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"Happy New Year!" Every January 1, in a blur of champagne and party chatter, we toss out those three little words like so much glittering confetti. They’re as much a staple of the annual milestone as Dick Clark and the Times Square ball. But how many of us take the time to think about what the phrase truly means? What is happiness, anyway? What does it look like? And—most important of all—how can we achieve it?
Todd Patkin thinks he has the answer to this question.
“We’re all longing for happiness,” says Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011). “We think we can achieve it by losing 10 pounds or kicking a bad habit or making more money, and that’s why we vow to do those things year after year after year.
“But I’ve found that true happiness isn’t about those kinds of achievements,” he adds. “Instead, it comes down to learning to love yourself. And there are some very specific things you can start to do now to move in that direction.”
If you get the feeling that our nation’s overall happiness level is deteriorating, you’re right. According to a 2007 Reuter’s.com article, a study done by Italian researchers found that Americans are less happy these days than they were 30 years ago. Culprits include longer working hours and a decline in social relationships.
Patkin has struggled with depression and anxiety for much of his life. In his book he details his own journey to happiness, from his fretful childhood to his rocky college experience to the emotional turmoil that marked the intensive years he spent growing his family auto parts business to, most recently his philanthropic endeavors.
While Patkin admits that everyone’s path is different, he believes the real key for all of us is self-love. When we can stop beating ourselves up over our mistakes and start celebrating all the things we do right, we can finally be happy. We must change the way we think about ourselves, and for some of us that’s a major journey—but the good news is there are some specific shortcuts that will get us there faster.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve come up with 10 simple things people can do to become happier in 2014,” he says. “You don’t have to do all of them at once—just focus on the three or four that resonate most with you and do those.”
“You can decide that 2014 is the year you will finally make exercise a part of your life,” he says. “Even a 20-minute walk every other day is great for both your body and mind if you do it consistently. And the good news is you can do it with your spouse or kids—and spending more time with them is another shortcut to happiness.”
“The American work ethic has made our country great, but it has also made us chronically unhappy,” says Patkin. “Many of us have a we’re-never-good-enough-or-doing-enough mindset that’s antithetical to happiness. It’s not easy to change these ingrained thought patterns, but it can be done. And becoming aware of this tendency is the first step.”