“Good habits make all the difference.” —Aristotle
It is wise for each of us, from time to time, to stop and evaluate our lives as we seek to make the most of them.
The start of a calendar year provides an opportunity to look back at the decisions that shaped our lives during the past year and gives us an extra push to make adjustments for the next one. Every new January represents a natural opportunity to evaluate the direction of our lives, adjust course if necessary, adopt new habits, or make healthy changes. Birthdays can often serve the same purpose.
Regardless of the time of year, self-reflection is important. Consider then, these 11 resolutions for a better you—proven by science. It is, after all, our habits that determine the course of our lives.
1. Exercise. Most of us recognize the benefits of physical exercise: healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy confidence. Some studies indicate exercise contributes to a positive body image even prior to any body weight or shape change—with as little as two weeks of regular exercise. And with increasing study centered around the effectiveness of minimalist workouts, each of us should be able to find the time to get started.
2. Less television. Those seeking intentionality realize the negative influence television has on their mind: it impacts our worldview, encourages consumerism, oversimplifies life, and results in less life satisfaction. Even more drastic, scientists are beginning to discover the habit of watching too-much television may be negatively impacting our life expectancy as well. Nobody is telling you to throw your television in the nearest dumpster, but deciding to cut back in the next year may be one of the best decisions you could ever make.
3. Go outside. According to recent studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, simply spending time outside with nature contributes to increased energy, wards off feelings of exhaustion, and results in a heightened sense of well-being. Of course, simply walking from your front door to the car door doesn’t count. So make a point this coming year to find an excuse to be outside—you can always start with a simple walk around the block each evening.
4. Read fiction. Recently, researchers have begun studying the physical impact reading stories has on our brain. As you might expect, they are discovering reading results in heightened connectivity and brain activity—sometimes, even up to 5 days after the book has been completed. If you read fiction, you already know this to be true. If you don’t, this could be your year to start. You may enjoy beginning with The Hunger Games or Divergent.
5. Give. Numerous studies show charitable giving boosts happiness and reduces stress—especially when the generosity promotes positive social connection. If you don’t already, find a cause or person you believe in and offer them consistent monthly support. They will benefit. You will benefit. And the world will be a better place.
6. Serve. Volunteering provides great value for our lives and the lives of those we choose to enrich. One study from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School, and the Yale School of Management found that when a person volunteers his or her time, they begin to feel like they have more time and are more efficient. Additionally, volunteers feel better about themselves, experience lower stress levels, and develop a deeper connection with others. The golden number appears to be 100 hours per year (2 hours/week).
7. Buy less stuff and more experiences. In studies presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, researchers suggest that buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness for both the consumer and those around them. Decide today to spend less money this year on possessions and more money on meaningful, memorable experiences. You’ll be glad you did in more ways than one.
8. Display gratitude. Psychologists have scientifically proven that one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in your life is how much gratitude you show. And it can be experienced with as little as three expressions each day (“Thank you for…”). Getting started is so easy and beneficial. It could be the easiest decision you make all year.
9. Practice smiling. In a fascinating study conducted at the Michigan State Business School, customer service professionals who fake a smile throughout the day worsen their mood. But people who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts improve their mood and withdraw less. Simply put, one easy way to improve your mood throughout the next year is to intentionally recall pleasant memories or think more positively about your current situation—and then smile because of it.
10. Stop and just play. Our world is becoming increasingly busy and the temptation to measure our worth by external factors continues to grow. As a result, taking time to slow down and just play is becoming increasingly rare. But play is fun and enjoyable. Play enriches the lives of children by exercising their mind and body. And it has the same positive effect on adults. So make an extra point to just slow down and play constructively with your friends or kids.
11. Determine to be happy. Two experimental studies published in The Journal of Positive Psychology this past year offer ground-breaking research on the cultivation of happiness. Based on the experiments, participants who listened to “happy” music and actively tried to feel happier reported the highest level of positive mood afterwards—more so than those who simply listened to the music. In other words, determining to be happy is a productive decision towards achieving it.
