12 Ways to be Happier in the New Year

Sunday December 31, 2017

Our Founder and volunteer CEO, Abby White, shares New Year greetings, tips for a happier, healthier 2018, and a personal message of change as the new year begins.

Quote and text in gold bevelled font below multi-coloured lights on a tree: “Happiness depends upon ourselves” – Aristotle. “Happy New Year!”

Happy New Year everyone!  We hope 2018 will be a fantastic year for you, blessed with, success in all things, good health, and most importantly, abundant happiness.

January brings new beginnings, possibilities, hopes, dreams and resolutions.  This is an ideal season to evaluate how we can increase the happiness we experience and share with others in our daily lives.

Though happiness means different things to different people, it is universally prized above other values.  Yet achieving happiness is a constant challenge, perhaps even becoming more elusive in our highly wired, but increasingly disconnected world.

Here are 12 simple, practical actions that have been shown to increase happiness, with links to further reading for each.  Our gift to you as we begin a new chapter in the great book of life.  Maybe you will choose to incorporate just one or two of these actions, or perhaps you will focus on a different one each month through the year.  However you take them, may they bring you more peace and joy throughout 2018.

Update, December 2018: Each week throughout 2018, we have shared via social media one blog or other content from respected independent authors relating to the month’s route-to-happiness tip.  This blog has now been updated to include each of the weekly links.

1. Get Sufficient Sleep

Sleep helps our body and mind recover from the day and repair itself.  Good sleep brings better focus, clearer thinking, greater productivity and deeper happiness.

Positive and negative stimuli are processed by different parts of the brain.  Negative stimuli are handled by the amygdala.  Positive or neutral memories are processed by the hippocampus, which is hit harder by sleep deprivation.  When we are sleep-deprived, we are more likely to struggle to recall pleasant memories and think positively, while gloomy memories and negative thoughts come to mind easily.

We are also more sensitive to negative emotions when tired. Waking up well-rested reduces sensitivity to negative emotions throughout the day. Taking a 20-30 minute nap mid-afternoon can block sensitivity to negative emotions like fear and anger later in the day, and lead to better night-time sleep.

Setting boundaries, taking responsibility for upholding them, and asking people to understand and respect them is vital for our own wellbeing, for the people around us, and for the communities and causes we seek to serve.  Join me this year in taking steps to protect and enhance your nightly sleep.

Further Reading: The Magic of a Good Night’s Sleep

2. Stay Physically Active

Exercise profoundly affects our well-being. It can help us relax, increase brain power and is a proven strategy for overcoming depression.  As little as 15-20 minutes of exercise, 3 times a week can have a positive impact on mental health.

Take a walk in the fresh air, around the building, or even a circuit of the ward.  Do a yoga routine, go for a swim or run, or join an exercise class.  Make it fun with music, a good book or the company of friends.

Further Reading: What Happens to Our Brains When We Exercise and How It Makes Us Happier

Listen Now: Q&A Is Sleep or Exercise More Important?

3. Enjoy Nature

Spending time in nature delivers a huge benefits.  As little as five minutes in green space boosts positive mood, broadens thinking and improves working memory.  The longer you spend outside in the fresh air, taking time to enjoy the beauty of the world, the greater the benefits will be. Research shows that the natural environment generates greater happiness than the built environment.

So go into your garden, or find a green space in your community, and make time to reap the benefits of our beautiful natural world today.

Further Reading: How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative

4. Spread Your Love With a Smile

A smile is one of the best gifts in the world – free to give and universally understood. As we give away each smile, we also receive in abundance.

A smile can alleviate emotional and even physical pain in distressing situations.  Even when we don’t feel like smiling, a forced smile can be enough to trigger a slight rise in mood – sometimes just enough to activate other positive thought processes. Cultivating positive thoughts behind the smile can enhance mood, performance, and relationships.  They can even help us find solutions to the distressing situation.

When we feel good, we boost our ability to focus and maintain attention, to think holistically and perform complex cognitive tasks.  When we are able to think more clearly about the troubling situation in front of us, we are more likely to find a path through it to the other side.

So smile for yourself, for those you love, and for all you meet on the highway of life today. The goodness you share will flow back to you.

Further Reading: The Science of Smiling: A Guide to The World’s Most Powerful Gesture

5. Ask For Support

We all hold some hidden superpowers within, but no one is an island. We all need support to grow, to find our way through tough times, to weave our darker threads with beauty into the tapestry of life.  Do you need a mentor, some technical training, or specific practical assistance?  Do you need to cut down your work hours so you can spend more time with family and friends or invested in self-care?  Do you need someone to give you a daily hug or words of encouragement?

Identify what you need to live more happily, and take steps to make sure you put those supports in place for your own well-being.

Further Reading: How to Ask For Help

6. Practice Gratitude

Our thoughts are incredibly powerful. We generate a sprawl of negativity every day, its rotten energy crackling through the space in which we live and breathe. Yet we can filter the toxic air around us with daily gratitude practice.

This seems a ridiculously simple solution, but when practiced with true sentiment, it has a transformational impact on almost every aspect of life. Daily gratitude practice can reduce symptoms of or risk for depression, boost complete well-being, outlook and relationships with others, improve concentration and productivity.

