Winter is a hard time for many of us. It’s so hard to find ways to be happier when (if you’re anything like me) you’re spending half the time dreaming about a beach somewhere on the coast. And the other half you’re trying to get that dang staticky hair to stay out of your face! Trust me, I feel you!
But despite all that, the time is quickly approaching to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions and who we want to become over the next year. And as I was thinking about my own list I couldn’t get help but think that every one of my “wishes” could boil down to just one thing. I want to be happy. I just want to have a happier 2020 than 2019 was. Not that this past year was bad! But it did feel like I just kind of live through it, instead of living in it. Do you know what I mean?
So I’ve put together a list of 20 things that we can do to make sure we have a happier new year. And as you know me, I had to include a couple scientific reasons why those 20 things can help.
#1 – Practice the Pause
Practicing the pause means finding little moments in each day to just be still. To listen to the sounds around you, feel the breeze in your hair, taste the snowflakes on your tongue, and smell your food burning on the stove. Kidding! (I hope) The pause is a moment in your day where you aren’t judging yourself or anyone else. During this time, you are simply observing, enjoying, and being fully present in that moment. It could be five seconds, it could be five minutes. Whatever it is, just allow yourself to “be”. This allows your brain to take a break and slow down.
#2 – Set healthy boundaries
Now I know, I know. We’ve all heard it before. The power of saying “no”! That’s not what I mean by boundaries. What I mean here is to understand when you need a break and then to stand up for that. When you are tired and hungry by there is a whole house to clean, get yourself some food first! When your husband has been off in his own world and you feel like you’ve been carrying all the weight on your own, take a break. I’m not saying don’t do it, but take care of yourself too. I’ve found that the one who needs the boundaries the most is me. It’s not that I need to say “no” to my family or my friends, it’s that I need to tell myself “not right now”. I’m a much happier person for my friends and family when I’ve made my needs a priority too.
#3 – Take action
It’s easy to waste a lot of time deliberating over which shoes look better, which cleaning products work better, or which pair of jeans make you look skinnier. We want to always make the best choice – so we deliberate for hours. Sometimes even days! In 2020 I want to live a life of action, not of indecision. So what if I don’t make the best choice? Will my family be forever doomed because I picked the wrong vacuum when I went shopping? No! If I pick the wrong vacuum, will I know better what to look for next time? Probably! So let’s make 2020 a year of action. Of taking a gamble and making quick decisions, trusting that if they aren’t the best one, we’ll do better next time. And we’ll be happier knowing that the decision has been made and we can move on to other things that need our attention.
#4 – Lights out
It is AMAZING how much sleep affects our mood! If you’ve ever had a colicky newborn (or heck, any newborn!) you know exactly what I’m talking about! Lack of sleep can turn us into absolute monsters. Likewise, restless sleep can turn us into zombies. So in this new year, let’s put an end to that. The easiest way to start is to make a decision to turn the lights down in our home one hour before bed. Leave lamps on, but turn off the overhead lights creating a artificial “dusk” in our homes. This tells our bodies that it’s getting close to night time and it will start producing melatonin.
The kicker here is to try not to look at phones or a computer for the last thirty minutes before bed. This will tell your brain, “Just kidding! It’s actually still day time. See that bright light? That’s the sun” and your brain will stop producing melatonin and instead prep your brain and body for action. Which we definitely DON’T want!
#5 – Practice gratitude & forgiveness
It is astonishing the long reaching effects gratitude plays on our system. It produces one of the only chemicals in our brains known to reduce stress. When we think about and express gratitude it’s easier for our bodies to feel positive emotions. And when those emotions aren’t blocked by lingering resentment at that person who cut us off at the light, it can make for a much happier day. There’s an amazing gratitude journal on amazon that I love (no affiliate link, I just really like the journal). You can find it here if you’re interested.
#6 – Exercise!
Ok, hear me out. I don’t mean hitting the gym and I don’t mean signing up for a yoga class (though those are good things too). What I’m talking about here is just being active. Not because I want to change myself or my body, but because I want the amazing emotional and mental benefits that come with being active instead of sedentary. Do it because you want to have the extra energy to play with your kids. Or because you want to feel more confident when you walk into that board meeting. Do it for you. Not for your looks, but for you.
#7 – Create a personal vision
Now, this might sound redundant. “Anastasia, you’re telling me to make a goal to make a goal?”. Not exactly. A vision and a goal are two very different things. Goals, in an ideal world, are the steps you take to achieve a vision. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. The dream that we’re chasing. Only a vision is a bit more concrete than a dream because it actually includes steps to achieve it. Now, your vision could be far stretched, “I want my kids to graduate from Duke on an athletic scholarship”. Or it could be much more close to home like, “I can see myself beautifying our home and enjoying the little moments”. A vision needs to be something inspiring enough to get you through the hard times, but achievable enough that you can make progress towards it each week.
#8 – Let go of perfectionism
This is a hard one. I never considered myself a perfectionist, I never needed the napkins just so, or my hair just right. But I am when it comes to my expectations for myself. I want to be the “perfect mom” or “perfect wife”. But in reality, I would be a hundred times happier if I could be ok with being a “good mom” or a “good wife”. Working to improve, but loving myself in the processes.
#9 – Breath Deeply
Did you know that when your emotions spike, your brain actually turns off it’s “thinking” side and goes straight to the more primal “reacting” side? Whether we are stressed, sad, scared, etc – when our emotions get too strong, we can no longer use the logical portion of our brain. One way to switch back and be able to regain your reasoning capabilities is deep breathing. And I don’t know about you, but with a toddler and a baby, I feel like my emotions spike about 50 times a day! So this is a big one.
The kicker is that if you don’t practice this when you DON’T need it, your body won’t be able to do it when you DO. So something we have been doing is, after I finish reading one book to my girls, they remind me that I have to take a deep breath before I can start on another one. Works like a charm and insures I’m taking a dozen deep breaths a day. 😉
#10 – Be Present
Our town is reeling from the loss of a 17 year old girl who just passed away unexpectedly. The whole town has mourned for her and her family – and it has been a pointed reminder that we never know how much time we’re going to get with our loved ones. And I would hate to think that I might spend my last day with my girls on my phone half the day. . . So this last one is the most important to me. To be present. Yes, we all need to have time to introvert and scroll through facebook, but we also need to have time where we’re fully present. We will be so much happier if, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we are completely there.