It’s that time again. The holiday season is winding down, and we are bracing for the long winter that lurks outside our frosty windows. Unwrapped but unopened gifts clutter various corners of our homes. Boxes and plastic storage tubs sit restlessly in our basements, longing to be reunited with fraying stockings, fragile ornaments, and dusty wreaths. Our perfect plastic trees will soon be dismantled and neatly put away until next season, which I promise will be here in the blink of an eye.

As the holiday decor is coming down, lists are being posted. Resolutions, or as I think of them, decent ideas that most people don’t really expect to follow through with. Many of us resolve to exercise vigorously (“I’m joining my local gym, which is very close-by so it will be easy for me to get up and go at 5AM every day before work.”), eat clean (“I’m cutting sugar completely out of my diet.”), quit drinking (“Seriously, after New Year’s Eve I’m done.”), etc. These kinds of resolutions are all fine ideas, but for most of us they simply aren’t very realistic — or are at least not very sustainable. So what seem on the surface like positive goals, actually end up making us feel worse when the goals are not met. The only resolution I’ve made that has seemed to stick was a few years back when I swore off resolutions. I would encourage everyone to try this. What if I suggested that rather than coming up with daunting resolutions that we don’t want to do in the first place, we simply decide to live intentionally and do things we believe will make us happy?

There is a mountain of scientific evidence suggesting that happier people are healthier, more productive, and live longer than others. I think we can agree that happy people are generally more fun to be around, and as a former grump who has become mostly very happy, I can attest that it feels a hell of a lot better. Unfortunately many refuse to give it a try — or perhaps just honestly don’t know how.

“Happiness” is subjective, and we all define it a bit differently. But when we make a list (preferably an actual written list) of things that bring us a bit joy, we can more easily make an intentional effort to regularly increase our happiness level. Instead of coming up with lists of bad habits to break and agonizing things to attempt, we have “tasks” we enjoy and actually want to do. When we associate happiness with healthiness and longevity, we no longer need to feel guilty about making the time to cross these tasks off our to-do lists.

So here are some things on my list; maybe they can provide some inspiration:

1.  I will not worry as much about healthy eating. I’m not a health nut, but I definitely watch what I eat. I rarely have fast food, fried food, or even red meat. I’m certainly not going to start chowing down on everything in sight, but I’m not going to avoid the bacon this year. Or the ice cream. Or the gravy. And I might have seconds of each.

2.  I will ride my bicycle more. I rode my bike constantly as a child, and have periodically as an adult. After a trip to Colorado, where approximately 1 out of 1.1 people were cyclists, I was inspired to give it a go again. Cycling is obviously great exercise, but it also makes me feel like a kid again. Racing down a long, steep hill with the wind in my face, knowing that at any second a blowout could send me tumbling, is truly exhilarating. So exhilarating that I no longer care about looking goofy in a helmet. 

3.  I will take more hikes in the woods. This is another activity that is great physical exercise, but I find it to be much more beneficial mentally. I jog or walk most days for fitness, but it becomes a boring routine. However, when I’m hiking through wooded areas I lose track of time and the outside world as I become pleasantly lost in my surroundings. I completely forget about the fact that I’m exercising at all. Everyone should get lost in the woods from time to time — it’s amazing what you might find.

4.  I will read more books. Besides stimulating the brain, reading is said to strengthen memory, reduce stress, hone one’s focus, improve sleep, and much more. Mostly though, I enjoy it.

5.  I will continue to make an effort each day to be somehow kind and helpful. I’ve discovered that how people treat others is almost always directly related to how they feel about themselves. Similarly, being kind helps me like myself more. I often hear the term “random acts of kindness,” but I prefer regular acts of kindness. These acts don’t necessarily require any time, money, or even much thought. For me, it is simply an intentional attempt to do little things like smiling more, saying “hello” to strangers on the street, or returning my shopping cart. I have felt horrible after being negative or rude many times, but I have never once regretted being kind. 

Maybe this to-do list doesn’t fit you, but there is one that does. Another year is passing, which means we have one less to take advantage of. What are you waiting for? Forget the resolutions to do things you want to avoid; instead figure out a way to do things that make you happy. If nothing else, remember that happiness is good – not something to feel guilty about or put off for later. Go live intentionally, and savor the gravy.

Cheers and Happy New Year

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