Why you won’t find ‘happiness’ on my list of New Year’s resolutions

Can someone hand me an eraser?
(Alex Nabaum / For The Times)

The good news about coming down with the flu on New Year’s Eve and then suffering through the first four days of 2014 is that I at least got to cross “detox” and “sleep” off my list of immediate resolutions. Done and done.

If you know me, you’re probably rolling your eyes. Of course I’d have that reaction to a ruined, miserable holiday. I’m naturally an optimistic, silver-lining kind of person. I can’t help it. Which is not a bad way to live. Where I drive myself crazy, though, is in actively pursuing goals for the sake of happiness -- only to find myself exhausted, disappointed or, ironically, unhappy.

So this year, I’m setting a different sort of goal for myself. Instead of listing a bunch of to dos in hopes of being happier, I’m not going to pursue happiness at all.


PHOTO ESSAY: 10 tips for a better life from The Times’ Op-Ed pages in 2013

“When you try too hard to obtain [happiness], you’re almost guaranteed to fail,” argues Oliver Burkeman in the New York Times.

“The attempt to impose happiness is self-sabotaging,” he explains. “Psychologists have shown that positive-thinking affirmations make people with low self-esteem feel worse; that patients with panic disorders can become more anxious when they try to relax; and that an ability to experience negative emotions, rather than struggling to exclude them, is crucial for mental health.”

Burkeman, incidentally, is the author of “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” which, of course, I ordered.

None of this is to say I want to be miserable or that I want bad things to happen. And I can’t imagine being any less goal-oriented. But this year, “happiness” won’t be my motivation.

Who knows? Maybe 12 months from now, I may actually feel happier this way. And if not, I’m sure I’ll come up with some sort of optimistic spin on the experience.


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