8 ways to be happier in the new year
From getting out into nature to staying cozy inside (both work!), there are many paths to a joyous 2019.
With all the hoopla surrounding the holidays – traveling, family get-togethers, epic meals – it's easy to plop down on the couch and sleep right through the Times Square ball drop. Before you know, you'll be writing 2019 on your checks (do people still use checks?) and back to the rat-race routines as we rush into January.
But it's worth pausing – even if just for a few moments – to strategize for the New Year. What resolutions will we be making? How can we make the new year better than the previous one? Well, that's where we come in.
Below, we've rounded up 8 ways to inject some happiness into your life in 2019. Some are easy and some might take a little more of an effort, but all of them are sure to bring you joy.
In "The Year of Living Danishly," author Helen Russell discovers that the happiest place on earth isn't Disneyland, but Denmark. The country has consistently ranked as the happiest country in the world. And one of the reasons is a concept called "hygge." The Scandinavian country features long, dark and cold winters. But instead of suffering from seasonal affective disorder, Danes turn the season on its head. Often hard to translate, hygge is the overall term for getting "consciously cozy" in winter – staying home, enjoying comfort food with loved ones and lighting candles. Indeed, Denmark burns more candles than anywhere else in Europe. If you've ever enjoyed reading a book indoors on a rainy weekend or relaxing with cup of hot cocoa on a snowy day, you've experienced hygge.
Plan a vacation
Yes, we're still enjoying the current holiday season. But now's the perfect time to start planning your next vacation. And it's scientifically proven to make you happy in the new year. According to Dan Ariely, an Israeli-American behavioral economist at Duke University, we should divide up vacations into three timelines: The time before the vacation, the actual vacation and the time after the vacation.
Think of it like this: If you're planning a trip to Paris next summer, you'll be spending the next several months getting excited about the upcoming vacation. So even though the trip itself might only last a week, you'll be getting many months of joy and happiness just thinking about the trip. Similarly, when the trip is over, you'll be able to spend years looking back at the photos and fond memories from that vacation. The times before and after the trip will end up giving you more joy than the trip itself.
When you look at the vacation in the totality of these three time periods, the vacation itself is the shortest one. "You should think about the anticipation and also about the memory," Ariely explained. "You really want to think about the whole experience, and which vacations are actually going to enrich your lives."
Do good for others
Being on the receiving end of a good deed certainly feels good but, Ariely says, "your long-term happiness is higher if you are the giver."
It's not just what we give, but how, that determines our level of long-term happiness. "If you give [to charity] directly from a paycheck, we don't pay attention to it," Ariely said. "It's the way we give and how we give that makes us happy. The key is to give deliberately and thoughtfully, so that other people benefit from it."
Case in point was the 2014 news story about a Starbucks in Florida. In that instance, a chain of "paying it forward" customers – that is, one person pays for the drink for the person behind them and so on – lasted 11 hours, with a total of 378 people paying it forward. If you were one of those 378 people, we're betting your coffee tasted just a little better that day.
Start a daily gratitude practice
Studies have shown that being thankful can help you sleep better, make you healthier and is the single best predictor of well-being and good relationships. As David Steindl-Rast, a famous monk, once said, "Happiness does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to happiness." New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs expounds on this idea in his new book about gratitude. "My innate disposition is moderately grumpy, more Larry David than Tom Hanks," he writes in "Thanks a Thousand." "But I've read enough about gratitude to know that it's one of the keys to a life well lived. Perhaps even, as Cicero says, it is the chief of virtues." After all, gratitude is an attitude.
Spend more time in nature
There's mounting scientific evidence that spending time outdoors is good for both your body and your brain. Even just walking through the woods can do wonders for your overall well-bring. According to Dr. Qing Li, the chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, it can reduce your blood pressure, improve your concentration and enhance your sleep habits. "The good news is that even a small amount of time in nature can have an impact on our health," he writes in his book "Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness." "A two-hour forest bath will help you to unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment and de-stress and relax you."
Spend more time with friends
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more and more Americans are aging alone and that this loneliness can undermine our health and lead to early mortality. "At our most elemental level, humans are social animals," writes Debbie Hampton, the author of "Beat Depression and Anxiety by Changing Your Brain." "Our brains evolved to ensure our survival, and they operate best when we interact and connect with others. Science has proven that social exchanges change the neurotransmitter and circuit activity in your brain which decreases stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms and ups those calm and happy feelings."
Studies have shown that spending time with friends will make someone happier than having an increased income. Adds George Vaillant, the director of a 72-year study of the lives of 268 men: "The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people."
Appreciate the good
Tal Ben-Shahar, known as the professor of happiness, is famous for teaching the most popular course in the history of Harvard. It was called "Positive Psychology" and in it he taught the secret to living a happy life. "You know, my favorite word in English is the word 'appreciate.' I love that word," the Israeli professor told us. "And if you think about it, it has two meanings. So the first meaning of the word "appreciate" is to say thank you ... But the second meaning of the word 'appreciate' is to grow in value. Money appreciates in the bank, or the economy appreciates. And the two meanings of the word 'appreciate' are intimately connected. Why? Because when you appreciate the good, the good appreciates."
Binge 'The Great British Baking Show' on Netflix
In 2016, nine of the 10 most popular TV programs in the U.K. were all episodes of "The Great British Baking Show." Indeed, the show has become a significant part of British culture and is credited with sparking an interest in home baking, with supermarkets and department stores in Britain reporting sharp rises in sales of baking ingredients and accessories. PBS began airing the show in the U.S. and it became a blockbuster hit, with American audiences becoming equally obsessed with it.
The charmingly simple concept follows amateur bakers as they try to create a variety of masterpieces, all while hanging out in a pitch-perfect tent set amidst the picturesque English countryside. It's the television equivalent of pure comfort food. Netflix just acquired the show and is now airing all the previous seasons in addition to committing to at least three new seasons as well. The streaming giant just announced that it's the sixth most popular show on its service.
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