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10 Simple Secrets for Making 2014 Your Happiest Year Yet

Posted: January 2, 2014

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“Playing to your strengths brings real happiness,” he notes. “And when you combine those strengths with a desire to do something good, it’s a double whammy. For example, if you’re a store manager with a flair for writing, and you also love animals, you might offer to pen a weekly newspaper column for a local dog or cat rescue group.”

  • Build richer relationships with loved ones. Is your marriage running on autopilot? What about your relationship with your kids? Do you come home from work and sit in front of the computer while they play in another room (or worse, watch TV)? Too many Americans fail to engage their families in a meaningful way, notes Patkin.

    “Not only do you miss out on the joy your loved ones could be bringing you, on top of that you end up feeling guilty about neglecting them,” he says. “Decide that 2014 is the year you’re going to improve these relationships. It is really about spending more time with the most important people in your life doing what they want to be doing with you.”

  • Celebrate your spouse. And speaking of your marriage … how is it? If it’s mired in negativity or characterized by bickering or tension, you’ll never be happy. (In fact, Patkin says if you’re married to a negative person who drags you down, you’d be best served by ending the union—but only if you’ve tried everything else.) The good news is that it may not take a lot of effort to dramatically change the tenor of your marriage.

    “If you’ve gotten to a place where you resent your spouse or feel chronically angry with him or her, only you can change that,” he says. “Make an effort to speak gently and kindly. Surprise her with a small gift, or do one of his chores, or pick up something special for dinner. Random acts of kindness are always powerful, and that’s even truer inside a marriage.”

  • Let the people you appreciate know it. Yes, of course you need to let your close friends and family members know how you feel about them. That’s a given. But what about your coworkers? Your barber? Your child’s teacher? The neighbor who keeps an eye on your house when you’re away? Most of us are too self-conscious to make a big fuss over the people who are sort of on the periphery of our lives but who nonetheless make a big impact—and Patkin says changing that is a key component of happiness.

    “Be generous with hugs,” he suggests. “I’ve always been a hugger, and while people may be taken aback at first, they quickly come to appreciate my openness. If you’re just not the hugging type, that’s fine: Try thank-you notes instead. Letting people know how grateful you are for what they do makes two people happy: them and you.”

  • Forgive someone who has wronged you. This is the other side of the “forgive yourself” coin. Just as you deserve a break, so do other people. And forgiveness is, at its heart, an act of self-love. If you can’t let go of pain and anger, you can’t be happy.

    “Living with your anger and resentment is a recipe for misery,” writes Patkin in Finding Happiness. “For one thing, those two emotions reverberate through your mind and body, setting up toxic thoughts, physical stress, and, yes, illness. And for what? You are the one walking around feeling miserable while the objects of your anger are often totally oblivious to your feelings.”

    The point? Resolve to forgive someone who has caused you pain. Whether you call or visit an estranged ex-friend or write a letter to a deceased parent, you may find the gesture immensely liberating.

  • Become a giver. Happiness is not about how much you make; it’s about how much you share. Your income and/or net worth has nothing to do with happiness, says Patkin. (“I’ve been wealthy and miserable at the same time, so I know,” he insists.) How much you give—of your money, your time, your self—does, however. That’s why you should find a way to share your fortune (not necessarily the monetary kind!) with others.

    “If you have good health, a sound mind, and as little as an hour a week to spare, you are truly fortunate,” he says. “Whether you’re tutoring kids who need a helping hand or delivering hot meals to the elderly, there’s great joy to be found in giving.

    “Many people know this intellectually; they’ve just never put it into practice,” he adds. “Make this the year you do it. Just give up some of the time you waste in front of the TV or mindlessly surfing the Internet. You’ll find that it’s no sacrifice at all.”

  • Take a “baby step” toward finding some faith. This year, make a conscious effort to think a little bit more about your faith, perhaps check out a few different places of worship, or maybe read a couple of spiritual books. Happy people have a connection to a Higher Power. If you aren’t sure there even is one, make this the year you do some honest exploration.

     

  • Make 2014 a year of gratitude. If you make only one change in 2014, make it this one, says Patkin: Work to be more appreciative in general. According to an August 2010 article in TheDailyBeast.com, a study by a University of California psychology professor found that grateful people are 25% happier than their ungrateful brethren. For the most part, becoming more grateful just means opening your eyes to the blessings you already have.

    “Gratitude covers a lot of territory,” he says. “When you’re grateful for your family, you’ll treat them better. When you’re grateful for talents, you’ll use them. When you’re grateful for your health, you’ll work to maintain it. All of these add up to happiness.”