Well, here we are in another new year. The common thread for 2014 among many I talk to is that it was a hard year for one reason or another. Most have said that they want 2015 to be a better year, myself included. In 2014 alone I had 4 miscarriages. Not exactly a banner year for me, and I know many of you experienced many difficult things, too.
The complicated thing is that when it comes to making a year better, we often don't have the control we would like. I would love to say "I will have no miscarriages in 2015" but that is something that is, for the most part, outside of my control. If I decide to try to get pregnant, there will be a risk for miscarriage. That is something I have to come to terms with. For you, it may be other things. Maybe you've been trying to get pregnant for a long time and haven't been able to. Maybe your fertility treatments haven't gone as planned. Maybe you have a health condition that is difficult to manage, or maybe you've struggled for years to lose weight. Maybe your job is taxing, or relationships are strained, or maybe you're at a crossroads in life where you don't even know who you are any more. Whatever the case, we all face situations that we can't fully control.
So how can we aim to make 2015 our best year yet when we have such pathetically small control over our circumstances? Here are 15 ways I'm using to increase my happiness quotient:
1. Attitude is everything. We know this, but sometimes it's hard to really grasp that we're in control of our attitude. In my early twenties, I was pretty depressed and bitter about many things. I felt like a victim because I developed chronic health problems at such a young age. I was miserable, and I fully embraced my misery. I didn't try to be happy, and I certainly didn't look for the "wonderful" in life. In retrospect, all I did was contribute to my own suffering. By sulking and wallowing in how bad things were, I sank even lower than I would have needed to. Nowadays I still have the same health issues, and I've endured 7 miscarriages in the last two years. I have many opportunities to be overwhelmed with anxiety, dread, misery, and fear. Instead, I actually find myself happier now than I ever have been. Why? Because I've stubbornly decided that I am going to have a good attitude. Over the last few years, I've seen that attitude is more a product of will power and determination, and less a result of our circumstances. You may need to flex some muscles to make a better attitude happen, but if I (a confirmed and devoted pessimist for most of my life) can make it happen, I know that you can, too!
2. Make small changes. Ahh, America, the land of all or nothing. We make New Year resolutions to get healthy, and fall off the wagon in a week or two when things get a little rough, or when we can't stop thinking about pizza and ice cream. We go big or go home, but most of the time that means we lose when it comes to our health. I've been both the supremely unhealthy American eating SAD (Standard American Diet) food, and I've been the "health nut" who never eats sugar and is concerned about things like my microbiome and my genetic expression. Maybe you won't ever hit either extreme. Maybe you've hit other extremes, like fad dieting or extreme fitness challenges. The fact is that most Americans (and humans in general!) will do much better by slowly integrating change over time instead of trying to do it all on the first day. Allowing yourself to acclimate to a new lifestyle over time is (almost) always way more successful than going cold turkey. Try increasing your water intake, or giving up sugar, or starting an exercise program before you do all of them together and more. By succeeding at one single, important health goal, you'll fuel your desire to continue and will be more successful when you do find yourself "all in."
3. Be purposeful. Health changes don't happen by accident or overnight. You have to be intentional about the changes you want to make, and then you have to work hard to do them. Assuming that it will be super easy or fun is the first mistake, and not setting clearcut goals is the second. Identify what you want to achieve through your new health plan, and post the goals where you'll see them every single time you want to give up or give in. The goals are yours alone, so there aren't right or wrong answers. When I decided to give up sugar for 2015, my main goal was to prevent having any more autoimmune flare-ups. Plus, I always feel amazing when I don't eat the sweet stuff. It's also highly addictive (yes, even the natural kinds), so I like the idea of breaking free from my need for sugar in any form. Your goals will likely be different from mine, but whatever they are, you will set yourself up to succeed by identifying why you want to do it.
4. Stop complaining. This one is self-explanatory. When we speak negatively (or think it) about our lives, no matter how difficult they feel, we are creating an increasingly more negative environment. Even if everything sucks, we will get farther in life, and be happier, if we don't only focus on that. One of the fastest ways to get happier is to stop complaining and, instead, start speaking about the good things in your life. We all have good things even in the midst of very hard things. Starting a gratefulness journal has become somewhat popular, but even if you don't get that formal with it, make a point to find one thing to be thankful about each day. Even if it's that you have a brain to think negative thoughts with. :)
5. Find a confidante. We all have need of friends, but in many ways, we also need confidantes. Sometimes these are friends, but sometimes they are professional counselors or friends who aren't as closely connected with our lives. You need to have someone to whom you can bare all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I've seen a professional counselor and felt like I could finally air out all of the horrible things I was thinking, only to find out they weren't so horrible, but were rather pretty normal. I also have a few good friends to whom I can confide in when I'm having rough moments, who will encourage me and remind me of what's good in my life. Everyone needs someone like that.
6. Let your hair down. Perfectionism is exhausting. Even if you wouldn't consider yourself a perfectionist, most humans have areas where they feel a driving need to be perfect or the best. Too bad that these ambitions can actually drag us down pretty fast. You'll be much happier if you can accept that, while you'll probably never achieve perfection, you can fight to be your best, and your only competition there is you. In 2015, why not let your hair down and aim to do your best at finding happiness, joy, and relaxation? For me, this meant letting go of my dreams of someday having a six pack. I have a generous amount of flub around my waistline, and you know what? I'm okay with that. I can work out and improve my health, but I've tossed the notion that I'll ever be a fitness guru or someone who has washboard abs.
