New Year’s Resolutions That Actually Make You Happy

Why nurturing our personal relationships can give us a fresh start

A brand new year — actually, a whole new decade — is just around the corner. If you're like most people, it's time to make a New Year's resolution to help you make 2020 better.

What "better" means is a matter of personal opinion, of course, but it certainly seems that resolutions should be designed to make people happier with their lives. Whether that's accomplished by getting slimmer, healthier or improving learning a new skill, we make all kinds of promises to ourselves as the clock strikes midnight on the December 31.

This all got us to thinking: What New Year's resolutions are best for true happiness? Because anecdotally, all those January diets and trips to the gym don't look all that fun. What should we be focused on to make the new year more joyful?


The Current State of New Year's Resolutions

According to a YouGov poll, only 32% of Americans opt out of making resolutions, which means that just over two-thirds will commit to making some type of change on January 1. The most popular resolutions are:

1.  Eat healthier

2.  Exercise more

3.  Save money

4.  Self care

5.  Read more

Unfortunately, British psychologist Richard Wiseman has found that a whopping 88% of resolutions end in failure.  According to Time magazine, the five resolutions most likely to be broken are:

1.  Lose weight and get in shape

2.  Quit smoking

3.  Learn something new 

4.  Eat healthier 

5.  Get out of debt and save money

Ouch. A quick comparison of these lists shows that the most popular resolutions are generally the ones most likely to be broken.



Why So Many Resolutions Fail

The first big stumbling block for many people is the tendency to make a long list of resolutions. If you plan to attack every area of your life at once, you'll quickly grow distracted. That's because the same part of your brain that handles willpower — the frontal cortex — is also in charge of focus, short-term memory and decision-making. If you overload it with a long list of resolutions, your willpower will give out from fatigue.

Resolution Fix: Pick just one important goal to work on at a time.

Motivation is also another important factor. Research shows that there are two kinds of motivation that make you more likely to follow through on your resolutions: intrinsic motivation and identified motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is when you do something because you genuinely enjoy it. This is why goals like reading more or pursuing a new hobby aren't on the list of failure-prone promises. Obviously, quitting smoking and following a restrictive diet are less naturally enjoyable, so they're harder to accomplish.

That's where identified motivation comes into play. Identified motivation means internalizing your resolution to the point where you see yourself as the kind of person who exercises daily. If you can convince yourself to think of your whole identity in a new way, you're more likely to succeed at your resolution. For example, resolve to become the kind of person who meditates every day, not just to mediate more.

Resolution Fix: Rewrite your goal to be not just about what you do, but who you are.


4 Resolutions to Try for a Happier New Year

There's also a good deal of scientific research devoted to human happiness. In particular, an 80-year longitudinal study of human development at Harvard found that the single biggest key to happiness is connecting with others. Robert J. Waldinger, the current leader of the still-ongoing research, sums it up nicely:

"The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period."

With that in mind, we thought we'd share some suggestions for a New Year’s resolution that's the most likely to bring you joy: 


1. Volunteer for Charity

Giving feels great, and volunteering in person is one of the best ways to foster new connection and cure loneliness. In a recent UK survey, two-thirds of people reported feeling less lonely after they began volunteering. Even just an hour or two a week can make a big difference. As a bonus, this resolution will help other people, too.


2. Limit Your Screen Time

New studies have shown that the more time people spend on social media, the less happy they are. Whether that's due to feelings of inadequacy when you compare your life to the amazing photos on Instagram or a tendency to get dragged into Facebook arguments, the bottom line is that time spent staring at your phone is less time to spend with the people you love in person.


3. Save Money for Experiences, Not Things

If saving money is your preferred resolution, tweak it to bring more joy by focusing your savings goals on experiences you can share with friends and family. People who spend their cash on experiences report greater happiness, and the memories they make bring satisfaction for far longer than a new car or house. 



4. Write Your Life Story

One amazing way to nurture your most important connections is to honor your friends and family in writing. Tell the story of all they've done for you and why you love them, and then share it with them in a beautiful book. This is a great way to express gratitude — another happiness-boosting practice.


If writing your life story — or giving the gift of an autobiography to a loved one — sounds like it would bring you joy in the coming year, we'd love to help. StoryTerrace makes it easy to get started by connecting you with a professional biographer and design team to turn your memories in a memoir that will stand the test of time.

Reach out to get started today or  sign up for our newsletter. 


Written by Elizabeth Trach
Image credits: by Benjamin Combs, Danielle Cerullo, Anna Earl & Anna Pritchard

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