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Feel-Good Resolutions for the new year

31 Dec 2011 | Action for Happiness

* Make your New Year's Resolutions enjoyable as well as beneficial *

* Evidence shows happier people have better health and live longer *

As a new year approaches and people plan their 'resolutions' for the year ahead, Action for Happiness is encouraging a different approach from the usual, dull self-improvement list. Instead, people are being asked to take the Action for Happiness pledge and do things to make themselves and others happier. Evidence shows that how happy you are can have a greater impact on your health and how long you live than stopping smoking or losing weight.

From fun and sociable outdoor activities, to connecting with your neighbours and doing acts of kindness to help others - there are lots of actions to take that have a proven impact on people's happiness. Many of these involve other people and doing things that make them feel good too.

Director of Action for Happiness, Mark Williamson, said: "New Year's resolutions are traditionally seen as hard work and difficult to keep up; having to do less of the things we enjoy and more of the things we know are good for us but aren't very fun. This year, we're asking people to take positive and effective actions to ensure that their New Year's resolutions are not only beneficial, but are also enjoyable and have a positive impact on others too."

10 actions for happiness:

  • Let your family and friends know how much they mean to you
  • Find ways to make exercise fun and sociable
  • Do extra acts of kindness to help others
  • Get outside and enjoy the natural world together
  • Spend more time getting to know your neighbours
  • Take time each day to be 'mindful' and notice how you're feeling
  • Change something that's been making you or others unhappy
  • Support a good cause you feel passionate about
  • Try something new that puts you outside your comfort zone
  • Write down three good things that happen each day

There is extensive evidence showing the health benefits of happiness. It is at least as powerful, if not more powerful, a predictor of health and longevity than other lifestyle factors that tend to get a lot more focus - like stopping smoking, improving diet or increasing physical activity. For example, the evidence that positive emotions and enjoyment of life contribute to better health and a longer lifespan is stronger than the data linking obesity to reduced longevity. [1]

Williamson continued: "Of course it's great for people to give up things that are bad for them, like smoking or an unhealthy lifestyle, but we're suggesting simple and enjoyable actions that anyone can take to increase their wellbeing and make others around them happier too. You can think of these like a regular work out for the mind to improve emotional fitness, in much the same way that you work out your body to improve physical fitness."

Did you know?

  • Happiness can lengthen life. A recent study measured the positive emotional states of nearly 4,000 people aged 52-79 and followed them for an average of five years, tracking their subsequent death rates. Those with high levels of positive emotion were 35% less likely to die during the subsequent period than those who experience low levels of positive emotion (after controlling for other factors). [2]
  • Happy people have been found to be significantly less likely to catch the cold virus than their less happy peers; and if they do contract the virus they tend to report fewer symptoms. [3]
  • Doing good is one of the best ways to feel good. People who care more about others are happier than those who care less about others. When people do good, their brain becomes active in the same reward centre as where they experience other rewards. [4] Studies show that giving money away makes people happier than spending it on themselves. [5] 
  • People who take a basic course in mindfulness training are on average 20% happier than a control group one month later and have better responses in their immune system. Such training can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness and compassion. [6]
  • Our happiness influences the people we know and the people they know. Research shows that the happiness of a close contact increases the chance of being happy by 15%. The happiness of a 2nd-degree contact (e.g. friend's spouse) increases it by 10% and the happiness of a 3rd-degree contact (e.g. friend of a friend of a friend) by 6%. [7]

Founder of Action for Happiness, Lord Richard Layard said: "We want people to approach their New Year's resolutions in a different way and join the thousands who have already taken the Action for Happiness pledge, 'to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around'. Acting on this pledge has the potential to not only increase people's wellbeing, and the happiness of those around them, but can also bring very significant benefits for people's overall health. By choosing to take a positive, outward-looking approach to the year ahead we can make it a better year for all of us."

Join 18,500 people from 120 countries who have already taken the Action for Happiness pledge at www.actionforhappiness.org

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References

[1] Diener, E., Chan, M.Y., Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity, Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing, 2011

[2] Steptoe, A. and Wardle, J., Positive affect measured using ecological momentary assessment and survival in older men and women, PNAS, 2011

[3] Cohen, S et al, Positive Emotional Style Predicts Resistance to Illness After Experimental Exposure to Rhinovirus or Influenza, Psychosomatic Medicine, 2006

[4] J. Rilling et al, A Neural Basis for Social Cooperation, Neuron, 2002

[5] E. Dunn et al, Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness, Science, 2008

[6] BK Hölzel et al, Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011

[7] J.H. Fowler and N.A. Christakis, Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years, British Medical Journal, December 2008 

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