Thursday, January 01, 2009

Wishing you a happy and meaningful New Year

You read it here first two years ago (New Years Resolutions - you must be nuts) , but the BBC now agrees that New Years Resolutions are Bad for your Health. According to Mind chief executive Paul Farmer,

"We chastise ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and set unrealistic goals to change our behaviour, so it's not surprising that when we fail to keep resolutions, we end up feeling worse than when we started. In 2009, instead of making a New Year's resolution, think positively about the year to come and what you can achieve."

Sound advice, but how can you best think about what you can achieve?

A very simple yet very useful and profound distinction is in thinking about both what can make you happy and what will be meaningful.

If you focus just on happiness, you may be setting yourself up for a mid-life meaning crisis - and such a crisis can occur well before middle-age. So think about where you can create more meaning in 2009 - in intimate relationships, friendships, with children, parents, work, hobbies or altruistic activities, for example. These don't have to be big things - just things that mean that when you tot up what your life adds up to, it adds up to something that feels meaningful to you, and provides you with a purpose.

Yet focussing just on meaning and purpose isn't such a good idea either. Research suggests that the happier people are, the more altruistic they are, the healthier they are, the longer they live - the positive spin-offs from happiness are many. What's more, if you imagine a life which is very meaningful but isn't enjoyable, or one that is both meaningful and enjoyable, which would you choose?

Sometimes there's a clear choice between the meaningful and the enjoyable - but that needn't always be the case. One answer is to find activities that you find both meaningful and enjoyable.What would that be for you? Another is devote a certain amount of time to purely meaningful activities, another portion to enjoyable activities.

If you are reading this on or near New Year's Day, how about writing down a list of activities and goals for 2009 under two headings

1) Goals that will lead to me finding 2009 meaningful

2) Goals that will lead to me enjoying 2009

Then go about fulfilling them, and have a truely happy and meaningful 2009

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