Adopting 11 new habits at one time is almost certainly too much to ask. But choose one or two specifically. And then, give it 29 days. You’ll be surprised how quickly they become habit.
Lane Mabray says
#4 Read fiction….Read the Classics….One year I read Moby Dick, War and Peace (no I didn’t finish that one), A Farewell to Arms, and the best one of the Russian writers was The Death of Ivan Illysh plus The Wizard of OZ….The best year of my life….BTW, I do #8 EVERY morning. Sometimes it is hard to write a gratitude list but Just get your “big chief tablet” out and start….I promise you will have a great day if you do this every morning.
As to smiling…totally agree with that. And just remember “No one comes into your life by accident. You are there to learn or you are there to teach”.
The Classics ARE fiction and not every one can relate to the 1800’s era, so modern classic are wonderful too.
Beth D says
Great comment! I too loved Death of Ivan Ilyich (read 40(?) years ago). You’ve inspired me to read it again. Happy New Year!
Joan Morris says
How about “put down that cell phone”?
Thorunn Sleight says
Not bad – but it isn’t enough to make negative instructions – what should one do instead of messing with one’s cell phone? How about “deliberately forget your cell phone at home on charge once in a while and engage with the world instead”?
Leslie Jones says
Absolutely!! These hand-held computers are negatively affecting relationships in my life.
Mary Vernon says
Kelly Morrison says
I would add one more item to your list. Ta Dah here it is 12. learn a new skill, something you set aside time to do on a regular basis and then do it. Be it painting, learning a new language, how to change the oil in your car, fix a real meal, garden, anything. When you immerse yourself in learning a new skill-the benefits are many. But the greatest benefit is being confident in your own ability to learn, turn off your mind and concentrate on your new skill. And satisfaction of doing a good job.
I love your blog. It has helped me so much. Happy New Year.
Why is it specifically stated to read Fiction? I love to read and don’t really watch television, aside from a few movies and many documentaries on Netflix.
But my reading preferences are Nonfiction, particularly historical and self help books. Just can’t get into Harry Potter or Hunger Games.
Is it for the imagination?
Just found your site and love it!
By the end of next year I hope to be rid of of all my stacks of boxes and stuff I don’t use or need. I truly have been looking for information and inspiration on how to go about becoming minimalist.
At least for kids, reading fiction increases empathy–probably because in fiction you experience the thoughts, motivations and feelings of characters. Some narrative nonfiction may also achieve this, as well as biographies, I would guess.
Thorunn Sleight says
I would say that reading fiction, good literature in particular, works well for everyone, not just kids, to increase empathy and imagination. Ask for assistance from a librarian to find fiction that will appeal to you; then, after a bit of practice you’ll find it to be easy. I am even able to find fiction that will appeal to other people, even if it doesn’t appeal to me.
Maybe read more than just the bullet point lol
Good simple place to start… The Fly Lady…. lot’s of tips
Ella Colborn says
Joshua, a Facebook friend of mine posted this coming into 2016. It is EXCELLENT! Thanks so much for this concise list. It’s nice to see affirmation of what I thought and have encouraged for years. The only thing I can think of that I would add to my personal list is spending time each morning in prayer and reflection. As a Christian, I find that invaluable, necessary to “get my head on straight” each morning. And I know there are scientific studies that have backed that up. Have a geat 2016! Thanks again.
Ella Colborn says
BTW, have a *great* 2016, not a “geat one”! :)
Dan B says
Another conspicuously missing here is MUSIC, either listening to or playing an instrument regularly, especially drums…even if not proficient…for this matter, any CREATIVE OUTLET I find very satisfying.
APPRECIATING ANIMALS, either watching or engaging with, enhances life for me.
BEING CHILDISH or INAPPROPRIATE, your own person, true to yourself unapologetically, helps build self-esteem.
HARMLESS PRANKS or DECONSTRUCTING NORMS, makes our world varietal and gives others permission to stretch or expand horizons.