There are many ways you can practice daily gratitude.  One of the simplest is to keep a gratitude journal in which you reflect on three daily positives, and what caused them to happen.  For example, meeting with a friend, receiving a compliment and experiencing a refreshing moment in nature.  Taking time to record those small gifts, consider their genesis and impact on your day aids personal growth and boosts contentment and daily happiness.

Further Reading: 8 Tremendously Important Ways Gratitude Can Change Your Life

7. Live in the Moment

Constantly ruminating on past events and all their related emotions, or worrying about and planning the future – even the next five minutes – prevents us from enjoying the present moment. All we ever truly have in life is this one moment, here and now. We may wake up to see tomorrow, next week or next year. But while we overwhelm our mind with thoughts of past failings or imagined things that may never be, we lose the gift of this vibrant life waiting for us right now.

Mindfulness is the deliberate act of slowing down to notice everything within and around you, without judgment.  This sounds simple, but it can be difficult in today’s fast-paced world.  Effective mindfulness requires regular practice of awareness, so it becomes a natural part of who we are and how we interact with our world.

Mindfulness can profoundly enhance mental health.  Consistent benefits can be seen after daily practice for just 4-8 weeks. Among the many benefits proven through scientific research, mindfulness can:

  • Reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and worry
  • Improve our ability to manage emotions and self-control.
  • Improve empathy, compassion, interpersonal skills, and relationships.
  • Reduce aggression, risk-taking behaviours like drinking and substance abuse, and problem behaviours like tantrums in children.
  • Boost attention and focus, raising cognitive performance, academic achievement and productivity.
  • Enhance resilience in both adults and children

There are many mindfulness practices we can incorporate into our daily life.  Try one or two today and see where they lead you.

Further Reading: Mindfulness Meditation – 8 Quick Exercises That Easily Fit Into Your Day

8. Meditate

While mindfulness is a form of meditation, it differs from most forms in that it is simply complete awareness – bringing full attention to a sensation or object in the present moment.  You don’t have to stop what you are doing to be mindful.  In contrast, most forms of meditation require planned time out for practice.  They focus on taking responsibility for and control of our mind, encouraging greater concentration, clarity, and positive thinking.

Meditation clears the mind, calming body, mind and spirit.  The accomplished practitioner can observe and understand the mind’s patterns and habits, and find new, more positive ways of being.  Ultimately, meditation cultivates transformational insight, self-awareness, compassion, patience, deep inner peace, and happiness.

Research studies show that regular meditation can permanently and positively rewire the brain. No matter how we think and feel today, our current state is not permanent.  We have capacity literally to reshape the structure of our brain from within. That is a hugely comforting thought!

Further Reading: What is Meditation and How It Affects Our Brain

9. Help Others

Sometimes it can feel like we give constantly and receive nothing in return. In the act of unselfish giving, we find true happiness. Though it may sound contradictory, giving genuinely of ourselves to help others is the best way to find true freedom.  People who give consistently to the world around them feel happier, less burdened by life, and more successful.

However, there is one major problem. The need in our world is so great – helping others seems to be a huge, perhaps impossible, task. How can we give in a way that doesn’t consume all our resources or leave us feeling overloaded and burned out?

Two simple and popular volunteering models are the Five Minute Favour and the 100 Hour Rule,

  • The Five-Minute Favour: do something for a friend or stranger that takes five minutes or less every day. A small commitment for you that could be of great benefit to the recipient.  Retweet or share a post, call on an elderly neighbour, offer to carry a stranger’s shopping if you see them struggling, stop to help someone with directions, mail a greeting card to a friend in need, pick up some groceries for a neighbour while doing your own shopping, package up a portion of food for an ailing friend while cooking your evening meal… These small acts take little time, but help in positive ways you may never know.
  • The 100 hour rule:  In one year, we can easily give 100 hours of our time to a good cause to help enrich our community and create a better future. Setting a goal of 2 hours per week (average across the year) helps you set boundaries to avoid stress and overload, while also giving a high level of support and hope to people and causes you believe in.

So give freely and authentically from your heart, without expectation of anything in return.  Support a friend in need.  Share hope with a child.  Extend a hand of kindness to a stranger in the street.  Donate to or volunteer with an organization like WE C Hope.  Share the hope and help build a brighter future today.

Further Reading: Why Giving Makes You Feel Good

10. Take Charge

You are the architect and builder of your life. Don’t sit back and expect others to solve your problem. Don’t make choices based on other people’s opinions (or what you think their opinions are).  Go boldly into the world and make things happen.  Create your own doors to walk through, and help others through them as you go.

You deserve to be happy.  So do what you need to create happiness within.  If you need space and silence to meditate or practice yoga every morning, tell your family and create that sacred space.  If you need to take a lunchtime walk, tell the people with whom you work that you are unavailable at this time, and set your phone to airplane mode.  If you need a career change to find peace and balance, investigate and plan the steps that will make that dream a reality.  If you need more service provision, consider donating or volunteering to help boost capacity.  If you need more support, ask clearly and be thankful for it.  Take responsibility and be the change you want to see in your life.

