According to clinical psychologist Sarah Sarkis, PhD, a member of the Performance Advisory Board for human performance brand Exos, happiness follows action. "Happiness can’t be captured. It’s not a destination. It’s an experience, a moment in time," she says. "Once you try to achieve happiness or chase it down or own it in any way, it’s gone. Instead of focusing on being happy, invest in the process of doing things that bring you happiness. You can’t hunt for happiness directly. You have to find it through secondary means like deep fulfillment, intimate connection, and services to others."
Feeling inspired to actively spark your own happiness? Ahead, Dr. Sarkis and Meghan Marcum, PhD, chief psychologist at AMFM Healthcare, offer up the best ways to access fulfillment, connection, and well-being. Happy (happiest) new year!
5 beginning of the year happiness tips straight from psychologists
1. Set short-term goals for yourself
Rather than going all-in on resolutions, Dr. Marcum is all about setting snackable goals that you can feel awesome about achieving. "When we set realistic goals it helps motivate us to achieve them which in turn boosts our mental health. Give yourself credit for partially meeting the goal and think about how goal setting can impact your job, relationships, and self-care this year," she says. For example, maybe you decide you want to try one week of sustainable cooking, or three straight days of yoga. Whatever you choose, ticking off this small win will offer you a boost of happiness and satisfaction.
2. Fix broken boundaries
Setting boundaries is no cakewalk. Every day, your family, colleagues, and (gestures widely) the world ask for parts of you. While you may find it fulfilling to help out here and there, Dr. Sarkis says that setting boundaries is also key to your mental health and well-being. "Here’s how to scale back: Observe where you are overextended. Is it related to difficulty saying no, people-pleasing, FOMO, avoidance of something else at home, or in your relationship? You have to protect your free time or it will inevitably get lost in the mayhem of work-life balance issues," she says.
3. Double down on sleep
Surprise, surprise: Sleep has a major influence on your mood and well-being, says Dr. Sarkis. "Without adequate sleep, you will forever be stuck in the reactionary patterns that govern your unconscious habits. And one of the first things to atrophy when we are chronically sleep deprived is our mood regulation. To improve it, you need to emphasize quality, quantity, and consistency. All three factors matter in repairing long-held patterns of chronic sleep disruption," she explains. As if we all needed one more reason to prioritize shut-eye, consider this it.
4. Move your body (even just a little)
"Aim for 15 minutes [of movement] twice a day," says Dr. Sarkis. "For an added boost, do it outside to get sunlight therapy at the same time (two for the price of one). Who doesn’t love a BOGO? It doesn’t require a huge time commitment in order to get the mood boost from movement either." If you do decide to squeeze in your feel-good, endorphin-boosting exercise outside, just make sure you also apply your SPF.
15 minutes, coming right up:
5. Sit still
Both Dr. Sarkis and Dr. Marcum emphasize that a mindfulness-slash-stillness practice can have revolutionary effects on your happiness levels. "The biggest ROI in terms of cost, time, and outcome, by far, is a stillness or meditation practice of some sort," says Dr. Sarkis. "[Mindfulness] is proven to increase mood, improve sleep, decrease anxiety, and create more sustainable focus and concentration." If you're struggling to start a meditation practice, Dr. Marcum recommends thinking of things you're grateful for, then extending feelings of kindness out to others. This is sometimes called loving-kindness meditation, and it can be an easy access point for people who struggle with sitting still.
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