by Rhonda O’Cana
Call me an optimistic nerd, but I love January and the promise of the new year ahead. It’s a blank canvas, a clean slate. I take great care in picking out my new planner each year. It must be one I won’t tire of easily, that will be tough enough to handle the weight of 12 months of hopes and dreams. The pages must have plenty of space for appointments and reminders, as well as room for lists of projects and intentions. I like to take the week off between Christmas and New Years to create my plans for the year.
It’s my own private creative retreat, my opportunity to design my blueprint for the next 12 months. Instead of resolutions and goals, though, my planner is filled with possibilities and options. Goals feel too restrictive; possibilities give me more control.
My 2015 planner will be bursting with things I want to do, not just a list of what I have to do. Don’t get me wrong, I include reminders of commitments and appointments and birthdays and holidays; when you think about it, everything we do is a choice, even if we don’t necessarily enjoy it. So yes, I choose to pay the bills and change the oil and clean out the gutters, and I make a point to add more enjoyable activities as well. This annual planner of possibilities is one of many strategies I use for creating a happy life. Over the years I have gathered and tested tidbits of wisdom from Positive Psychology, Solution-Focused Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and countless other teachers.
Here are the seven most effective strategies I gleaned from my research on happiness:
1. Cultivate a positive attitude and happiness in order to reach your goals. Most of us believe reaching goals brings happiness, but actually research shows the reverse is true. If we focus on being happy and enjoying the journey, we are much more likely to reach our goals.
2. Set the tone for your day before you get out of bed. Smile and ask, “What would make today great?” Identifying something positive that’s within your control is empowering. With this simple exercise you are training your brain to see possibilities.
“What is important is finding ways to express the real you and experience joy. Set aside time to paint, dance, garden, write — whatever brings you happiness.”
3. Smile. Smiling sets off a chain reaction of feel-good chemicals in your brain. Don’t feel like smiling? Biting a pencil horizontally will create the same effect.
4. List your blessings in a “What Went Well and Why” journal. Each night describe in detail three positive things that happened that day. Really elaborate about what made each one so special and why it occurred. Since what we focus on expands, this exercise can help you see a more realistic view of your life situation.
5. Do what you love. Confucius said, “Find a career you love and you will never work a day in your life.” If your current occupation does not allow for joyful expression of your talents, resolve to find one that will. What is important is finding ways to express the real you and experience joy. Set aside time to paint, dance, garden, write – whatever brings you happiness.
6. Exercise at least 10 minutes daily. Exercise creates positive moods and promotes wellness. Regular exercise teaches your subconscious mind, “What I do makes a difference.”
7. Spend more time with people who are happy. Moods are contagious. Make a conscious decision to seek out the companionship of optimistic souls.
This month as you make plans for the New Year, resolve to include strategies for your mental health and happiness as part of your overall life plan.
Rhonda O’Cana, LPC-S is a therapist in San Antonio and owner of O’Cana Life Works, LLC. She works with individuals, families and couples to improve overall life satisfaction and well-being. To connect with Rhonda, call 210-687-9711 or visit www.ocanalifeworks.com.