‘Happy New Year.’ It’s probably time to stop saying it now, but we still do, particularly if we’re seeing someone for the first time this year. Then they say it back to us because they don’t want us to think that they don’t want us to be happy. I’m not sure when we stop saying it. When does the year stop being new? Maybe in March?
So, how happy is yours so far? Have you had any progress with the old resolutions? If you made any, that is. I know I’m far more likely to make and keep them later in the year. When the pressure’s off and nobody’s looking. Are successful resolutions and happiness linked? I doubt it. Happiness is much skatier than that. Sixteen years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare disease that threatened to blind me. It happened just before Christmas. On that occasion, happiness for the new year meant getting my eyesight back which, by the grace of God and a new treatment, I did. What it means to be happy changes for everyone, all the time.
I am not a fan of those books/articles/posts which claim you can easily be happy, if you do this or that. But I think there are probably things we can do to increase the odds. I heard some very helpful tips on the radio recently. And I know someone who not only practises them, but also leads a life of completely undisturbed contentment. This is the advice he clearly takes: –
Cultivate a passion – Find something you love and do it as much as you can. If you can’t think of one, you could always try something you’ve never thought of as a hobby. Like walking or sewing…
Be part of something bigger than yourself – Apparently when we work alongside others to achieve something together, it has a huge impact on our well-being. Helping with a community project, volunteering, joining a church or choir – online or in-person – can bring all sorts of benefits to our mental health.
Look outwards – There have been times in my life when, for various reasons, I couldn’t do this, and it annoyed me when people said to. But sometimes, it can help. Stephen Fry, who has been open about the challenges of living with depression, insists we can better know and understand ourselves by being outward-looking and connecting with others.
Accept change – New Year’ resolutions – the changes we try to impose – are thought to have developed from the ancient Babylonians who made promises to their gods at the start of the year. Perhaps we make ours because we like to craft some changes ourselves, in a world that seems to impose them. But constant change is here to stay. Even good change, I’m finding, can cause sleepless nights, although it’s better than bad change, obviously. Although change is stressful, we can make peace with it and find a way through. Faith helps, as does chocolate and loud singing to Chaka Khan or It is well with my Soul, on Spotify. But some changes take longer to come to terms with…
Live in the moment – ‘Slow down. Or you’ll get to the end of your life quicker.’ This is what my dad used to say. He was right, I’m sure. Rushing around, planning ahead, moment-cramming. All these are necessary sometimes but when it becomes the norm, something’s wrong. Maybe we need to take stock or we’ll miss out. Later this month, it will be the second anniversary of Dad’s death. I still hear him at times, shouting from heaven: ‘Smell the roses; watch the sunset; see the dew on the grass? Slow down!’ I’m not very good at this, Dad. But I’ll try, I promise. Look, I’m writing a post about it! (And it’s mainly for myself.)
Audit your happiness – It’s easy to overlook something that’s making us unhappy because it’s become the norm. Perhaps it used to give us little bursts of joy but that time has gone. Of course it’s not always possible to do much about say, a health issue, or a job on whose income we depend. But we might be able to do some things. Even small changes make us braver.
Go outside – Research shows there are so many benefits to prioritising time in nature. It lowers stress, boosts energy, improves mood and increases serotonin. I’ve known this for years; I now live in the country; this window has a view of a nature reserve. But I forget to do it. In fact, I went out more when we lived in London – there are some beautiful places there too.
So, whatever you long for in order to be happy, I hope 2022 brings it. And for navigating the changes, good and bad, remember: Be kind to yourself.
And for this important act of grace, I give you, finally, a hard stare…
Thank you for reading this post. You can pre-order/find out about my full length novel, Braver here . It will be published by a wonderful publishing company called Fairlight Books on the 30 June 2022. Braver tells a tale of unlikely friendships and heart-breaking decisions. With themes around mental health, identity and the need to belong, Braver explores how a local community responds when something threatens its very heart.
You can also pre-order on amazon worldwide. Here is the link to it on amazon.co.uk