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More Nature, More Sex, More Sleep: 8 New Year's Resolutions That Will Actually Make You Happy and Healthy

Dirt? Morning sex? You bet. Novelist Alison Pace shares tips for body and mind to kick off the new year.

Every year at this time, we wish our friends a “happy and healthy” new year, and while our yearly resolution lists may include items such as “save money,” or “work harder,” or “try that new restaurant downtown,” the best resolutions have to with those two basic goals. Herewith a few suggestions to help you achieve both health and happiness in 2012. As I write this list from my Type-A home city of New York, I’m also including options for the 'New Year’s Resolution Overachiever.' Maybe this year, that’s you.

1. Do It With a Friend. Even traditionally solitary activities like reading are more fun when you do them with somebody. Obviously, reading makes you smarter, better informed, and provides an escape from the hectic pace of life in a way that few other things can. You know this: you’re here, reading. But reading can be social and bonding, too. Form a book group, make a commitment to read at least one book a month, and share your newfound reading happiness and knowledge with new or old friends. Overachievers: Start your new club with a book about happiness and self-improvement: Jennifer Niesslein’s Practically Perfect in Every Way: My Misadventures Through the World of Self-Help—and Back (Putnam, 2007) or Gretchen Rubin’s mega-bestselling The Happiness Project (Harper, 2009).

2. Go the F*ck to Sleep. This one’s so easy. It’s a proven fact that a minimum of six hours a night will make you both happier and healthier. That number changes with each person, so know yours (maybe it’s seven hours, eight hours, if it’s more than that you might have to get over it) and shoot for it. Take the television out of the room, banish the home office to a hallway. Leave the iPad, iPhone, and whatever else you obsess over all day long in the living room, and focus on creating an environment of calm and peace in the boudoir. Go to sleep a little earlier and freer and away from electronic encumbrance in 2012. You’ll have more happiness, health, and fewer dark circles under your eyes. Overachievers: take all the new energy you’ll have from your good night’s sleep and have sex in the mornings. Proven fact and not rocket science: those who get some in the a.m. have happier days ahead.

3. Breathe In, Breathe Out. You may very well already be meditating and/or practicing yoga, but since positive reinforcement makes people happy, remind yourself that calming the mind in service of the attainment of happiness has time-tested and long-lasting benefits. Meditation can reshape your brain in positive ways, yoga can do the same for your bod. Overachievers: If you happen to be in New York City, take your meditation practice one step further and immerse in a ten-week course in Practical Philosophy at The School of Practical Philosophy. 

4. Take the Inward Outward. Now that you’ve spent all this time nurturing your inner self with reading, and meditating, and yoga practicing, get over yourself a little. Take some of your newfound inner light, and send it out into the world. Volunteer. It makes the world a better place; it can change someone’s life. And as the wise puppets in “Avenue Q” point out, when you help others you can’t help helping yourself. True that. And it’s easy: pick a cause close to your heart and sign up for whatever you can give: one day a month, one a year, it all counts. Two of my favorites: Habitat for Humanity and the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Overachievers: volunteer and make it your mission to make sure a friend does his or her part, too. Also: donate money in addition to your time.

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