At this time of year, it’s pretty standard practice to make a promise to yourself. Things are going to change in the coming twelve months, you’ll tell yourself fervently. I will not smoke/be lazy/be messy/continue indulging my Netflix obsession for one whole year. I’m going to be SO proud when I’m a non smoking, lean, tidying machine. And all that spare time I wasted last year watching films and box sets will be much better spent zorbing and perfecting my first novel.
As many of you know, New Year’s Resolutions rarely work out. It’s often the case that we set ourselves ridiculous goals – which are punishments masquerading as plans. Those who want to lose weight rarely decide to change their diet in a healthy, gradual way – and so New Year’s Day is a blur of diet bars, slimy herbal concoctions and envy as those around you polish off the Christmas leftovers. We punish ourselves in this way, all the time convincing ourselves that this cold turkey approach is the way forward. No pain, no gain.
This approach just isn’t realistic or sustainable. One of the key problems with this kind of resolution is that we’re investing all of our happiness at the centre of our goals. For example, we’ll tell ourselves that stopping smoking will make us happy. But then when we achieve the goal, we’re never as happy as we imagined – and so our happiness boundaries are shifted once again. On to the next goal; a new car, a new wardrobe, a new job. You’ll tell yourself that one of these goals is the key to happiness, but of course the ecstasy you envisage remains at arms reach. Like the carrot and stick, the more we funnel our happiness into unrealistic and punishing objectives, the less likely it becomes that we’ll ever actually be happy.
And what happens when we fail to keep these resolutions? We become disillusioned and ashamed, before eventually believing that the goals were ridiculous in the first place. That much coveted pride of completing the goal is nowhere to be seen, and the resignation that failure was inevitable prevails. And yet sometimes we replace our failed New Year’s Resolutions with further foolish goals, moving the goalposts yet again – “I’ll have finished War and Peace by Easter!”
The cycle of setting goals, failing, and commiserating continues until we’re too exhausted by the whole affair. Or, by this point, it’s almost Christmas again, and it’s time to start the list of ludicrous pointers for next year all over again.
Want to be happy in 2014? Ditch your resolution. Put your own happiness first, and success will follow.
We need to stop getting this formula so horrendously wrong – the general opinion is that focusing on success will make us happy, and it’s simply not the case. You’ll never feel successful if you invest your happiness in a series of goals, because when you achieve them you set even more. Happiness is always one step ahead of you, and you’ll never quite get a taste of it.
Focus on happiness in 2014 – you’ll thank me for it next year.