The new year is a fresh start and it’s time for you to be the best version of yourself — for yourself. Whether you’re resolving to improve your eating and fitness habits this year or not, why not consider your overall happiness? We’re talking with Dr. Martha Anne Rich of Rich Potential to discover what common barriers may be holding us back from being our happiest selves, and how to confidently head toward that goal.
Dr. Rich is particularly familiar with the quest for happiness, as she daily helps people on their own paths toward maximizing their fulfillment in life through her work as coach doing both executive coaching and life coaching. Her background as a licensed psychologist informs her conversations with clients as they work together to set and meet goals that will help them reach their fullest potential professionally and personally. This work toward happiness and fulfillment differs from psychotherapy (a.k.a. “therapy”), which typically addresses mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Rather, as a coach, Dr. Rich works with clients who want to take their lives and careers to the next level. A huge component of that personal and professional fulfillment is doing the things that lead to happiness for you. So, with some helpful guidance from Dr. Rich, let’s delve into seven simple steps towards a happier you!
7 Easy Steps Towards Happiness
1. Set goals.
Goal-setting can feel cliche, but it’s absolutely essential to know where you’re headed in order to be your happiest self. Goal-setting is a big component of Dr. Rich’s work as a coach, and the concept applies both at work and at home. “When you set difficult but achievable goals, you are likely to accomplish a lot more,” says Dr. Rich. But whether you have a big dream or a small intention, having a measurable milestone you’re working toward can improve your happiness.
Make a vision board for 2019. Sit down with yourself or your family and write down some plans for the year and years ahead. You can also use images from magazines, drawings and inspirational passages or quotes that remind you of your goals. Looking at those images and aspirations every day will bolster your intentions and keep you on the path towards your goals.
2. Get into balance.
“A happy life consists of some combination of pleasure and purpose,” says Dr. Rich. Whether you’re a perfectionist known to work your fingers to the bone over every little project or you trend toward a more laid-back, party-and-leisure approach to life, it’s important to self-assess occasionally and make sure that you are enjoying pleasure and purpose in a balance that’s working for you. Otherwise, you’ll either burn yourself out with an excess of purpose or be left feeling empty and unfulfilled with too much time spent on fun activities. “These things ebb and flow over life, but it makes sense to at least periodically check in with where you are in that and decide what adjustments you can make.” says Dr. Rich.
3. Focus on self-care.
On the path to being our happiest, best selves, it’s important to spend time caring for ourselves. Self-care can mean yoga classes, face masks and bubble baths, but it also can be much simpler than that. “I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of sleep, exercise and diet to overall well-being,” Dr. Rich says. “It’s difficult to be resilient in the face of life’s inevitable ups and downs if we don’t have a foundation of good self-care.”
Figure out what quality self care means for you, and don’t be afraid to indulge in those practices. Taking time to recharge and care for yourself will allow you to be your best in your daily life at work and at home.
4. Design your life to point toward happiness.
“You can design your environment in a way that encourages your happiness,” says Dr. Rich. “It is true that you can’t just think yourself into a good life. You need to make choices, and a lot of that is how you set up your life.” For a simple way to get started in this direction, Dr. Rich recommends making little changes that foster happiness throughout your day. That can involve setting up your lock screen or home page to something that reminds you of what or who is important to you, starting meditation or yoga practices, or something as simple as an affirming quote taped to your mirror.
5. Emphasize positive self-talk.
“We can all get bogged down in some inaccurate self talk,” says Dr. Rich. It’s difficult to turn the corner and make a change that will increase your happiness if you’re in a constant cycle of negative self talk. Instead, she advises, refocus and flip the script. “It’s much more difficult to make positive changes when you’re being really hard on yourself,” she says.
When you notice beliefs that are holding you back — for example, that your life “should” look a certain way — focus on the skills you currently possess that will help you move forward toward the life you want to live. A running monologue of negative thoughts is not helpful. Learning to speak to yourself in a positive way is integral to sustained happiness.
6. Don’t get caught in the comparison trap.
With our seemingly near-constant interaction with social media, it’s becoming harder than ever to not get lost comparing yourself to others. And Dr. Rich says that the social comparison component of social media is a big threat to our happiness. As you scroll, take a moment to check in with yourself. Is your time on social media making you happy or detracting from it? “We know that lots of screen time can contribute to poor mood states and can negatively affect close relationships,” says Dr. Rich. “If you think that that’s a factor for you, it might make sense to restrict your social media time or block your notifications for periods of time every day.”
While cutting social media out of your life completely may not be realistic or even necessary for most of us, the best thing you can do is be aware of how social media is affecting you and edit your use of the platforms accordingly. A recent study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that “limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.” It won’t be easy, but there are now so many ways to limit or change our time spent on social media, and every step toward time spent offline is a step in a happier direction.
7. Nurture your relationships.
Relationships are essential to our happiness, in both good times and bad. “No matter what happens to you in life, we know that having good relationships with people and having people to talk to is always a predictor of better adjustment to those circumstances and more happiness in life,” says Dr. Rich. “And sometimes we can have those supportive relationships in place, but if we’re not taking care of them and giving them the attention they need, they suffer. So it’s not indulgent to spend your time having lunch with a friend. It’s basic self-care.”
So reach out to a friend you haven’t seen in months, join a book club to meet new people, foster friendships with neighbors or schedule quality time with your spouse. We all crave connection, and investing in meaningful relationships is always a boost to our happiness.