REVERSING NEGATIVE SELF-TALK promotes optimism, esteem, and externalizes life’s rough patches. Don’t beat yourself up even if you are useless dork. Lol. You’re welcome. That’ll be $5.
Thorunn Sleight says
Several of your extra suggestions which you found were missing from Becker’s list can actually fit easily under his instruction to stop and just play.
Dan B says
One thing I find fun that’s not listed here is, engaging with the people around you, making eye contact, saying hello, and even striking up conversations with total strangers in the grocery store, on public transportation, and occasionally in restaurants when appropriate. I find engaging with others, especially strangers, very enriching. Thanks
Dan B says
…and the more different from my demographic they are, the better.
Karen Hanas says
As an ontrovert, this type of interaction is fulfilling to mr. I just hope I am not bothering others.
Debbie M says
I totally enjoy making conversation with people standing in line waiting to checkout at the store, in a waiting room, while shopping I’ll ask their opinion, a lot of times they’re a bit surprised but happy to answer. I just like to make people smile. I’m bi- polar and really try hard not to spiral down and this helps me to do that.
Thanks Joshua for bringing minimalism into many lives.
Dan B says
took psychology recently when returning to college at age 47, so I know about the “determine to be positive” suggestion, however, I believe allowing the full spectrum of experiences and not clinging to happy is also important for maximum sanity. Thanks
Christian fiction is great also. Much more relaxing. I can’t stand the dismal scenes in divergent, etc. Only watched one with my kids. That’s enough for me.
Dan B says
I’m not very religious, but I also don’t like a lot of dark shows if just gratuitously dark like, “the leftovers” on HBO, horrible, IMO
#3 won’t work for me. No sidewalks on our road and people drive crazy. I’d be turned into a pancake! So i’ll stick with mr treadmill and mr. DVR instead since it’s safer and i almost always have a bunch of great stuff on the DVR to watch while walking. Not much at the moment but that’s b/c i went a little overboard on the last DVR clear out. UGH.
Dan B says
I just upgraded to TiVo Roamio, love it, four tuners but still watch selectively, documentaries, old westerns, amateur film shows like “film school shorts” and “Imagemaker.” Bill Maher, and a couple of automotive reality shows, and other select ones for indulgence like, million dollar listing LA. lol.
Myra Hogan says
We have this same problem , I love walking but it so stressful and dangerous near where I live ????
Thank you for your valuable posts that I always read from Italy where I live. I’m totally agree with n. 7
Joshua Becker says
Cool this article came up when I tested a search of “Joshua Becker University of Pennsylvania” — due to the text in #6. Oddly, I have considered doing similar research myself, because of all my time spent volunteering. And of course I absolutely LOVE the golden number (3.618033…) — the spiral was on the chuppah at my wedding!
Can you share references? Would love to check out the books or articles that showed this data. Thanks!
Thanks for this list. I agreed to less television. My life is better and I am happier now. TV commercials and crappy soap operas are such a waste of time, and even news are not worth watching.
I will consider reading Divergent. I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games trilogy last year.
Happy New Year!
hi, I found your article to be refreshing as well as wise. I enjoyed it so much I mentioned it on my blog along with some of my responses to your ideas. I hope you do not mind my doing that.
You have some great ideas which were all things that I’d recognized as being beneficial but which could use some of my attention once more. Sometimes we have to mindfully put in to practice things which we know to be good, but which can get lost in the hassles of life or merely from our own depression. Here the “act as if” rule would definitely apply and would most likely be effective in raising our spirits.
John Guidone says
Good list but left out prayer…unless it isimplied/ included in the original reflection process.
Gary Wetherhold says
#12 – Read and study the Bible
Great List!! Thanks for putting it together.
From Elf: Smiling’s my favorite!
Robin Finlay says
These are excellent principles to live by. Children need to be actively encouraged to embrace them from the earliest age possible. Less time on the couch, playing with others, solving their own problems and away from our ever present gaze.
Great article. Posted on FB and posted on the fridge. Thanks!
