Mind Over Matter: How to Put the Happy in Happy New Year

By Marilynn Preston

January 1, 2019 6 min read

"Happy new year" landed with a thud in many households this year. I know that. You know that. And so does Dr. Tim Bono, who has focused his career on helping men and women — especially young adults tethered to social media — lead happier, more satisfying, less envious lives.

2019 will be what you make it. Even if you're way past the age of young adult, you'll benefit from Dr. Bono's research, taken from his popular course in the psychology of happiness at Washington University in St. Louis.

How do I know you'll benefit? Because people say they want to be happy, but often, they haven't a clue how to achieve it, and sustain it.

Life teaches you what doesn't make you happy; it's not money, fame, the car you drive or the square footage of your bathroom.

2019 will be ever-so-much-more pleasant if you understand that happiness is something that can be learned, like Greek but easier. It's part lifestyle, part mindset, part social connection — a way of seeing the connected universe in shades of gray-for-gratitude.

Many of the skills you'll need — mindful re-adjustments, no heavy lifting — are featured in Bono's new book "When Likes Aren't Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness."

Yes, it includes the tried-and-true — get enough sleep! Play in nature! Limit time on social media! But I've cherry-picked a few of his lesser-known findings because 2019 is just getting started, and positive psychologists like Dr. Bono see remarkable progress when people dare to practice new behaviors that make their personal path to happiness less frantic and more achievable:

GET MORE HAPPINESS FOR YOUR MONEY. What could be simpler? If you want to significantly up your happiness this year, buy experiences instead of things. And spend your money on others, not yourself.

The experience of joy way outweighs the fleeting pleasure you get from buying another pair of jeans, even if they're on sale and in a shade of blue not already hanging in your closet.

This year, instead of buying more stuff, Dr. Bono advises, have an experience. Take yourself to a dance class, or visit a museum, or let a good body worker unkink your knots.

And write this down in a part of your brain you won't forget to come back to: Your well-being will prosper when you strengthen your social connections — in real time, not online — and do something nice for another human being.

I'll bet you've heard about the importance of social connections before, but have you acted on it? Joined a book club? Volunteered to cook in a shelter? Made the effort to find a few real friends, not hundreds more fake, faux, phony Facebook friends?

STRENGTHEN YOUR WILL-POWER MUSCLES. Push-ups will build your arm strength — everyone knows that — but Dr. Bono wants you to know you can build your will-power muscles, too. Resist checking your emails or texts whenever the urge hits, as it will, 50 times a day. Instead, limit yourself to a few specific times a day to check in. Resist that overly sweetened energy bar at the checkout counter. Instead, tell yourself you'll grab something better later. Small, conscious actions taken every day is the kind of resistance training you need to make meaningful changes in 2019.

EMBRACE FAILURE. Your happiness in 2019 depends on this because, no doubt, you will face challenges, adversity, medical and spiritual blocks that knock you down. That's what resilience is all about. Why consider any kind of setback as failure when it's healthier to just see it as feedback?

"Failure is a great teacher," Bono tell his students, "helping us realize what doesn't work so we can make changes for the better."

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS. Circle this one in red, and hang it on the bathroom mirror. Comparing yourself to others is a gigantic barrier to happiness. Instead, set your own internal standards for success, and make progress based on what's realistic for you.

I know. It's a lot to take in ... and do ... and think about. Still, just start where you are. The path toward your well-being is one big do-it-yourself project —wide, long and infinitely rewarding. Start 2019 with that understanding, and be happified and inspired by the results.


"Nothing is more important for our psychological health than high-quality friendships." — Dr. Tim Bono

Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new Amazon best-seller "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being" is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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