Have you made a worthy but unpleasant resolution for 2018, like eating more leafy greens, drinking less delicious wine, or cutting back on fun but financially unsound impulse spending? If so, let me guess: you're probably already struggling. Don't feel bad. The vast majority of people do.
One solution, if you have a truly bad habit that needs breaking, is to get smarter about how you go about changing your life. It turns out, that old standby willpower is a terrible tool for forming new habits.
The alternative, if your life is in decent shape to start with, is to change your resolution. Rather than commit to a sensible but dreary goal, here's a change you can easily make to your life that science says will make you much happier -- start a new hobby.
A feel good resolution that's not a cop out
This is the kind of resolution that's easy to get behind. Who wouldn't enjoy more time knitting, singing, surfing, or whatever other pastime you think will make you smile? But research shows that this feel good resolution isn't at all a cop out. Making time for a new hobby is likely to not only make you happier, but also make you more productive at work (and might even win you a few new friends).
I've covered the science of how hobbies boost professional performance often before, but on The Cut recently Susie Neilson penned a great new entry in the genre of 'Why You Should Really Get a Hobby' blog posts. Her argument is based on the work of Duke psychologist Patricia W. Linville, who studies "self-complexity."
What's that? "How a human sorts the many traits, roles, and other identity markers that make up him- or herself," explains Neilson. Or basically, how we adopt and switch between different versions of ourselves, from peppy PTA mom to no nonsense business woman to goofy ex-college roommate to volleyball ace.
And apparently, Linville finds that the more of these personas and layers you have, the happier and more resilient you'll be. Neilson lays out the science:
She has found that the narrower a person's vision of their "self" is, the more prone they are to depression and anxiety. For instance, Linville writes, consider a woman who thinks about her life mainly in terms of her career and her relationship to her husband. If her husband says something dismissive, half of her "self" takes a hit. If her boss issues her a harsh reprimand, again, that's an attack on 50 percent of her identity.
On the other hand, someone who considers themselves in a variety of lights -- as a mother, sister, doctor, surfer, crossword-puzzle wiz, etc. -- has less emotional dependence on any single one of these identity "baskets." Thus, if this person faces a professional setback or deals with a difficult breakup, they will be able to weather it more steadily, and get back on their feet more quickly.
Hobbies are great way to start down the road to this coveted quality of self-complexity. That means a cookie baking mania or mountain biking obsession isn't just a great way to get in the flow, reduce stress, recharge your creative batteries, and do better at work, it also will fundamentally make you a better, tougher person.
So if you're searching for an easy but still wildly impactful New year's resolution (don't worry, it's not too late), picking up a new hobby just might be the idea for you. Quartz even has good tips on how to find the time to do it no matter how busy you are.
Or, if you're fully booked up on hobbies but are still in the market for a joyful New Year's resolution, here are some additional ideas.