It's no wonder that New Year's resolutions are the bain of everybody's existence this time of year.

These end-of-the-year pledges tend to be either dour commitments to do something unpleasant but healthful like paying down debt, hitting the treadmill, or eating more Brussels sprouts, or vapid self-help-type resolutions like "realize your potential!"

The latter are always unpleasant and frequently fail, while the former tend to be so vague you'd never know if you succeeded. Plus, as my colleague Steve Tobak points out, if you're a small business owner, you should probably be more concerned with (unsexy) traditional business planning.

So, for entrepreneurs, is there no way to put the optimistic impulse to improve in the coming year to use?

In fact there is, according to Christine Carter, a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. Instead of vowing not to do something bad next year, Carter suggests putting a positive spin on the end of the year resolutions ritual by opting to do more of something good.

Like what? Here are two of her examples:

Spend more time with friends. Study after study shows that we tend to be happier when we feel connected to our nearest and dearest, when we feel like we are a part of a group or a clan. Even introverts don’t like to feel lonely; this may seem like the science of the blazingly obvious, but it bears repeating. Do you frequently feel isolated or lonely? Make a resolution to routinely reach out to others.

Not sure how, or feel too busy? Join or start a group that meets regularly--maybe on the first Monday of the month, or every Friday at lunch. Some of my closest friends have come from book clubs, church groups, and standing family dinners. When we routinize our friendships, we remove the hassle of scheduling, and increase the odds that we’ll actually spend time with people we love or want to get to know better.

Everyday, find a way to give something to somebody. My favorite happiness booster is to give thanks: to a higher power for the abundance that surrounds me; to my dad for taking my kids to ice cream; to my main squeeze for all the ways he supports my work.

Equally good is to give something else--a helping hand, a compliment, a much needed $5 bill--even if it is just a tiny act of kindness. In a world that is more focused on getting than giving, a New Year’s resolution to do one kind thing each day, or to give thanks in one small way, is a pretty radical act.

These may sound like slightly airy fairy (if quite pleasant) suggestions, but science shows that adding small does of joy to your life can have big impacts not only on your mood but also on your productivity. A researcher out of Harvard, for example, has explained to Inc. how happiness makes your brain work better, while recent Harvard Business School research proves that small acts of kindness have an outsized impact on well-being. Psychologists have also shown that seeing friends is one of the simplest and more effective ways to turn around a bad mood.

The bottom line: perhaps you'll get more out of promising to be happier in 2013 than from promising to give up doughnuts or keep a tidier inbox.

Want more details or another suggested resolution? Check out Carter's complete post.

 What could you do to have a more joyful 2013?