(Mindfulness)

How To Set Yourself Up For Happiness In The New Year

Don’t worry, be happy.

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The cliché “Don’t worry, be happy” is about as simplistic and cheesy as it gets, right? It also seems like an unrealistic way to deal with actual feelings of distress, sadness, or simple indifference. That said, experts say this silly little adage is not so silly after all. Yes, apparently you really can set yourself up for happiness by making a few mindset shifts.

“Happiness is a feeling of contentment and well-being that is often a result of our state of mind,” Andrea Wachter, psychotherapist, author, and meditation teacher, tells TZR. “Some people are very happy and have life circumstances that others might view as very challenging while others have what might be seen as a ‘charmed life,’ yet they are very unhappy or even depressed. So our level of happiness often has more to do with our internal state.”

But does it work like a switch that we can turn on and off? Not necessarily. “Anyone with the ability to question, and upgrade, their thoughts has the potential to raise their level of contentment,” says Wachter. “But in order to do so, we have to become aware of the thoughts that are causing unhappiness — and be willing to challenge and change them.”

So instead of looking at happiness like a switch we can simply turn on and off, it’s more like a dimmer switch that will take effort on our part. “Those who ‘become’ happy understand that happiness is a choice made daily,” adds Keischa Pruden, therapist and owner of Pruden Counseling Concepts. “Happiness is not necessarily a destination, but a choice you make before you start on your journey.”

Ahead, mental health experts weigh in on how we can rewire ourselves for happiness in the New Year.

Ask Yourself What Makes You Happy

“First, you can assess your own emotional state by being honest and asking yourself, ‘What makes me happy?’” says Pruden. “Be honest with yourself about what makes your soul happy and what brings you joy that you can actually feel in your physical body, as well as in your inner being. If the answers are fluid — depending on your mood, situation, or treatment received by others — then you can be easily swayed by external mechanisms.” In this case, she says happiness is a surface-level activity. However, you may realize your happiness is more tied to your inner awareness of yourself, so it focuses more on internal controls than external ones.

In either case, Pruden says to engage in the activities, or reinforce thoughts, that support your sense of happiness. For example, if it’s tied to external factors, this can mean being more social; if it’s tied to internal factors, it can mean meditating more.

See If You Can Change Any Causes Of Your Unhappiness

“On your happiness journey, see if you can change any of the situations that are leading to your unhappiness,” says Wachter. Is your job making you unhappy? Your relationship? A friend or roommate? Even if you cannot afford to quit a bad job, perhaps you can ask to switch departments while you look for new work. But if you do not know the source of your unhappiness, it will be difficult to change it.

Change Your Thoughts Around Your Unhappiness

Whether or not you can change, or eliminate, the cause of your unhappiness, you still have to pay attention to your thoughts surrounding your mindset. “The very same thoughts that make us unhappy can be changed,” says Wachter. “So become aware of the soundtrack running in your mind. Are there all-or-nothing thoughts? Hopeless thoughts? Catastrophic thoughts?” She says these types of thinking will likely lead to unhappiness, so becoming aware of the nature of them — and upgrading them whenever possible — can help.

Wachter also says that chronically negative thoughts can be upgraded to grateful or appreciative ones. So instead of complaining about your job, you can reframe your thinking and be grateful you have a job (and have the skills to find a new one).

“Additionally, you can quiet the mind through mindfulness and meditation practices,” she says. This way, you switch your focus and just hone in on the calming present moment. “And self-berating thoughts can be shifted to more self-empathic ones,” she explains. Perhaps you berate yourself about job skills you lack, but once you start to think of ones you excel in, it’ll turn your thought process, and happiness (or lack thereof), around.

Take Care Of Your Body, Which Is Linked To Your Mind

Many studies have found a clear connection between our bodies and minds, and vice-versa. To that end, Wachter says it’s important to make sure you are caring for your body like you would care for a loved one. “This means making sure you are nourished and hydrated, balancing screen time with nature and human connection, doing things that lift your spirits, getting sufficient rest, and moving your body in ways you enjoy,” she explains.

She adds that kind self-talk can help, too. Instead of your inner monologue thinking, “I can’t do anything right,” refocus and say, “I can do so many things right” (and name the things). “We need respectful self-care, and while these won’t deliver constant happiness (which is unrealistic anyway!), they can ensure more peace-of-mind and well-being.”

Remove Mental, Spiritual, & Psychological Clutter

“I think people can become happier by removing mental, spiritual, and psychological clutter,” Mental Health Motivator James Nicholas Kinney tells TZR. “Getting into a ‘flow state’ can help with this since it is neurochemically induced by movement.” You get into ‘the flow’ while doing a certain activity, and it brings you extreme focus and enjoyment.

This can apply to nearly anything, from work tasks to meditating to doing some uninterrupted reading. “Put aside anything else that is distracting you — the mental, spiritual, and psychological clutter — and just focus on the task at hand,” he says. “Soon, you’ll get into a flow and won’t even miss those distractions.”

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Set Specific Happiness Goals

Kinney adds that the more specific you can be about your happiness goals, the better. “A person's aim should be sustainability versus the peak — endurance, not sprints,” he says. “A successful start requires a simple and detailed plan. Sustainability equals happiness because humans are habitual by nature, for better or worse. So what is the simplest execution of your happy?”

Kinney says to practice mindfulness and become aware of what is, or is not, making you happy. He says this is highly personal and can be as simple as dancing to three songs each day, eating something green every day, or taking 10 deep breaths at a certain point each day — or throughout the day to quell any unexpected bouts of anxiety. “These micro-habits are actually huge,” Kinney explains. “You can build a skyscraper off of these types of foundations, and you can keep up the habits during your down days, too, to lift you back up.”

Enlist A Happiness Accountability Partner

“Waking up every day and determining to have a joyful mindset can be a difficult path to embrace, especially with so much going on in everyday life,” Pruden explains. “That’s why it can be helpful to enlist an accountability partner, who can help encourage you to think more positively throughout the day.” This person can also help you keep up with any happiness goals you’ve set for yourself.

“If lack of joy is affecting your everyday life, it can be helpful to seek professional help, too, via a therapist,” she says. “Often, the objective perspective of a mental health professional is pivotal in giving a person ‘inner permission’ to be happy, especially if they think they do not deserve to be.”

Remember That No One Is Happy All The Time

“None of us can ensure that any emotion will last for a certain period of time,” says Wachter. “Ironically, thinking that we are supposed to be happy all the time is one of the reasons that so many people are unhappy. It’s a set-up for dissatisfaction, like thinking the weather should be 70 degrees with a light breeze every day. And we suffer when we think it should be.”

Instead, she says to seek ongoing states of peace, acceptance, presence, and self-compassion. “Regardless of how you feel, practice excellent self-care, too,” she says. “I once heard someone say that the seven most damaging words on the planet are ‘and they all lived happily ever after.’ This type of fairy tale thinking leads so many people to suffer. Just do the best you can.”