I used to make big, long lists of New Year’s resolutions. “Do more yoga,” “Stop biting nails,” “Lose 5 pounds,” “See Paris,” “Find true love …” the list went on and on.
This year my resolution is to simply learn how to be happier.
My niece Sidney is 16 months old, and she has picked up on the sign language for the word “more.” She scurries about in her little cartoon-like infant kinda way, pressing her chubby fingers together, asking for “more” “more” “more.” I can’t say I’ve seen anything more adorable.
But in a culture that celebrates more money, more square footage and more of pretty much everything, I intend to teach her that the stuff we really need more of are things like this:
When we feel deeply connected, we’re so much happier. Isolation breeds misery, and it’s the reason so many of us struggle with addictions these days. We want to feel connected to something, anything: people, ourselves, creativity, divinity.
How can we cultivate connection? In our relationships we can show more outward expressions of love and generosity. (Simply listening is a good way to do this.)
To feel more connected to ourselves we can take more time to practice self-care. (Meditation, yoga, good food and sunshine have always worked for me.) For divine connection we can spend more time doing what fills us up inside. (Reading spiritual literature, cultivating stillness and spending time in nature have always deepened my connection to something greater than myself.)
It’s really difficult to feel unhappy and grateful at the same time. Neuroscientists have found that gratitude helps the region in the brain that produces dopamine make more of it. Feeling grateful for our loved ones increases brain circuits associated with social dopamine, making our sense of social connection much more fulfilling.
By placing our focused attention on all the things we’re grateful for — all the positive aspects of our lives — we help the brain’s anterior singular cortex produce more serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin are happy, feel-good brain chemicals, and our brain produces more of them whenever we take the time to remember what we’re grateful for.
▪ Loving compassion.
According to Tibetan Buddhism, happiness comes from both mindful awareness and loving compassion.
Meditation helps us build these two qualities in ourselves, and the classical Buddhist Loving-Kindness meditation is a really good place to begin, as it teaches us to open our hearts to all the joys, pains, sorrows and beauties of our human lives. It connects us to the most loving parts of ourselves, while training the mind to place its attention on compassion.
These are the things I ask us all to have more of as we transition into the new year.
So here’s a toast — to more of the things that make us truly happy, which will no doubt make the planet a better place to call home. Happy 2016!
Aimee Hughes of Kansas City is one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.