Each year, every year, we all resolve the same things. Usually something along the lines of "lose five pounds — or 10." "Stop smoking." "Exercise more." "Be more patient." "Get more sleep." "Make me time." "Save money." Etc., etc., etc. And each year, every year, instead of sticking with those resolutions they often fall by the wayside, leaving us feeling guilty.
What are we really trying to achieve?
“We’re all longing for happiness,” says Todd Patkin, co-author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. “We think we can achieve it by losing ten pounds or kicking a bad habit or making more money, and that’s why we vow to do those things year after year after year.”
I believe that being happy is a choice. And I believe that it’s possible to make resolutions that you can actually keep — and that the success leads to more happiness down the road. Here are four New Year’s resolutions you really can keep in 2011:
1. Identify the things for which you are grateful. I’ll admit it: I struggle with this, sometimes. Sometimes, it’s easier to stew and steam and focus on the negative, because it fills me up with self-righteous anger that I mistake for strength. But deciding to be happy is much more powerful. It can be as simple as searching for the silver linings that really are in everything. It can mean examining a frustrating situation and thinking about what good you can make out of it. Start there. See where it goes.
2. Put effort into the relationships that matter. One of the hallmarks of working motherhood is that we put our marriages and our spouses on the back burner, choosing instead to focus on career and kids — and feeling guilty about not doing enough. “If you’ve gotten to a place where you resent your spouse or feel chronically angry with him or her, only you can change that,” says Patkin. But putting your marriage first may actually be better for your kids -- and possibly your career -- in the long run. Try to remember that your partner is on your team and, when you are having a rough day and need help, be sure to speak up, rather than expecting him or her to read your mind. (Not partnered? Pour your effort into your relationships with your kids, your closest friends, your extended family, or even yourself. You'll be at your best more often if you're happy.)
3. Don’t make other people’s insecurities your problem. As I’ve said before, diminishing yourself in order to make someone else feel better about him- or herself is a foolish waste of time and energy. There’s a difference between living your life and tailoring it to make someone else feel better about theirs. That’s not to say that we don’t have a responsibility to help others; in many situations, I think we do. But that doesn’t mean we’re responsible for other people’s actions. Do what you know to be right, and let other people handle their insecurities about it.
4. Let go of resentment. Esther Lederer — better known as Ann Landers — once wrote: “Hanging on to resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.” What’s worse is that the person you resent is often completely oblivious about how you feel, so you’re the only one who is miserable. A better way to cope: Air your grievances (calmly, politely, constructively), look for solutions, and implement them or move on. Life is short. Don’t waste it on the things — or people — that make you miserable.
What do you resolve to try to do in 2011?