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10 Simple Secrets for Making 2014 Your Happiest Year Yet

Posted: January 2, 2014

"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’ 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.”

Todd’s top 10 tips for a happier 2014 … and beyond:

  1. If you don’t exercise, start. You already know exercise keeps you healthy and helps you control your weight. But did you know it’s also a natural antidepressant? In Finding Happiness, Patkin pays homage to the mood-boosting powers of exercise. And you don’t need to run a marathon to reap these benefits (even though Patkin actually did run one—the Boston Marathon—in 2007).

    “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.”

  2. Be easier on yourself. A lot of New Year’s resolutions are little more than thinly disguised vehicles for beating yourself up. (“I’m too fat—this year I will lose 20 pounds!” Sound familiar?) There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement, says Patkin, but it needs to come from a place of love. Yes, you need to love and forgive yourself for your mistakes and shortcomings … and that’s tough for many Americans.

    “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.”

  3. Find some way this year to put your gifts and talents to work. Talent wants to express itself. If your job doesn’t allow it to do so, find something that does. (Yes, it would be better to find a job that lets you do what you’re great at, Patkin acknowledges—but let’s face it, that’s not always possible in a bad economy!)