What's My Goal? Happiness!

by Marcia Mangum Cronin

If you're feeling down about not keeping your New Year's resolutions, it may be time to reassess. You may just need to refocus your resolve and take some baby steps toward your goals. Or you may want to rewrite or reprioritize your goals to better reflect what you're trying to accomplish.

I came across some tips from Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man's Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In that made me stop and think about my goals. Patkin offers 10 simple secrets that can make 2012 your happiest year yet. Were my goals things that would really make me happy? Or were they nagging thoughts that haunt me year after year and allow me to beat myself up?

It's easy to get discouraged. According to a 2007 Reuters.com article, a study done by Italian researchers found that Americans are less happy these days than they were 30 years ago. Blame it on longer working hours and a decline in social relationships.

So, what's a woman to do? In reexamining my list, I realized that many of my goals could be steps along my road to happiness, but there may be ways of thinking about them that would be more self-empowering. Patkin says the key to happiness is learning to love yourself. That includes not beating yourself up over failed resolutions.

Put a smile on your face and see if Patkin's tips can help you find greater happiness in 2012 and beyond:

If you don't exercise, start. You know exercise keeps you healthy and helps you control your weight. But did you know it's also a natural antidepressant? I already exercise most days of the week, so I will congratulate myself on that and focus on Patkin's suggestion that exercise can be a shared activity and build relationships: more walks with my friends and my husband and more exercise classes to expand my community of friends.

Be easier on yourself. A lot of resolutions are little more than thinly disguised vehicles for beating yourself up. There's nothing wrong with self-improvement, but it needs to come from a place of love. I will reward myself for my successes and try to learn from and let go of the failures. 

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. I'm fortunate to have a creative job that I enjoy, but it's always fun to explore new hobbies.

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)? Note to self: Remember that the TV has an off switch!

Celebrate your spouse. Speaking of your marriage, how is it? If it's mired in negativity or characterized by bickering or tension, you'll never be happy. The good news is that it may not take a lot of effort to dramatically change the tenor of your marriage. As Patkin says, random acts of kindness are powerful—even more so 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 hairstylist? Your child's teacher? The neighbor who keeps an eye on your house when you're away? Make a fuss over people—in a good way. I'm not shy about giving hugs, smiles and compliments, even to strangers, but if that's not your style, think about how you can show appreciation.

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.

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. How much you give—of your money, your time, your self—does. This one may be hard for many of us busy women, but give it a try. Find a way that works for you, and you may be surprised at the rewards.

Take a baby step toward finding some faith. Make a conscious effort to think a little bit more about your faith and spirituality. Happy people often have a connection to a higher power because it prevents them from becoming too self-centered and focuses their energy and concerns on the greater community.

Make 2012 a year of gratitude
. If you make only one change in 2012, make it this one, says Patkin: Work to be more appreciative in general. For the most part, becoming more grateful just means opening your eyes to the blessings you already have. "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," Patkin says. "All of these add up to happiness."

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