6 Ways to be Happy, Healthy and Content in the New Year
While being happy and content in the new year may seem to be elusive sometimes, many people believe it will come to them through some external means like finding the right job, the right spouse or making a certain amount of money.
“If only I had a better job.”
“If I could just find Mr./Mrs. Right.”
“If I just had a higher-paying job.”
Research indicates this is not true.
Sonja Lyubomirsky and her team at the University of California-Riverside reviewed 225 studies involving 275,000 people, and they found that people aren’t happy because they are successful.
- They are successful because they are happy.
- Happy people are easier to work with, more highly motivated and more willing to tackle a difficult project. As a result, they are more likely to be successful.
- Happy people appear to be more successful than their less-happy peers in three primary areas of life – work, relationships, and health.
While many people seek happiness through people, things, work, etc., the research suggests that happiness does not come from someplace or someone else. Those things or people might contribute to a person’s happiness, but true happiness comes from within. And this is still true when it comes to being content in the new year!
“Happiness is a choice,” said Dr. Patrick Williams, clinical psychologist and master certified life coach. “In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl said that what kept him alive in the prison camp was knowing there was one freedom no one could take from him – his thoughts. He chose to make the best of a terrible circumstance.
As you think about being content in the new year ahead, perhaps you are considering some changes in order to be a happier person. Here are a few things to think about:
- Love and accept yourself for who you are. This does not mean change isn’t necessary. Recognize that we all have our strengths and opportunities for growth. Beating yourself up over your weaknesses does not contribute to being happy. All of us have gifts in something. Treat yourself kindly and acknowledge that you are a work in progress.
- Be accountable for your actions. Instead of blaming others for all that happens to you, accept responsibility for your choices. While you cannot change the past, you can impact the future. Make an intentional decision to do things differently.
- Stop trying to change others. The only person you can change is yourself.
- Determine your priorities and live by them. Living out someone else’s dream for your life can be a major source of unhappiness. For example, a young man who had been swimming since he was small started having headaches every time he prepared to swim in a meet. He was an exceptionally good swimmer and there seemed to be no good explanation as to why he kept getting the horrible headaches. One day, his mom commented that she just didn’t understand these headaches because he loved to swim. He responded, “No mom. I don’t love swimming. I am good at it, but I don’t enjoy it at all.” Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.
- Start with abundance in your life. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, look at what you do have – a roof over your head, clothing, food, etc. Someone once said, instead of looking at whether your glass is half-empty or half-full, just be thankful you have a glass.
- Define happiness. In his article, Why Happiness Isn’t a Feeling, J.P. Moreland says a classical understanding of happiness is virtue and character, a settled tone, depends on internal state, springs from within, is fixed and stable, empowering and liberating, integrated with one’s identity, colors the rest of life and creates true/fulfilled self. What is your definition of happiness?
“The reality is this, if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back and a roof over your head you are richer than 75 percent of the world and if you have money in the bank, in your wallet and some spare change, you are in the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy,” Williams said. “Happiness is a matter of perspective, it has nothing to do with the trappings.”
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Multigenerational communication is hard. “You got an iPhone?” said the millennial to her grandmother. “Why did you get an iPhone? You don’t need a smartphone. Do you even know how to text? I think you should just stick with making phone calls.”
“Yes, I got an iPhone. And, I do too need an iPhone if I’m going to keep up with you and everybody else. I can learn to text,” said the grandmother in an exasperated tone.
“This ought to be interesting,” the millennial said under her breath as she rolled her eyes.
You have more than likely experienced a conversation with someone from a different generation about communication these days yourself. It may have been about tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, paper versus electronic means, or any number of things.
While it seems that most generations may have a preferred method of communication, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t capable of adapting and adjusting in order to keep the lines of communication open.
Perhaps the place where communication differences seem to be magnified and often collide is in the workplace, where at least four generations typically work together. Some have five, which can definitely make for some interesting communication dynamics. This is especially true as communication methods have expanded in recent years.
Here’s a quick look at communication preferences by generation:
- Baby boomers tend to appreciate face-to-face and personal interaction, which often drives millennials crazy.
- Gen Xers want direct and immediate communication. They are content with email, but get really excited if you allow them to express themselves with a whiteboard.
- When it comes to millennials, instant messages, texts and communicating through social media are the order of the day. And, if they do call you and you don’t answer, don’t look for them to leave you a message because that’s not typically in their DNA.
Needless to say, there is plenty of room for miscommunication.
Here’s the kicker: not everyone fits “the mold” when it comes to the way they communicate to their peers and across the generations. This is why we need to guard against making assumptions about a co-worker or a grandmother just because they hail from a certain generation. Plenty of people have said, “I’m a millennial, but I communicate more like a Gen Xer.”
