Research has shown that clinically depressed people are more likely to see events as more negative than those who aren’t depressed.  This seems to be common sense, but it’s still important to point out because it shows that your interpretation of events in life (as good or bad) depends on your perception of those events.   It’s not life that brings you down, it’s your perception and attitude in response to life’s events.  This doesn’t mean that having a positive attitude will keep you from experiencing pain and grief, but it can prevent pain and grief from poisoning your perspective.

Please keep in mind that I used the verb “working” when it comes to developing a positive attitude. For many of us, it is very difficult to naturally “keep on the sunny side of life.” This is mostly because a habit of negativity has become the default setting.  Sometimes it really is a “fake it till you make it” process, because the positive thoughts have to fight the negative feelings.  When you resolve to work on it, however, you will develop what marriage educator Dr.Les Parrott calls “The Habit of Happiness.” This beats the habit of grumpiness, doesn’t it?   You really can’t feel your way into a better way of thinking, but you can think your way into a better way of feeling.  It takes a commitment to developing a positive attitude.

Let me close with this short essay by Charles Swindoll entitled ATTITUDE:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than fact.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company…a church…a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.  I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

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