How to be happier in 2021?

Making New Year promises and setting goals - for example, to lose excess weight or get a promotion at work - has become a real New Year's tradition for many people. Experts at the University of Rochester in the United States, drawing on years of research, advise not to make the usual promises to yourself for 2021, but to make a wish for something that will make the world a better place. "If you want to make a New Year's resolution that really makes you happy, think about how you can contribute to the world because research shows <...> it will be really good for you," says psychology professor Richard Ryan, a specialist in motivation and well-being achievement.

Do you want to be slimmer and more successful in the new year? You're not alone, scientists say, New Year's resolutions are ubiquitous. But how easy is it to keep them? Is there even a point in setting lofty but selfish goals, hoping that from the first of January you will change your behavior and start living your life in a new way? According to Richard Ryan, the evidence suggests that most of the time people don't succeed at it.

But we should not give up. The psychologist notes that any occasion that gives us an opportunity to reflect on our lives is a good thing. He has some advice: what will bring more satisfaction in life, and what is really needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, are goals that involve helping others. Volunteering, donating, helping of any kind (moral, emotional), that is, goals that support people, can increase our own well-being.

According to the scholar, helping others allows us to satisfy three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and belonging. In this context, autonomy would mean engaging in activities in which one can feel the will and form personal values. Competence would mean a sense of effectiveness and accomplishment. And belonging would mean working with and feeling connected to others.

There are many goals that, even if achieved, will not bring much happiness, says the psychologist. For example, the desire to earn more money may make a person work harder, but at the same time, he may lose his sense of connection with others and feel less autonomy in his daily life. This has the potential to make him less happy.

But non-self-oriented goals are where real satisfaction and happiness can be found, the scientist notes. One recent study, for example, found that happiness levels increase as a person's "circle of care" expands - when he or she begins to care more about others: family, community, the world, and everything in it. This predicts a higher level of well-being, says the psychologist.

How do you increase the likelihood that your goal will be accomplished?

Richard Ryan answers that there are a few rules for success in any decision. First, you need to make sure the goal is achievable, and to do that, it doesn't have to be abstract. Compare "improve your health" to "increase the number of steps you take in a day." The goal should be clear, not vague. After setting a clear goal, you need to make a plan for how it will be accomplished.

It is equally important to make the path to solving the problem more exciting and motivating, then you can stay persistent longer. For example, a daily walk in the park or a promenade with a friend should be included in your plan to increase your steps. If you find an activity that you really like (or don't disgust), then the chances of sticking to your new habit will increase.

Finally, the bar shouldn't be too high, or it will lead to disappointment and, consequently, unhappiness. It is best to set additional "small" goals: not "I'm going to climb Everest," but "I'm going to climb to the first camp on the mountain," and then to the second, and so on to the end.

Richard Ryan says that any new goals you set for 2021 may entail some setbacks. And, when that happens, it's important to remember to have empathy for yourself. Don't judge yourself harshly, but instead ask yourself what you can learn from this experience. Then, with that knowledge, start anew.

Dec. 24, 2020, 11:55 a.m.

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