There are several keys to effective communication between the generations:
- Remember that no one on the planet is a good mind reader. Get to know the people around you and their communication preferences. Be willing to flex and get out of your communication comfort zone. Ask, but don’t assume you know how a person wants to be communicated with.
- Value the differences. Instead of looking down on one generation or the other for the way they prefer to communicate, seek to see things from their perspective. Their preferences make perfect sense to them. For example, no matter the age, most people appreciate receiving a card or handwritten letter in the mail. At the same time, a quick text saying, “I’m thinking about you and hope you have a great day,” typically will bring a smile to the recipient’s face. Neither one is wrong, just different.
- Be willing to learn and engage with others’ communication preferences and teach them about yours. Making the effort shows that you care.
Communication differences have always existed, and there have always been barriers, whether it was having to pay for a long-distance call or waiting on a long-anticipated letter.
Even though technology has made it faster, and in some cases easier to connect, it has also amplified our imperfections and heightened anxiety when it comes to communicating with others. Think being in the middle of a conversation and your watch starts vibrating because you have a call coming in. Resisting the urge to look creates anxiety and distracts you from the conversation at hand.
Good communication skills can be learned and fine-tuned, and we can all grow together in this area. If you want to be a better communicator, take the time to observe, listen and ask questions without assuming your way is the best or the only way. It can truly enrich your relationships with family, friends and co-workers.
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There’s nothing worse than getting into the same argument, again and again and again. Amirite? The sheer repetition is enough to drive one MAD. And sadly, that tends to happen quite a bit in marriage. When we get really upset, we can go from zero to 60 in two seconds flat. We don’t want to fight. We don’t want to be angry. But WE ARE LIVID. And ya know what? We have every right to be! But.Read more
We need to be teaching the value of work. In late 2018 Geoffrey Owens, known to many as Elvin on “The Cosby Show,” was spotted bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. Social media blew up when a picture of Owens appeared, but instead of praising his willingness to work, people made disparaging comments about his job.
After discovering what happened, Owens contacted his 19-year-old son. He said, “I’m really sorry if this embarrasses you.” His son sent a beautiful response that moved his father to tears.
An interviewer on “Good Morning America” asked Owens about the social media comments. He responded by saying, “This business of my being this Cosby guy who got shamed for working at Trader Joe’s, that’s going to pass… but I hope what doesn’t pass is this idea… this rethinking about what it means to work, you know, the honor of the working person and the dignity of work. And I hope that this period that we’re in now, where we have a heightened sensitivity about that and a re-evaluation of what it means to work, and a re-evaluation of the idea that some jobs are better than others because that’s actually not true… Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”
What message are we sending to our children when society is willing to shame someone for an honest day’s work?
According to Fit for Work, both paid and unpaid work is good for our health and wellbeing. It contributes to our happiness, helps us to build confidence and self-esteem, and it rewards us financially.
Additionally, working keeps us busy, challenges us and gives us the means to develop ourselves. It can create a sense of pride, identity and personal achievement. Work enables us to socialize, build contacts and find support, and it provides us with money to support ourselves and explore our interests.
There are health benefits, too. Working people tend to enjoy happier and healthier lives than those who do not work. And work is shown to improve physical and mental health.
Perhaps a paradigm shift is in order where instead of teaching children that certain jobs are beneath them, we teach them about the importance of a work ethic and doing every job well.
Here are some ways we can all promote the value of hard work:
- No matter what the job, encourage others to work to the best of their ability.
- Model a strong work ethic.
- Equip your kids with the skills they need to earn a living. Chores can help them get ready for work outside the home.
- Avoid the temptation of giving your child everything. Allow them the opportunity to work for it.
- Help them connect the dots to how the work they are doing (or not doing) impacts others.
If people weren’t willing to fulfill certain positions, imagine how it would impact your life. It’s definitely a great teaching moment for kids to think about as well. Every job is important. In fact, a ripple effect takes place when one person does not fulfill their responsibilities at home, in the workplace or in the community.
Tyler Perry once said, “Developing a good work ethic is key. Apply yourself at whatever you do, whether you’re a janitor or taking your first summer job, because that work ethic will be reflected in everything you do in life.”
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Are there days when you feel like you never left the office? Or you just don’t have the energy to deal with the many demands of home life? Creating margin between work and relationships isn’t easy. Without even knowing it, many people are living life on the edge these days. They have this feeling that something isn’t exactly right, but they can’t quite put their finger on what would make it right.
