Personal Health

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.

5. Get Dirty. Put the antibacterial gel down and slowly walk away. A little dirt never killed anyone and research is showing the good bacteria found in soil can give a boost to your immune system and alleviate depression. Get outside, go to your park, touch some dirt and reap the benefits of being closer to the ground which most of us don’t get to do nearly enough. Repot your plants, they probably need it and they’ll be happier, too. Set up a garden or a window box for herbs or annuals and make the touching dirt thing a yearlong event. Overachievers: do some push-ups in a grass-free stretch of your lawn or park. Or even in the mud.

6. May Old Acquaintance Be Forgot. Old habits, too. Old habits die hard, and so do bad ones. As you enter a new year with plans for health and happiness, take a moment to think of the one bad habit you have that you’d really like to rid yourself of for good. Is it smoking, drinking too much, obsessing, not reading, or always skipping out on your meditation? It could be anything. It will be something. Once you’ve identified the offending repeat action, try to embrace the fact that you’ll be letting that one go. Life Coach M.J. Ryan’s New Year’s resolution-ready book This Year I Will…How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, Or Make a Dream Come True (Crown Archetype, 2006) can help you on your way as you admirably kick a devil off your shoulder this year. Overachievers: kick two bad habits.

7. Snap. At your friends, family, coworkers. Recalling good memories and celebrations increases a person’s happiness and looking at photographs is one of the best ways to do that. So the next time you’re the one behind the camera at an event or gathering, don’t worry that you’re missing out on the fun. Instead, know that you’re increasing your likelihood for future happiness and occasions for joy. Overachievers: be that person who sends your photos promptly out to friends and family so they can reap the benefits, too. But don’t be one of those people who tags constantly on Facebook. Receiving a “you have been tagged in a photo on Facebook” email when you’re nowhere near a computer to see said photo doesn’t make anyone happy.

8. Veg Out. Shifting to a more plant-based diet has numerous health benefits including increased energy, lower cholesterol and—every New Year’s resolver’s favorite—weight loss. You don’t have to jump immediately onto the vegan bandwagon, but maybe it’s time to check out Mark Bittman’s innovative approach to veganism: being vegan up until dinnertime in his book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More than 75 Recipes(Simon & Schuster, 2008) or Kathy Freston’s Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World (Weinstein Books, 2011). And heads up: eating less meat means you’re being kind to animals, and helping the environment. A win-win for the happiness / health seekers. Overachievers: go ahead, jump on that bandwagon and recreate recipes from NYC’s vegan mecca, Candle 79 with Candle 79 Cookbook: Modern Vegan Classics from New York’s Premier Sustainable Restaurant (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

Best of luck, and a happy and healthy 2012 to all.


Alison Pace is the author of five novels, including 'If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend' and 'Pug Hill.' She lives in New York City. Follow her on twitter @alisonpace, at and
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