Between horrifying statistics like that and the rough treatment we all just got at the hands of 2016, you just might conclude that 2017 is largely out of your hands. Maybe the universe will smile on your with a great year, or maybe it'll cackle and kick you in the butt again.
It's an understandable conclusion, but it's also wrong. While nothing can make changing your life a walk in the park, science has uncovered a handful of techniques that can definitely make it easier. Use these ideas below to start moving yourself in the right direction and it's within your power to make 2017 your best year yet.
1. Imagine your perfect day.
What should you do if your current job isn't right for you but you're not at all sure what job is? Many people take a data centric approach thinking about factors like salary, strengths, and job outlook. Others simply opt to daydream about what will make them feel successful or accomplished. Neither is probably the best approach (though, of course, practical considerations have their place).
What's a better way? Put questions of status aside and instead of imagining what you want to do in the abstract, imagine your perfect day in detail. Where are you? An office? A national park? A foreign boardroom? What's your schedule like? What makes you happy that day? Then start to try to reverse engineer your way towards that experience.
2. Launch lots of little experiments.
If you've completed the ideal day exercise above and you know roughly what you're aiming for, congrats! You now have a goal for a better life. That's essential but also potentially terrifying. People often believe they need to make a radical break or big decision to break with the past and then become paralyzed by fear. Instead, experts suggest you opt for many little experiments to inch your way towards your new vision for your life.
Think you want to be a writer? Write one essay and post it online and see how it goes. Interested in a radically different career path? Shadow someone working in your target job for a day or a week and see how you like the experience. By launching many such pilot projects you both hedge your bets and create a myriad of small learning experiences for yourself, which helps you course correct and figure out what you really want and the right path to get you there.
3. Volunteer to boost happiness.
There are a million and one science-backed happiness hacks out there, from redesigning your commute to spending more time in nature (and no doubt you'll benefit from trying any of these that strikes your fantasy), but one intervention might just beat them all when it comes to the size of the well-being boost you can expect: helping others.
4. Search out awe.
Stress kills the joy of life, so what kills stress? The science around the question is a little complicated (for example, studies show that simply thinking differently about stress might lessen its impact), but one thing is consistently clear: more awe tends to lead to less stress.
So seek out opportunities to feel dwarfed by something much bigger than yourself and your problems, such as gazing at the night sky, hiking through inspiring landscapes, reading up on the mysteries and grandeurs of physics, or even checking out an awe-inspiring YouTube video if you're stuck at your desk.
5. Quit complaining and count your blessings instead.
Complaining and gratitude are two sides of the same coin, according to science. Whichever you choose to engage in, your brain will quickly get better at. So if you're constantly negative, you'll soon excel at spotting problems and deficiencies, while if you make it a point to regularly count your blessings, you'll teach your brain to tune into all the good in the world. Which stance do you think will make for a happier 2017?
(As a corollary to this, you really might want to consider ditching the constant complainers in your life. Not only are they making your miserable, but they might also be killing you - literally.)
Happy New Year!