Six ways to make 2021 a happier new year
Let's cut to the chase: 2020 was a really hard year. You want 2021 to be much, much better. But you cannot depend on external circumstances to create improvements - they might or they might not. What you can control is how you approach your near and dear and how you take steps to improve your own - and the world's - wellbeing and happiness.
This is not a plea to ignore what is legitimately upsetting and out of whack but to give you the peace of mind and strength to contemplate those issues effectively and constructively. So, the six ways to improve your wellbeing are:
1. Understand that the journey toward happiness and serenity is just that -- a road trip that takes time and leads you through hills and valleys on an adventure of discovery. Remember, happier people don't necessarily have fewer stressful or unhappy circumstances than gloomier folks, it is how they proceed, still making time to think about and help others, still engaged in what interests them, finding joy in the challenge and moving forward.
2. Practice being present. Don't stew over past slights or hurts - or possible future obstacles or worries. Think about your here and now. Psychologists from the University of Palo Alto suggest you take a few minutes to notice five things that you see, four things that you feel, three things that you hear, two things that you smell and one thing that you taste - and then proceed with your day. Another cool technique: Take time to observe and control your breathing with five minutes of yogic deep breathing. Breathe in to the count of four, feeling your lungs inflate and your torso expand; then for a count of four to eight, slowly exhale pushing the air out from the bottom of your lungs first, contracting your torso as you exhale. Repeat several times.
3. Ask questions, listen to the answers. When you hear and find connection with other folks - even those with whom you may disagree - you build the foundation for feeling more at home, and consequently happier, in the world around you. And you make them feel more comfortable too.
4. Express gratitude. When you let someone know they're appreciated for what they've done, it reinforces their commitment to acts of kindness and improves their self-esteem and happiness. Expressing your gratitude to others also benefits you: It activates brain areas that help you make decisions, express emotions and feel empathy. It also reduces bodywide inflammation and improves sleep quality and mood. Erratic, too-short or disturbed sleep (snoring, apnea, insomnia) directly damage your emotional wellbeing, making you more easily angered, upset or saddened.
5. Decide to take steps to make the world a better place through volunteering to help others either online or in person. (You'll be surprised that it is a lot easier to stick to this kind of resolution than all those "eat less, exercise more" promises that you probably have already forgotten.) According to a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, if you willingly help other folks, you are rewarded with a sense of autonomy (you have independent power), competence (you can effectively achieve what you want) and relatedness (you are connected to others - an essential need to achieve happiness). A win for you and the world.
6. Rely on the ol' reliable techniques for self-improvement - getting regular physical activity and eating a nutritious diet. Research published in Perspectives in Psychological Science found that consistent exercise and not smoking are strongly correlated with being happy. Ditto with healthful food choices (most high-sugar comfort foods do not provide real comfort in the long run). A study in the journal Scientific Reports examined the correlation with 14 main food categories and found that eating vegetables provided folks with the greatest in-the-moment bump of happiness.
So have a great 2021 by applying at least one enjoyable new approach to living to each new day.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.