Commitments, deadlines, long work hours, endless carpooling, sports teams, being “driven,” corporate goals looming with emphasis on the bottom line, trying to be actively involved in the community and raising a family are all things people expect at work and at home.
At a time when there is a lot of push for being more efficient and using less people-power to get the job done, people seem to be on the verge of becoming just another “machine” for meeting the bottom line. According to experts like Dr. Richard Swenson, author of “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives,” this way of thinking is putting a strain on us and on our society.
So many employees live for the weekend, but actually never get a break because they feel tethered to technology. Not responding to emails over the weekend can make us feel guilty, and then Sunday rolls around and it feels like we never disconnected.
One executive’s workday begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. In order to deal with family needs, she leaves her job around 5 to take care of the immediate family needs, grabs something to eat and heads to her home office for another couple of hours of work.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a super-organized person or not; plenty of people feel like they just can’t get ahead. There’s no rest for the weary and certainly no margin in so many people’s lives.
More and more workplaces are developing family-friendly policies, and that’s good for families. But if your company’s policies aren’t meeting your particular needs, it may be time to reevaluate your situation. If you are thinking about creating more margin in your life, ask yourself what changes you need to make. It may take a while to implement your plan, and you may even have to take a pay cut, but realize that those changes could lead to less stress and more overall happiness.
“Many times these types of changes occur only after experiencing a trauma such as a death in the family or a serious illness,” states leadership development consultant, Dr. Zelma Lansford. “People get so caught up in what they are doing because they think what they are doing is important. Then something happens that causes them to ask, ‘Is what I am doing getting me what I want?’ Often the answer is no.
“The key is getting people to ask the question, ‘Is what I am doing important and essential in my life based on everything I believe?’ before a traumatic experience comes along.
People have to ask themselves, ‘If my life were going to end in the next two months, what would I be doing differently?’ We need to frequently revisit our priority list and focus on what really matters. What was so important can often become insignificant. An alignment of our values with work and activities can give meaning and satisfaction to our lives. A realignment moves us to a solid approach to life – which tends to create more margin.”
When it comes right down to it, most people will not look back on life and celebrate the time they spent at work. Instead, they will celebrate the relationships they have had and their positive impact on generations to come. Before taking on any additional commitments, consider asking yourself, “In two months, two years, or 10 years, will I be glad that I did this?” Often we don’t think one more thing is going to make that big of a difference, when in reality it may be the very thing that sends us over the edge.
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John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist with a lifelong fascination for how our minds react to and organize information. He is currently an affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.
One of the outcomes of his journey is the New York Times bestseller, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. The provocative read takes on the designs of our schools and work environments.
“Your brain is fully capable of taking little black squiggles on this piece of bleached wood and deriving meaning from them,” Medina says in an email. “To accomplish this miracle, your brain sends jolts of electricity crackling through hundreds of miles of wires composed of brain cells so small that thousands of them could fit into the period at the end of this sentence. You accomplish all of this in less time than it takes you to blink. Indeed, you have just done it. What’s equally incredible, given our intimate association with it, is this: Most of us have no idea how our brain works.”
Consider this. We try to talk on our cellphones and drive at the same time, even though it is literally impossible for our brains to multitask when it comes to paying attention. We have created high-stress office environments, even though a stressed brain is significantly less productive. The layout of our schools requires most real learning to occur at home.
“This would be funny, if it weren’t so harmful,” says Medina. “Brain scientists rarely have conversations with teachers and business professionals, education majors and accountants, superintendents and CEOs. Unless you have the Journal of Neuroscience sitting on your coffee table, you’re out of the loop. I wrote Brain Rules to help people become more productive by understanding what little we do know about how the brain operates.”
Medina asserts that, if you wanted to create an education environment directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that opposes what the brain is good at doing, you’d probably design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over.
“My goal is to introduce people to the 12 things we know about how the brain works,” says Medina. “I call these brain rules. For each rule, I present the science. And then I offer ideas for investigating how the rule might apply to our daily lives, especially at work and school.
“Whether you are teachers, parents, business leaders or students, by using what we know about how the brain works — such as how it’s affected by stress, how it forms memories and what it takes to engage it — we can identify ways to better harness its power and improve performance.”
We are a nation of millions, but Cigna Health Insurance recently released a national survey that reveals we are a lonely nation.
According to the survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults:
- Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.
- One in 4 Americans rarely or never feel as though people really understand them.
- Two in 5 Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others.
- One in 5 people report they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to.
- Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely compared to those who live alone. However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
- Only a little more than half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family.
- Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
- Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness. Respondents defined as very heavy users of social media and those who never use social media have similar loneliness scores.