7. Revive a hobby. Before my life got busy and stressful, I dabbled in writing short stories. As I started to have miscarriages, and battled a never-ending processing of grieving, recovering, and grieving again, I kind of let the fun writing fall to the wayside. This year I've decided to pick it up again. I'm sure you have a hobby or something that you enjoy, so why not start it up again this year? Whether it's crafty, or reading, or enjoying music or movies, participating in something that you truly enjoy can have wildly beneficial effects on your health.
8. Learn something new. It's crazy how settled we can become in life and before we know it, we're kind of stagnated, doing the same old thing, day in and day out. When we do make changes, it tends to be for health benefits (which is great, don't get me wrong) or something equally as serious, and we can start to view change as something that's negative or horribly un-fun. Make change feel adventuresome again by learning something new! Why not try a cooking class, learning a foreign language (I dabble in learning German here and there), picking up a musical instrument, taking voice lessons, or learning to crochet? There are plenty of other options out there, so it should be easy enough to find one that interests you!
9. Invest in others. One of the quickest ways to be happier is to make someone else happy. You don't have to spend hours to invest in others, either. It can be as simple as saying a kind word, sending a note of encouragement, or buying someone a cup of coffee. Of course, it can be much more than that, like mentoring someone, cleaning, keeping company with someone who isn't able to leave their house, or providing food for someone in need. There are ample ways to serve and invest in others. When you're struggling yourself, helping anyone else can often be the last thing from your mind, but sometimes it's the very best thing to help pull you out of your slump.
10. Donate. I don't know of too many people who have extra money burning holes in their pockets, but even so, there are many worthy causes that can benefit from your financial support. Even if you can only spare a few dollars, donating to a cause that you champion will have similar benefits to investing in others with your actions. There are plenty of programs available where you can sponsor children in need, support local food pantries, and even donate books and other items to literacy programs. There are also numerous opportunities for one-time donations. Whatever the case, giving out of your own need can make you feel like part of something bigger, which can contribute to your own happiness and wellbeing.
11. Find hope. Finding hope is different than being grateful. While I may be thankful for the relationship I have with my husband (which I am), that doesn't translate into automatic hope for the next time I get pregnant. There is still much anxiety that surrounds the thought of another miscarriage. No amount of gratefulness can push away that anxiety, so this is where hope comes in. Hope, which focuses on things we don't yet have, is not nearly as tangible as gratefulness. We have to struggle harder for hope, to think positively about invisible things that may never happen. But you can cultivate hope just like you can nurture thankfulness: one moment at a time. Let yourself hope for your future possibilities. Talk about them. Think about them. Pray for them. Even if things you want turn out to be impossible, there is always something to be hopeful for. And sometimes, even the impossible happens.
12. Branch out. This is similar to learning new things, except you don't necessarily need to learn something new to branch out of your comfort zone. Maybe it's as simple as trying a vegetable you've never eaten (or haven't eaten in years because you think you don't like it). Or maybe it's doing something unexpected, like joining a book club at your local bookstore, or getting a gym membership, or trying a different form of exercise than you normally prefer. We can only stand to get stronger when we are willing to consider new possibilities, options, and ideas.
13. Get rid of toxins. Okay, you knew I couldn't go for too long without writing about food, although there is much more to "detoxing" than just eating vegetables and quitting sugar. Toxins come in all forms, including emotions. I am not a fan of harsh detox programs that leave you starving on juice fasts, eating super weird food combinations, or taking a ton of special supplements. Detoxing should be a way of life since our livers actually detox for us every single day. Whether you want to detox or not, your body is doing it for you. It's important to take a conscious role in that process, whether that means you eat health supportive nutrients or you take steps to set boundaries for the toxic people in your life.
14. Slow down. Everything in our society seems to move at a breakneck speed. We expect to work faster, eat faster, lose weight faster, and on and on it goes. But at some point this need for speed comes back to bite us in the behind. Eating faster, for example, means food gets chewed less thoroughly and enters our stomach in larger pieces than is ideal for complete digestion. Working faster can mean less quality work. Losing weight super fast can mean it won't stay off for the long haul. Faster isn't always better, yet we are programmed to think that it is. Taking time to slow down, to breathe deeply, to move with purpose, and enjoy our moments instead of rushing through them is one of the healthiest things you can do. How? Chew your food more. Choose a form of exercise that values strength and balance over speed and repetition. Take some quiet time for yourself. Eat around the dinner table instead of on the go. However you do it, find some time to slow down a little each day and reap the benefits by lowering stress levels and feeling less chaotic.
15. Move more. No, this doesn't contradict #14. It's imperative to slow down, but it's also important to move. Too many of us are sedentary in our lifestyles and would reap major stress-relieving benefits if we were more active. Movement comes in many forms, exercise and otherwise. It could be the difference of parking farther away (I know, so cliche) to carving out five or ten minutes a day for a walk. It doesn't so much matter how much or how far you move, so don't feel like you need to set a specific goal. Moving isn't just about fitness, burning calories or trimming your waist either. It's about progress, going forward, and choosing to participate in life instead of sitting on the sidelines. So just resolve to move, and move more.
about the author
Aimee McNew, MNT is a certified nutritionist and a writer who specializes in women's health, fertility, autoimmunity, and the Paleo diet. She is passionate about helping others find success through simplified nutrition. Her first book, The Everything Guide to Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: A Healing Plan for Managing Symptoms Naturally released in October, and has been the #1 bestselling new release in gluten-free diets. Order it from Amazon!
All opinions expressed on this site are strictly that: opinions. Nothing replaces the medical advice of your doctor. You are responsible for your own health.