Theresa caples says
I’m 64, Ive decluttered several times over the years, it felt great. Here I am on New Years Eve, looking at full closets, cabinets, drawers again, weighed down with stuff. It gets harder to do the physical cleaning, packing up, so I may hire some help. I really understood what someone said about sorting through relatives things and seeing all the stuff, things that I guess we hold to memories or some promise. We keep a few things we really cherish or need, then leave the rest. This blog really helped me think.
But I too have regrets, maybe just our age, all the things,memories ,
Time, money wasted..more years behind us than before us. It served a purpose at the time I guess..now, no longer..have to move forward, just remorseful, like you younger people, I didn’t maintain the decluttering, and fell into it again.
For number 8. Display gratitude, try this site: http://www.hapyr.com. Its an online journal that reminds to write down things you are grateful for and list a happy memory daily. Its goal is to get you in the habit of thinking that way.
Afolabi Omowunmi says
Simple doable list. Thanks for sharing.
Great list. Like them all except reading fiction. Of course, I have no problem with anyone who does, but I consider it a waste of time. I’d prefer to read something like your blog which encourages me to be a better person and deals with reality rather than fantasy.
I like these suggestions, I’ve practiced some along the way of life, but have let some go due to external factors. This week has reminded me how far I have come in changing my priorities in life, and your post helps me understand that I’m still on the right track when it comes to what is most important in life. Faith, Family, & Real Friends.
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Sandeep Jayasooriya says
What is Karma? Karma is the Sanskrit word for action. It is equivalent to Newton’s law of ‘every action must have a reaction’. When we think, speak or act we initiate a force that will react accordingly. This returning force maybe modified, changed or suspended, but most people will not be able eradicate it.
This law of cause and effect is not punishment, but is wholly for the sake of education or learning.
A person may not escape the consequences of his actions, but he will suffer only if he himself has made the conditions ripe for his suffering. Ignorance of the law is no excuse whether the laws are man-made or universal.
– See more at: http://www.trulymind.com/12-little-known-laws-of-karma-that-will-change-your-life/#sthash.Kbj86hrR.dpuf
Philip F. Lewis says
I remember my elementary and high school year, after a two weeks of vacation. Teacher always give us an essay for What is our New Years Resolution. As far as I remember, my stated resolution is to be good for the whole year…Now that I am an adult my resolution is to loss weight, do some exercise as I have gain weight..Hope I can do it..
Nice post, doing list for a resolution… the thing is if I do some list, can I follow or it will be all in the list..hahahhahha.. its a matter of discipline, I guess!!!
Le chateau des fleurs blog says
I will certainly use this list. Thank you!
Nic Grobler says
All very good and I agree . Only one thing missing , the spiritual aspect.Have a moment of prayer and Scripture reading to fill your mind with a positive and confident believe .God is in control no matter what.
Developing an inner life — meditation and prayer — even 5 minutes a day — will CHANGE your life for the BETTER — over time, exponentially… aum, peace, namaste…
Queen Mary says
Ah, well, if science says so, it must be true! I jest of course, but it does seem that common sense supports this list with much more credibility than the vagaries of scientific research — at least for me. Who wouldn’t rather a walk outside rather than television inside?
Gladys (The Pinay Mom) says
This is so practical and can be done. I remember as an elementary student back home (Philippines), our teachers used to give us an assignment to list our New Year’s Resolution (literally first day of school in every New Year) and most of the time those resolutions never put into action.
Thanks for sharing this!
Resolutions seems anything but minimalist. Another example of the minimalist movement being co-opted into the productivity business cult. Do more and more and more is their mantra. To what end? As a minimalist, my aim is to take it easy with what I have and definitely not follow some arbitrary and potentially dangerous set of resolutions. Dangerous? Reading fiction, especially the late capitalist tomes of the Hunger Games will just keep us entrenched in the social structures that have us groping for minimalist in the first place. Heaven forbid we read some continental philosophy and think critically about our world and it’s crippling economic structures.
