I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.
For many people, New Year’s Day is a time to set a goal or resolution for the coming year. But for writer, filmmaker, and activist Susan Sontag, a prayer was a more fitting mantra for January 1. This poignant quote, published in As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, a collection of Sontag’s journals and diaries written between 1964 and 1980, captures a sense of yearning for courage to face the unknown. It’s an honest and vulnerable feeling anyone can relate to seeking the bravery and strength to press on.
It’s officially 2024!
As each New Year arrives, many of us find ourselves swept up in the excitement of a fresh start. But the potential can sometimes turn to pressure as we set grand (and often unrealistic) New Year’s resolutions. While detailing specific goals—like vowing to get healthy, cutting back on TV or social media time, and finally pursuing that big dream you’ve had—works for many, others may benefit from a different approach.
Marriage and family therapist Paula Delehanty recommends framing resolutions as practices instead of restrictions. The resolution could be, “I’m going to practice smiling more”. The emphasis is not on how can I improve myself but rather on how can I add to my happiness.
I’ve selected six science-backed practices that can help add to your happiness this year—and every year. Some you may already have on your radar, like giving back, giving thanks, and nurturing your relationships but I also suggest adding camping and hiking to your list.
1. Give back
The Greek storyteller Aesop once wrote, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”—and a new study is proof. The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, shows that small kind gestures can have a significant impact on recipients even if givers don’t typically realize it.
Researchers conducted a series of experiments involving different situations and participants. In each they studied how people perceived various small acts of kindness such as offering someone a ride home, baking them cookies, or paying for a cup of coffee. They consistently found those on the receiving end of a kind gesture appreciated it more than the giver had anticipated.
This one is a win-win for all involved. Volunteering has been linked to a longer lifespan, increased happiness, and even lower blood pressure. And research has shown that donating money activates the pleasure centers in the brain.
2. Nurture your relationships
In 1938, scientists began tracking Harvard University sophomores during the Great Depression to understand what makes for a long and happy life. Almost 80 years later, in 2017, they had their answer: “Our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” study author Dr. Robert Waldinger said at the time.
And relationships aren’t limited to only friends and family. We form them with campground staff and grocery store workers as well as with animals and the environment. It’s about connection and how genuinely we connect.
3. Give thanks
Each day, pause and take stock of your good fortune. Regularly practicing gratitude has been linked to greater social connectedness, improved physical health, and decreased stress, according to an expert in the science of gratitude at the USC Marshall School of Business. To reap the benefits of regular gratitude 13 tips are offered including keeping a gratitude journal and finding a gratitude rock.
4. Turn up the tunes
How’s that for a resolution you can keep? Science has shown that music can both positively affect our well-being and connect us to others. Neurological researchers have found that listening to music triggers the release of several neurochemicals that play a role in brain function and mental health.
Board certified music therapist Elisha Ellis Madsen suggests creating playlists to promote and encourage specific behaviors. For example, a morning playlist “that sets the tone for the day with positive and uplifting tunes,” and another to help you relax you as you prepare for bed.
She also recommends singing. The act “reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine (feel-good hormones).”
5. Hiking and biking
Exercise is great for personal health. It’s no secret that physical movement benefits the body and the mind: Exercise triggers a release of endorphins that can help alleviate some effects of anxiety and depression. Health Guide reports that physical exercise can also boost your mood, improve your sleep, and help you deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and more.
Trading in your car for a bicycle or pair of walking shoes is a simple way to increase the amount of exercise you get. Bicyclists are less prone to dying early than those individuals who do not ride, at all. At least one study found that spending one hour a day on a bike can reduce your risk of death by 18 percent. Adding an extra half an hour to your routine can drop your risk of death by nearly 28 percent.
What about walking? Simply choosing to add in some extra steps during your day can also lower your risk of death. One study found that walking can reduce the risk of death by 39 percent.
Spending time outdoors isn’t just a good way to have fun—it’s good for you. Studies show there are real health benefits to heading outdoors for an adventure. Experience the healing power of nature while camping.
After just 20 minutes connected to nature, people can experience a drop in stress hormones.
Scientists have found that when you wake up with the sun rising and go to bed when the sun goes down, your body can reset to your natural sleep cycle- providing you with your exact sleep needs.
Time in nature can increase vitality, boost your mood and increase your overall well-being.
Spending time with friends and family without the daily distractions can lead to a renewed closeness and appreciation for your loved ones.
Whether you like them or not, New Year’s resolutions are great to create a positive change in your life.