Even though there are more ways than ever before to connect with others, the struggle to feel connected is very real and can not only lead to emotional issues, but physical ones as well.
According to David M. Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, this lack of human connection ultimately leads to a lack of vitality.
The good news is that this study reinforces that we are social creatures made for relationship and that communities matter. Less-lonely people are more likely to have regular, meaningful, in-person interactions and are in good overall physical and mental health. They have also achieved balance in daily activities, are employed and have good relationships with their coworkers.
More specifically, the survey showed that getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. However, balance is critical, as those who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.
Here are some details:
- Sleep: Those who say they sleep just the right amount have lower loneliness scores.
- Spending time with family: Those who spend more or less time than desired with their family are on par with one another when it comes to experiencing feelings of loneliness.
- Physical activity: People who say they get just the right amount of exercise are considerably less likely to be lonely.
- The workplace: Those who say they work just the right amount are least likely to be lonelyloneliness score of those who work more than desired increases by just over three points, while those who work less than desired showed a 6-point increase in loneliness.
If you are one of the millions feeling trapped by loneliness, here are five strategies for overcoming it.
- Put down the technology. While gaming and social media make you think you are connecting with people, your brain knows otherwise.
- Make a move. When you are lonely, it is easy to tell yourself nobody wants to be around you anyway. If you are breathing, you are meant to be in relationship with others. Making the first move toward relationships with others can often be the most difficult.
- Be intentional about putting yourself in situations where you can have human interaction and create relationships. It could be a class, a recreational hiking club or something else. Think about things you enjoy doing. Find others who are doing that thing and join them.
- Know the difference in being lonely and spending time by yourself. Quiet time to rejuvenate and get your head together is healthy. Spending all of your time alone and away from people is not.
- Find a way to help others, minimize your time alone and utilize your talents in the community.Volunteer at a local food bank, pet shelter or other nonprofit.
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Stowers Machinery, in partnership with Caterpillar, has a scholarship program called “Think Big.” It pays recipients about $13 an hour to apprentice in the shop and it reimburses tuition and other school-related costs. The student must maintain a B average to receive the scholarship.
Workers alternate between working eight weeks at Stowers and going to school for eight weeks. After they earn an associate degree, Stowers will hire them full-time.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for someone, yet we have the hardest time giving away the scholarship,” says Rhey Houston, Stowers vice president and Chattanooga area manager. “We have a full-time recruiter who goes to every high school in the area, looking for potential scholarship recipients, and it is still almost impossible for us to fill the slots.”
One interested young man contacted Stowers about the scholarship. He was awarded the scholarship during his school’s senior night. But he worked only a few days before telling his supervisor, “I’m not cut out for this kind of work every day.”
“Unfortunately, he is not the exception to the rule,” Houston says. “We have had several success stories, but they are fewer and farther between. It is baffling to me that people do not want to take advantage of an opportunity to work for a well-established company that pays well and offers full benefits including a 401k.”
Houston knows he isn’t alone in his frustration. He regularly talks with companies in the area who lament not being able to fill positions.
“I recently spoke with a guy who said, ‘I can’t grow my business because I can’t find people to hire who have driver’s licenses,'” says Houston. “Another guy told me he would be able to have five additional machines running if he could just find people to drive them.”
Approximately 9,000 people are looking for jobs. It’s difficult, however, to fill more than 15,000 job openings in the greater Chattanooga area. Why is that? It’s partially due to lack of education, or perhaps lack of driver’s licenses.
What is wrong with this picture? Employers are complaining they can’t find qualified workers and people are complaining they can’t find jobs. Somewhere along the way there is a serious disconnect.
In an article titled The New Unemployables, Aaron Renn shares a conversation with his father, a retired quarry superintendent. While the job wasn’t glamorous, his dad said they offered some of the area’s best wages, full benefits and profit-sharing. Still, hiring and keeping employees was hard. The overwhelming majority of applicants weren’t viable enough to interview. Plus, one-third of those he hired failed to last even six months.
Renn surmises that perhaps what we are seeing has nothing to do with job availability or wages. It may have everything to do with the basics, instead. The basics include having a high school diploma and reliably coming to work every day.
In the book Creating an Opportunity Society, the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill offer a solution. They say that to avoid poverty and join the middle class (at least $50,000 annual income for a family of three) U.S. citizens need to complete high school at a minimum, work full-time and marry before having children.
Doing all three decreases the chances of being poor from 12 percent to 2 percent. It also increases the chances of joining the middle class or above from 56 to 74 percent.
It’s possible to combat the “unemployable” problem and break the cycle. Healthy adults must model and promote the importance of education and a strong work ethic in homes and communities. Additionally, we can mentor those who have no example to follow.