How about resolving simply to be happier?
Meet Mike Erwin, one of the most mindfully optimistic people I know. He's a soldier and combat veteran who came back home to study positive psychology at the University of Michigan and teach at West Point. He's also the CEO of the Character & Leadership Center, and coauthor of the upcoming book, Lead Yourself First.
For the second year in a row, I've asked Mike to share some of his insights into the habits we can adopt in the new year to achieve worthy goals. This year, he's tackled one of the most central things we all want--greater happiness.
Here's Mike's advice:
One of the most powerful findings of positive psychology research is that our sense of purpose and life satisfaction isn't about us. It's about what we do with, and for, other people.
Ironically, it's the very intentional pursuit of happiness (i.e. to feel good in the moment that often makes us unhappy.)
So as we approach that time of year when we resolve to make the new year better than the last, I'd encourage you to focus on two things in 2017: Relationships, and service.
Simplify your lens: What am I doing with, and for, others?
Martin Luther King Jr. put it best: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for other people?"
Our society encourages us to focus on individual needs, accomplishments and desires. Reflecting on that, I have challenged myself to track and chart how I spend my time during 2017--and to make a deliberate effort to increase the time I spend connecting with people and serving others.
In that spirit, I'd like to extend the opportunity to you as well. Regardless of your political beliefs, your age, income, religion, how busy you are and just about any other criteria, here are some concrete ways that you can make 2017 a more fulfilling year:
1. Bridge the age gap.
Find a nearby nursing home or rehabilitation home and resolve to stop in one day. Ask the people at the front desk how you can get involved as a visitor--almost all will welcome your visits.
This requires your time and the willingness to sit down with senior citizens, many of whom have few visitors to keep them company in their waning years of life.
2. Resolve to be more "heads-up."
Research shows we've become addicted to our phones. So, resolve to break your phone addiction, and spend more time in meaningful dialogue with others.
Identify a place in your house where you systematically place your phone, to defeat the temptation of checking it every 10 minutes. This will free you up to be more present with people.
3. Give blood on your birthday.
Did you know that you can donate blood six times every year? If you don't want to donate that often, you celebrate your life and give blood during the week of your birthday.
Whether needles terrify you or not, dedicate your effort to a loved one who has passed away.
4. Ask insightful questions--and listen to the answers.
Choose several people you work with and invite them for coffee or meal, where you have a dedicated time that lets you ask them about their lives. Don't just ask how their weekends went; probe a bit and get the bigger picture.
People want to tell their stories, but you often need to ask them first. (Murphy suggestion: Here's an old reporter/interviewer's trick: If you want to signal to people that you truly want to hear what they have to say, ask them variations of the same question three times.)
5. Shed your stuff.
The one-year rule is easy. Sort through all your clothes. Donate everything that you haven't worn in over a year. There are many organizations that will happily receive these items and put them to good use.
6. Turn off the TV!
Turn off the TV and read. Identify several books that you've owned for a while, but haven't made time for yet.
The average American watches 30-35 hours of television per week, but only reads a few book each year. Books often help us better understand ourselves, one another and the world---which can help us grow our relationships with each other.
There are over 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the United States; find one or two that resonate with you. Then spend some time researching how you can get involved.
(You might consider opportunities with a couple of especially apt nonprofits: The Positivity Project or Team Red, White & Blue, both of which Mike launched after he got home from Afghanistan and Iraq.)
8. Do a digital cleanse.
Carve out some time on your social media accounts and review what people and organizations you follow or like. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Does this bring me joy?
- Does this motivate me to do something with purpose?
- Does this inspire me?
- Does it highlight for me a real situation that I like to keep I fully aware of and perhaps help the cause?
If not: ask yourself why you allow something draining to take up any real estate in your mind and heart.
9. Harness social media for good.
It's time to drown out the outrage with positivity. We are more prone to share things that outrage us, than things that make us laugh or inspire us. While there are plenty of problems in the world, there is a lot more good than bad.
So, share your experiences and service with others; not to highlight your efforts, but to inspire and challenge others to live more intentionally in 2017. Say no to celebrity gossip articles and yes to more real conversations with people.
Let's start to bring it back to the basics in 2017. As the world around us becomes more complex and uncertain, we can find peace and happiness in simple activities that focus on building better relationships and serving others. By following some of these ideas above, your actions will help others---and just as important, help you.