Further Reading: If You Want To Take Control Back In Your Life, Try These 7 Things

11. Say no More Effectively

Every day begins with good intentions – healthy habits and personal boundaries carefully considered to raise our quality of life.  But modern life conspires at every turn to corrode those plans, luring us with temptations, trapping us with a sense of obligation, and challenging our decision to put our own needs first.

The ability to say “no” effectively, without guilt, shame or regret, is crucial to our personal well-being.  Saying “no” is never an act of selfishness when doing so is necessary so you can actively address your own well-being.

The language you use when setting your own rules or boundaries has a significant impact on how you feel about saying no, and how your words are received by others.  For example, an assertive phrase like “I don’t…” states your choice and a clear boundary. A deprivation phrase like “I can’t” expresses a sense of guilt, and a barrier that could potentially be removed with negotiation.

Say no well with 3 simple steps.

  1. Identify your boundaries. For example, what time you check email or go to bed, whether you have the bread roll at a restaurant or drink socially. This makes any potential temptations much easier to avoid.
  2. Write down your list of choices. Put them somewhere you will be reminded of them often.  Share them with friends and family.  Set up reminders on your phone for daily timed actions such as checking email or regular bed time.
  3. Practice your “no” phrases. g. simply “no thank you” or “I’m unable to accept because I don’t work evenings – that is family time [don’t feel you have to justify your “no” response].  I feel very honoured you asked me though.”

Further Reading: A Scientific Guide to Saying “No”: How to Avoid Temptation and Distraction

12. Embrace Change

Two things in life are certain: we will all die eventually, and change is inevitable. Our current job, whether perfect or profane, will not last forever.  Good health is a transient experience, punctuated at the very least by brief bouts of illness.  Children grow up, move away and begin families of their own. Possessions age and break down.  Relationships evolve, expand and shrink away.

Resisting change sucks away positive energy and happiness from our lives.  We need to grow and adapt with life to be at peace with it and maintain inner happiness regardless of the external environment.

Embrace change this year.  See it as a positive opportunity, and be creative with the possibilities it opens up before you in the months ahead.

Further Reading: 10 Powerful Benefits of Change and Why We Should Embrace It

WE C Hope This New Year

Thank you so much for walking with WE C Hope through the adventures of 2017.  Thank you for being part of the One Retinoblastoma World community. Thank you for sharing with us the hope and vision of a brighter future for all who are impacted by childhood eye cancer.  We deeply value the encouragement, partnership, practical and financial support of our community.  We could not do what we do, or hope for a better future, without you.

Our One Retinoblastoma World 2017 meeting was monumental for our global community, and for WE C Hope USA especially.  With the help of an awesome volunteer editor, we look forward to publishing full video content of the meeting by World Rb Week in May.  Our global volunteer team has a lot of work to do this year, building on awareness raising, enhancing medical care and family support.  Please continue to join hands with us on the journey.

2018 brings significant change for me.  From January 1st, I will be working with WE C Hope only on Thursdays and Fridays, between the hours of 9am – 5pm GMT.  I step back for personal reasons, effects of living with an RB1 mutation requiring that for a time at least, I prioritise my own needs.

As I step back, I plan to focus especially on improving my daily exercise, sleep and mindfulness practice.  Enhanced personal well-being will in turn give me greater energy and focus to serve our community more effectively during my reduced hours.  I’m blessed to live just two minutes’ walk from my neighbourhood park, and walk there regularly with my guide dog.  The fresh air and green space is a vital cleanse, and I’m sure this delightful oasis will feature heavily in my daily routine throughout the year.

Adjusting to the new plan, consistently putting myself first, investing in my own well-being ahead of anything else, and learning to say “no”, is a major shift in mind-set.  I ask for your patience, understanding and respect of my need for privacy and space, and for your positive thoughts and prayers for the very best outcome possible.  Huge changes lie ahead for which I continue to prepare.  Whatever the outcome, this will be a transformational year.

May 2018 also bring you incredible blessings through all that you think, do, give and receive.  May you find bliss in the small gifts of daily life, and abundant opportunity to share your hope and light with the world around you.

Happy New Year!

You May Also Like to Read…

Breathing for Wellness: Why Breath Matters, and 8 Ways to Breathe Out Stress

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The Gift of Listening to Ourselves: how compassionate self-enquiry can reduce stress and help us heal

We all need to be heard, but how often do we truly listen to ourselves? Living or working with retinoblastoma can be emotionally overwhelming. WE C Hope CEO and Rb survivor, Abby White, shares personal experience of some listening techniques that help her cope with daily challenging thoughts and strong emotions such as anger, fear and worry.

Who Cares? Becoming Your Best Friend with Compassion, Care and Love

We are quick to support family and friends in a crisis with words of comfort, encouragement, and affirmation, and practical acts to care for their wellbeing, so why are we so reluctant to give ourselves the same support?  Abby White explores the difference between self-compassion, self-care, and self-love, how they are connected, why they matter so much, and how we can cultivate them.

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