In January, we hear ‘New Year, New Me’, we hear many resolutions: ‘I will go to the gym more’, ‘I will have a better diet’, ‘I will go on Grindr less’, ‘I will drink less’, and so on.
Those resolutions quickly become yet another thing on your to-do list, and then you beat yourself up for not doing them. Does it sound familiar?
At this time of year, my clients often ask: ‘If making resolutions are unhelpful, what can I do to have a better year?’ I respond that what might be useful is to move away from an action-based thinking to a being-based thinking. Of course, what we do is important but a state of happiness and success is also a ‘being’ experience.
The essential ingredient for a happier year is joy.
Joy is essentially a ‘being’ state. Firstly, I invite you to think back at 2017: what did you do that made you feel good about yourself? What did you do that you loved?
You may be tempted to think about the big things like an important achievement at work, for example. If it made you feel good about yourself then and still making you feel good now when you think about it, that’s great. But your source of joy last year may not have been anything to do with achievements. For example, you may have purchased a new rug, and each time you look at it, you feel good. Or perhaps you had a great time with an old friend and when you call up the memory it brings a smile to your face.
Picture: Silva Neves
I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the joy of 2017: for some people, joy is staying in bed late on Sundays. For others, it is enjoying an impromptu glass of wine with a best friend. Or perhaps joy for you is your boyfriend taking the time to give you an orgasm.
Once you have reflected on 2017, you can start to draw a joy-based plan for 2018.
Not enjoying your job doesn’t mean that you have to change your career. What it means is that in 2018 you can focus on joyful things outside of work: if you have a hobby that you love, do more of it. If you don’t have a hobby, find one in 2018. If joy for you is connections with friends, see friends more. My clients who made a joy-based plan tell me: ‘I spend more time reading novels on weekends and that makes me happy’ others say: ‘I spend more time with my favorite friends and that brings me joy’. Others say: ‘I took up painting and it’s a new hobby that makes me feel good’. And others say: ‘I found a sexual partner who is really looking after my sexual pleasure and that makes me happy’.
We are all different, going to pilates can be a source of joy for one person and hell for another. Why listen to what society tells us we ‘should’ be doing to be happier? Going to the gym five times a week, eating blueberries, meditating every morning… These actions alone seldom bring joy, unless they are something you love doing.
Of course, a good diet and exercise is crucial for health and well-being, but you don’t need to adopt a regime that you find tough: it is unlikely that you will stick to it. Denying yourself the piece of pizza you really want because it doesn’t agree with your workout goals is truly joyless.
Many people do joyless things because they are driven by an underlying fear of being worthless. I encourage you to be mindful with your ‘should’ and ‘must’ thinking. Some are useful, for example, you definitely ‘should’ go to work even when you don’t want to. And you ‘should’ be polite even when you’re irritated. But who says you ‘should’ drink a kale smoothie every morning? ‘Must’ you really wake up at 5.30am to go to the gym when your body tells you it needs a rest?
All of us, of all health statuses, all body shapes, all lifestyles, we are all worthy of leading a joyful life. Being kind to yourself and others brings much joy.
Gratitude is another element that can bring you joy in your life. Sometimes I ask my clients to write three things they are grateful for every day. It can be anything from an existential gratitude: ‘I’m grateful for being alive,’ to a practical gratitude: ‘I’m grateful for my boiler not breaking down this winter’. Focusing on gratitude is a good way to get away from the stress of ‘not having’ towards being mindful of the things that you do have.
Well-being, self-care and a successful year isn’t always about what we do and what we achieve. It is primarily about taking on a new philosophy of ‘being’, focusing on joy: what you love, what makes you happy, what makes you feel good about yourself.
My challenge for you is to bring more joy into your life. Notice how different you can feel about yourself. You might also notice that the to-do list, the career goals, and so forth, become easier to achieve when you have a joyful life. If you start with the ‘being’ you can be a more productive ‘doer’: full circle.
I wish you all a happy, successful and joyful 2018.