11 New Year's resolutions worth keeping in 2013

Our happiness blogger puts a new spin on resolutions by making a list of dos instead of don'ts!

Lake, mountains, BC, red turtleneck, hunter boots
After I looked back at the happiest news stories of 2012 — a well-timed/ill-timed post given the events in Connecticut that day — it got me mulling about 2013 and what this this New Year will bring. What do I want this year? More happiness? Sure!

And whether that happiness comes in the form of dropping the 15 pounds you’ve promised yourself you’d lose every year for the last decade, or that you’ll simply start walking more, the point of resolutions are to make yourself feel good about what you’ve done, not punishing yourself.

Given I’m of the belief that we’re in charge of our own destinies, here are 11 positive resolutions to consider in 2013:

1. Focus more on your kids
Like many parents across North America, the events in Sandy Hook have had me holding my own two kids that much tighter recently. I’ve been practising more patience and less drill sergeant-like behaviour to get them out the door to events and am just generally focused on them more. (Read: less time fooling around on my iPhone, more time actually listening to what my pint-sized twosome has to say.) While that terrible event has me practising more gratitude for the two healthy children I do have, I think this kind of focus can help boost our family’s happiness for the coming year.

2. Wear more colours
Sounds trite and trivial I know. But after speaking with Dr. Carole Kanchier, a Calgary-based registered psychologist about colours and mood, I figure it’s an easy mood-boost that’s not too taxing to incorporate into my life. I think I’ll start with my new colour-block sweater…

3. Treat your friends more
While I love the #kindcycle action that’s going on and the random cups of coffee people are buying for each other in line ups at Timmy’s, Ryan Howell, PhD, director of the The Personality and Well-Being Lab has me thinking about the importance and the happiness kickback we get from treating our friends to meals, coffees or experiences. “When people spend their money on life experiences, they report that they are happier with that purchase when they reflect on it,” he says.

4. Think more about intent
That driver didn’t mean to cut me off right? He’s just trying to get to work on time. And that woman that raced her grocery cart past me? I’m sure she wasn’t actually trying to beat me to the check out.

My interview with Kurt Gray, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, and researcher in the area of good intentions and positive life experiences, resonated with me. His research discovered that how we perceive other people’s intentions affect how we experience the world. And if I don’t assume that all strangers are out to cut me off, let go of a door in my face or push past me on the sidewalk, well, I might be happier for it.

5. Eat better
For happiness, not necessarily for health. While the New Year always kicks off with healthier eating resolutions, I’m hoping this year’s shift to eating more plant-based foods, avoiding processed foods and incorporating healthy fats has a happiness pay off.

6. Do a self-assessment…
In all areas of your life suggests Louise Veres, an Oakville-based life coach. “There might be categories such as health and wellness and personal growth and learning, relationships, career romance. Give yourself a satisfaction rating out of 10 in each area then look at where you’re at,” she explains. Then take those areas where you scored lower and start forming your positive resolutions for the coming year from there.

7. Go on Facebook (yes, you read that correctly!)
Better yet, go out and have a coffee with old friends — after all, Craig Olsson, an associate professor with Australia’s Deakin University recently uncovered that happiness in our adult years is built in part by the friendships we have as children and teens. The friendships we form as kids help us discover who we are by exploring, testing and comparing our values. These are “prosocial values” says Olsson that help maintain our positive relationships across the life course.

8. Show your love
Demonstrating your love for not only your partner, but others close to you, can have big happiness payoffs. A study from the University of California shows that people in intimate relationships and who are appreciative of their partners are in healthier, happier, and longer-lasting relationships compared to people who demonstrate less appreciation.

9. Be kinder to strangers
You’ll get a happiness kickback, we promise. “Every morning and evening, find someone new or someone you don’t see often and say good morning or good evening,” suggests Joseph R. Ferrari, a professor of psychology at St. Vincent de Paul and author of Still Procrastinating? The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done. “In fact, say this to someone you see who is homeless and asking for help on the street. Sure they want money, but return to them their dignity as a human that you see them and recognize they are alive.”

10. Brood less
Why is it that seniors are happier than younger folks? Because they don’t hang onto grudges and brood less over things. A 2012 German study found that as we age, we ruminate less over minor conflicts, giving us greater life satisfaction. But how can we kick the angry memory of the guy who cut you off this morning? “Activities are one of the best ways to change thinking styles,” says Stefan Sütterlin, a researcher with the study at the University of Luxembourg. “So socializing, exercising, new experiences, new interests, hobbies, travelling, etc will all enable one to make new experiences and interrupt the otherwise never-ending cycle of negative thoughts.”

11. Volunteer more
Helping others gives us a boost of satisfied happiness. Although as Dr. Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine at New York’s Stony Brook University, notes, we should always volunteer with passion.  Focus on an area that’s meaningful to you and use your talents to bring people together in appreciation Post suggests.

How to be Happy: 50 Extraordinary Revelations For more happiness articles get Chatelaine’s How to be Happy: 50 Extraordinary Revelations on Love, Life, Lattes & Summer Camp, $4.99, on Kobo or iTunes.