New Year, new goals-right? Why not do things differently this year? Why and how?
A wonderful quote by Rick Warren will help to set you free from the constant pressures of modern-day life:
“You will never be happy with more, if you are not happy with what you already have”.
Research seems to agree with Rick.
Social sciences, Religions and Philosophers have all set out to answer the questions: “What is happiness and how do we achieve it?” They have drawn from many principles of psychology and human physiology as well as happiness questionnaires. These come back with conclusions we may all have read about or can instinctively relate to:
- having our basic needs met- shelter, food, safe environment etc
- having a positive outlook,
- healthy body including a healthy diet, regular exercise and being pain-free,
- being involved in /contributing to a community,
- having purpose,
- having loving relationships -friends and family etc,
- freedom and independence which includes financial and freedom to create/grow/change and flourish as an individual.
These are all wonderful (but not exhaustive) elements contributing to your and your family’s happiness.
If your ultimate goals in life are for yourself and your family to be happy and you have considered the impact of the above factors on your life or lives, you are on the right track, but you might be surprised to learn that the constant pursual of new goals/achievements/finances/material possessions or even experiences, will only ultimately lead to wanting more or the feeling of needing more.
Dopamine, a pleasure and goal achieving hormone or endorphin, is partly to blame for this. It peaks when goals are achieved, and then it drops back down to base-line. For example, you will build dopamine slowly as you work towards your goals, even more the more challenging your goals are or the longer it takes to achieve them, and then dopamine will deliver the feeling of peak-happiness once you have achieved it. If the achievement is in anyway lacking from the expectation of the achievement, then your dopamine levels will drop to below baseline and you will feel worse than when you started. You will very likely crave a quick-fix carb (for serotonin release, an instant-gratification endorphin) ormaybe another shopping experience.
A good example of this is when you order something online, perhaps from a shop you have never purchased something from before. You know- the ones that pop-up on Facebook whilst you are scrolling innocently along…then you see it- it looks amazing! Maybe it is an amazing deal for some tech-thingyma-bob or a beautiful frock perfect for your next party! It arrives in the mail, (or not at all!!) and you open it…and it is awful! Not as described at all. You want to bin it and hope you can return it. All your anticipation (build-up of dopamine) drops and you feel worse than before you ordered it.
When you understand how dopamine works, you can make it work for you. Avoid instant-gratification scenarios and focus on long-term goals. Ones where satisfaction and pleasure will come from your achievements again and again. Investments in relationships are very good examples of this. Goals which take time to achieve and a lot of hard work as well. Where you may well fail a few times and have many lessons to learn along the way. Goals where not only you or your nearest and dearest benefit, but your wider communities. Consider goals in which you are improving other peoples’ lives as well. These types of goals will ultimately provide long-term joy and satisfaction.
As I write this, I am acutely aware and grateful for my fulfilling career as an Osteopath and Naturopath in being able to help people with aches, pains, and illnesses. It brings me great joy and I am humbly grateful to all the people who have spent their lives in pursuit of understanding and continue to widen our understanding of the wonderfully complex human body, mind and spirit so we are able to know how to help when things go wrong.
Considering what brings you lasting happiness is one of the keys in the question above: “How do we achieve lasting happiness”?
Consider the above and the effects of dopamine, when you create your goals for 2023.
Before you start however, write a list of what you already have.
This will help reduce fears and anxieties through providing perspective. It will set you free from societal and cultural pressures which are ultimately meaningless!
We all know what a good dose of an attitude of gratitude can bring, but can often fail to apply it when we feel burdened to be super achievers and growers in every field of life. We want to be super-mom’s (and dad’s!!), super-wives/husbands, have a spotless house, have spotless, well-behaved and perfectly performing kids in every aspect of their school and social lives, providing perfect dinners, having perfect bodies, good careers and security infinances. The list can go on and on and on…but remember these things do not bring lasting happiness. Only a short-lived dose of dopamine (and maybe a little slightly-longer lived, but ultimately still temporary ego-boost!)
So here is a list of blessing I will be starting with which I hope will help you:
- Whom am I thankful for?
- What am I thankful for?
- What have I achieved which I am still proud of?
- Which of our basic needs have been met?(house/food/transport/safety/warmth)
- What gives me purpose and motivates me?
- What/whom is most important to me?
- What brings my family members joy?
- What brings my friends joy?
- What brings me joy?
Additional questions which may be helpful to consider for your new year’s goals might be:
- Who do you want to reconnect with/connect with more often?
- How can I/we help to contribute to someone else’s basic needs this year?
- What is the legacy/generational impact I want to have and how can I achieve that?
- How can I be more kind to everyone around me and intentionally to my loved- ones and people in need? Aside from the benefits kindness brings to people around us, it also brings us joy and happiness and helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
For more inspiration on happiness check out Dan Gilbert’s TedTalk on The Surprising Science of Happiness, Rick Warren’s book on The Purpose Driven Life,
Switch on your Brain, by Dr Caroline Leaf and listen to some Pod Casts by Dr Rangan Chatterjee- Feel better, Live more.
Good luck with your goals this year! I hope they will be truly meaningful and bring lasting joy and satisfaction to you and those around you!
By Marelie Mey
Osteopath & Naturopath