New Year’s resolutions can be great. If you’re a goal-orientated person (like me!) then you’ve probably already set out your aims and ambitions for 2017. If you’re a follower of the Tough Girl podcast, you may already have committed to your 7 or 17 challenges for 2017. My Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of people setting out their resolutions for the coming year.
And I applaud you all! But perhaps take a moment to stop and think why you’re making these resolutions. Many people set themselves resolutions to get fitter, lose weight or get a promotion because they feel this will make them happier or help them be a better person. If they don’t achieve their goals by the end of the year, they feel like they’ve failed.
Or perhaps you do achieve your goals, but wonder why you’re still not feeling as happy about it as you ‘should’ be. That despite all the effort and work you’ve put in, life is still not perfect.
But is happiness something that can be pursued? Sometimes I think we try and define ‘happiness’ too much, and set too much store in trying to achieve it. Earlier this year, I came across this comic strip from The Oatmeal which I think sums the pursuit of happiness up perfectly. If you sometimes feel that you should be feeling happier or more contented, I suggest you have a read of it.
Setting real resolutions
Last year I was guilty of setting a ton of goals without actually thinking through whether I’d realistically be able to achieve them. I’m all for setting ambitious targets, but when you don’t even achieve half of them, you know you’ve done something wrong. In my case, the challenges I’d set were way too ambitious given what else I had during the year. Several of them also conflicted with each other: climbing 7c requires very different training to that needed to tackle the Cuillin Ridge!
So what did I learn from this about New Year’s resolutions? Number one: be realistic. Break down what you’ll need to do to achieve your resolution and work out what you can fit into your life. Number two: commit to it. Set aside time to do whatever it is you want to do, whether that’s reading more books or getting out running.
And perhaps most importantly, number three: do things because you find them meaningful and because you get satisfaction out of doing them. Do things you enjoy whilst doing them and not just for the outcome. And definitely not because you think achieving it will automatically make you a happier, more awesome person.
For example, if you hate dieting but want to lose weight, look at setting a resolution for the process rather than the end point. So rather than your resolution being to lose eight pounds by June, set a resolution to test out a new healthy recipe every week. Yes, it sometimes works to have a goal and endpoint in mind, but making the journey easier is a sure-fire way of actually achieving your target.
What happiness means to me
A few days ago I was running down through the forest I grew up near, on a cold, frosty but sunny morning. I had family (and a hot shower) waiting at home, I wasn’t gasping for air (unusually) and everything was just beautiful. And suddenly a thought popped into my head: this is what happiness means to me.
I do have goals written down for 2017, both for work and personal life. But for once, I have no goals relating to sport, adventure or being outdoors. I’d like to spend more time climbing, but I’m not aiming to climb 7c (as I tried – and failed – to do last year). I’ll go walking and running and orienteering, but I have entered no races or competitions. We’re planning more microadventures, but without any specific agenda.
What I’ve realised this year is that I’m happy just being outdoors and taking part in these activities. There is a satisfaction from achieving goals and ambitions, but the enjoyment is in taking part. And sometimes those moments of contentment are more significant than getting to the top of the climb, or completing the run.
Happiness is the chirruping of a robin, bouncing across a frosty forest floor. The shaft of sunlight lighting up the heather-coated hill. The breathing in of fresh, unpolluted air. The sound of silence.
So for me, being outdoors will be the place I can escape from the pressure of goals and targets, and just be. A place I can recharge my batteries to help me achieve everything I want to in 2017.
Whether you make resolutions for 2017 or prefer to just take life as it comes, I hope you can all find some kind of happiness outdoors this year. Or if not happiness, then moments of contentment and satisfaction.