Just say no to …

… to new year resolutions. It will make you happier. So says Timothy Wilson, a professor of psychology at the University of Charlottesville, in this wonderful NYTimes op-ed.

Social psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues at the University of Kansas found that participants who were given an opportunity to do a favor for another person ended up viewing themselves as kind, considerate people – unless, that is, they were asked to reflect on why they had done the favor. People in that group tended in the end to not view themselves as being especially kind.

The trick is to go out of our way to be kind to others without thinking too much about why we’re doing it. As a bonus, our kindnesses will make us happier.

Wilson advises us to not waste our time thinking about all that we did wrong during this year, and about how we can improve upon them in the new year. In other words, no new year resolutions. The advice is based on the finding that when you brood over negative stuff in your life, well, you end up with an even more negative mood. The punchline is this:

If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, one of the best approaches is to act more like the person we want to be, rather than sitting around analyzing ourselves.

I like the advice about new year resolutions, and it has already made me happy. I can’t imagine how much happier I will be when I actually follow this advice …


In his article, Wilson uses a couple of nice quotes:

“Self-contemplation is a curse / That makes an old confusion worse”, by the poet Theodore Roethke.

“We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage”, by Aristotle.


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