Though far from exhaustive, when it comes to improving well-being, the following 10 ideas—backed by years of scientific research—certainly can’t hurt. We’ve ranked them in keeping with the “countdown” spirit of New Year’s tradition, but the order could easily be reversed or randomized.
Why not give them a try?
10. BE KINDER TO YOURSELF
Often, especially for those who have struggled with depression, we are our own worst critics. Become more aware of your self-talk. Pay attention to the comments you make to yourself throughout the day, and ask yourself: Would I say this to my best friend or someone I care about? If the answer is no, you owe it to yourself to refrain from saying it to yourself. Self-compassion takes practice, but you have it in you.
9. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
Having an attitude of gratitude has become the platitude of the day. Nonetheless, like many platitudes, there is a whole lot of truth to this one. Multiple studies have shown the correlation between gratitude and greater well-being. By consciously focusing on positive aspects of your life and appreciating the good, through a concept that psychologists refer to as neuroplasticity, we have the power to change our brains by changing our attitudes. This is great news for those of us who seek greater joy in life. Why not take advantage of this wonderful quality our brains possess and be grateful for neuroplasticity?
8. FORGIVE OLD GRIEVANCES
Is there someone you haven’t forgiven? Have you caused another person distress, intentionally or not? Even though you may think old grievances are in the past, they could be holding you back in the present, affecting current relationships. In addition to gratitude, an attitude of forgiveness has been shown to correlate with greater overall well-being and even physical health. Take a hard look at your relationships, and if there appears to be something getting in the way, take a look in the rearview mirror. You may discover that closure from the past could be just the tweak you need to improve your present relationships.
7. STRENGTHEN YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
Identify the positive influences in your life. They may be family members, friends, colleagues, mentors, or a trusted therapist. Having a strong, solid support system is key to sound mental health. This is not measured in numbers, though. Unlike when we were in high school and popularity was the name of the game, in real life, when it comes to support, quality counts over quantity. Don’t have a support network? Why not make that a goal this year? Join a support group; find a meetup group online; take a class in something that interests you; or call an old friend you’ve lost touch with. Have difficulty connecting with others? See No. 6 below.
6. FIND A GREAT THERAPIST
Not everyone “needs” to be in therapy; however, everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging and joy in life, and most of us strive for good mental health. If you don’t already have a therapist and feel you could benefit from support, seek one out this year. There are countless therapists available throughout the country, even more if you live in or near a metropolitan city. Do your homework. Ask friends or colleagues for referrals. Search online to get a sense of someone’s style and personality rather than choosing a random name from a list. Then meet in person. You’ll know pretty quickly if the fit feels right or not.
5. IDENTIFY TRIGGERS
Whether you experience clinical depression, anxiety, or another issue, or you are simply seeking greater happiness, it’s important to identify the triggers that bring on unpleasant emotions. Take a look at the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and with some exploration, why. Whether it’s a difficult family member, a job you don’t enjoy, or seasonal depression, it’s important to understand and prepare for the negative emotions these may trigger. Even if you can’t change the circumstances, you can learn how to cope better.
4. FIND THE JOY
In their book How We Choose to Be Happy, based on over 30 years of research, authors Greg Hicks and Rick Foster suggest making a “dream list,” or what I like to refer to as a “happy list.” Find a quiet place where you will not be distracted and, with a pen and paper, think about and write down all the things (people, places, ideas, etc.) that make you feel good. They can be as simple as the scent of fresh lilies filling your apartment, taking a walk through your favorite park, or having coffee with a good friend. As simplistic as it may sound, it is important to identify as many of these “happy triggers” as possible when you are in a good space. In times of distress, this list may become your most powerful weapon against negative emotions.
Turn off the phone. And the computer, the iPad, and all the other devices that prevent you from being fully present in the moment.
Turn off the phone. And the computer, the iPad, and all the other devices that prevent you from being fully present in the moment. Is Facebook bringing you down? As Theodore Roosevelt said, comparison is the thief of joy. If you are not in a good place emotionally or unhappy with your circumstances, scrolling through everyone else’s highly skewed online reflections of their seemingly perfect lives may only serve to make you feel worse about yours. Here’s an idea: deactivate your Facebook page (you could always reactivate it later). A technology detox, even for a day, can do wonders.
2. GIVE UNTO OTHERS
We all know the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Why not take this a step further and give unto others without any expectation of return? Whether it’s volunteering for a cause you care about or doing one deed a day that makes you feel good about yourself while bringing joy to another human being, doing for others can lift your spirits tremendously. During the holiday season especially, it’s not uncommon to hear stories about strangers giving to strangers—a customer at a coffee shop paying for the breakfast of the person next in line, for example. If you believe in karma, paying it forward may serve you—and even if you don’t, you will benefit from the positive feelings brought on by serving others. And others around you will benefit, and others around them, and so on.
1. BEGIN A MEDITATION PRACTICE
If you do not already have a practice, you may want to think about starting one. Though Eastern cultures have embraced meditation for centuries, westerners are finally catching on. Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to be effective tools in fighting anxiety, depression, as well as a multitude of other issues, and have been the key to greater joy and well-being for many. Think you don’t have the time or the discipline? Find a group of like-minded peers. This way, you will be accountable to one another. Even if it’s only 10 minutes a day, it’s something. You don’t even need to have a formal practice. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, at any time. Have a long commute to work? Perfect opportunity to meditate—nobody even has to know you’re doing it. There are many online resources for beginners and seasoned meditators alike.
Wishing you a year of greater mental health and happiness!
Foster, R. & Hicks, G. (2004). How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People – Their Secrets, Their Stories. New York, NY: Perigee Books.
Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation.Psychiatry (Edgmont), 7(11), 18–22.
This article was originally published on GoodTherapy.