You used “it’s” wrong.
You sound lazy.
I find that the single most fulfilling thing for me is to genuinely help someone. By that I mean that I provide something they really need or help them to be able to do something they have trouble with. I don’t count it when I show how to do something over and over again because they don’t get it since that is really not helping them. But it is a fantastic feeling when I assist someone or provide to someone and they thrive in it. I am in IT for the State and work with a lot of current/new technology. Yet, contrary to many tech people, I don’t find joy in working with technology but instead finding ways to make technology work for people. For a time I was working in user support for our agency and loved it, but have since been reassigned to behind the scenes support and don’t like it so much. I can still do things for people outside of work though, so that helps to keep me going.
Regarding the advice to read fiction: iirc the study reported that these wonderful results came from books that challenged the mind — literary fiction — not just lightweight summer trash. Which makes sense, when you think about it — a book that requires no thought won’t provoke it, either.
Karla McEvoy says
I read a lot of non-fiction, but tend to gravitate towards the television when I am looking for entertainment. Read more fiction for fun is a goal for me this year.
I already practice most of these and are definitely great reminders!
Right now 14 Beth Moore books are available for free for iBooks or nook…..more good reading
Read the hunger Games trilogy, now on the third Divergent book….good fiction for all ages, enjoy discussing them with my teens.
Thank you for the clear and concise list.
Interesting how each of the items are encouraged to us in the Bible.
My big one from this is smiling – I have been told several times by friends and family that I need to smile more. In my enthusiasm to accomplish goals and do so many cool things, I forget that life is also about having fun, not only about getting things done. I have resolved to myself to smile randomly without any reason throughout the day. I have read somewhere that if you smile, even if you are not happy, the act of smiling itself will cause the production of endorphins in your body, causing happiness. I am going to put that into effect this year. :)
I think this is one of those items on the list that is a cascade catalyst, meaning that by practicing smiling you will either cause yourself to do another item or positively reinforce doing it.
For about ten years, since our two daughters became part time restaurant servers to pay for school, I have always made it a point to smile, say hello and ask how our server’s day has been going for them.
90% of the time they light up, give me a tid-bit of how their day has been going, and thank me for asking… that’s all it takes!
Danny M says
Jacalyn E. says
Josh, you have such inate, God-given understanding of what we need to be focused on in this generation. Thank u for following your passions, I really needed to read this, very inspirational. Change is slow, steady, and worth the success it brings.
Cheryl Magyar says
Simply moving, creating with our hands and feet is a great way to develop skills that are useful as well as soothing. You are right, we need to remember play for all ages!
Great list once again Joshua. The one I’ll be working on is reading fiction. It’s never been my thing but it’s something I want to change. Thanks again for the inspiration.
All good stuff!
Serving, such a simple thing. I find if I ever get in a rut of depression, looking for ways to serve others really helps.
Jon Dale says
Joshua, this is a great list. Several items we already had on our list and some we’ll be adding. Thanks! Keep inspiring change!
Christy King says
I still hate exercising (working on that one!), but I’ve been improving in the areas touched upon by your other suggestions. Just wanted to let people know those studies are right – it has made me much happier and at peace with myself and the world.
Kim smith says
Christy, I start my morning w. my ipod and dance around the house for about 1/2 an hour. I then added some breathing exercises given to me by my Eastern doctor. After that, the blood is flowing, the mood is up, and I can stay on the floor for 40 minutes doing situps, pushups, stretches… I call it my play time.
Matthew Stellato says
Don’t just excersize find a sport you like and do that for exercise and or exersize to improve I agree. Exercise is boring but skiing Mt. Biking golf adventure hiking are phenomenal
Laurie Crews says
All your posts are so practical. Thank you for this simple yet powerful advice.
Don Putnam says
great ideas! I’m working on most of them; especially minimizing my waistline and stuff I own.
Great ideas! I teach, and I always tell my students that my job is a play date for me because I enjoy it so much–it’s so easy to be happy when you spend most of your day with young adults! I smile always!