This time of year, we’re all deluged with advice on what we should do in the new year, like exercise more (duh!) and spend less time staring at screens (double-duh!). Here’s a look at some less obvious, but effective ways to ratchet up the joy in your life.
Remember last summer’s solar eclipse and how lovely it was to put the world on pause and look up at the sky? For one day, we seemed to forget our differences, united in awe. That may actually happen: According to a May 2015 study led by Paul Piff of the University of California at Irvine, experiencing awe promotes altruism, loving kindness, and magnanimous behavior. But such moments don’t have to be rare events. “Awe can be triggered by anything that transcends the ho-hum aspects of the workaday world and makes you say, ‘Wow!’ ” says Christopher Bergland of Provincetown and San Francisco, author of “The Athlete’s Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss.’’ It can be something as commonplace as a sunrise or the first bloom of spring. Forgetting yourself for a bit and realizing that it’s not all about you can boost your happiness, Bergland says.
“An outdoor adventure of any kind is a great way to feel good in 2018,” says John Judge, Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) president. “Whether it be a bucket-list trip like climbing some of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers or cycling through Tuscany in Italy, having fun in the outdoors immediately connects to our DNA. It reinforces one of life’s joys and gets us away from today’s hectic and ubiquitous tech living.” AMC’s guided adventures (603-466-2727, www.outdoors.org) include snowshoe treks in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness, snowshoe and spa weekends at the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch, lodge-to-lodge ski tours at Maine Wilderness Lodges, and lodge-to-hut adventures in the White Mountains.
There are foods that fill you with heartburn and regret. (We’re looking at you, chili cheese dog!) Happily, there are also foods that make you feel good right away. “Some foods are scientifically shown to improve our mood,” says Carolyn C. Hintlian of Boston Nutrition (www.bostonnutritiondowntown.com.) The list includes nuts, seeds, and dark-colored fruits like blueberries and blackberries (loaded with vitamin E); fish and shellfish (hello, Omega-3 fatty acids); and kale, avocado, and spinach (filled with brain-boosting lutein). The flavonoids (phytonutrients) in dark chocolate (made with at least 70 percent cocoa) are shown to boost spirits and ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Add to your healthy-recipe repertoire with a free cooking demo, offered by The Kitchen at the Boston Public Market (www.thetrustees.org/kitchen) called Fresh, Fast and Delicious for Less With Project Bread every Thursday. The Kitchen also hosts weekly farm-to-kitchen cooking classes focused on Greek, Mediterranean, and Italian flavors sourcing from local farmers, Taza truffle-making classes using stone-ground cacao, and local seafood workshops with Red’s Best Seafood.
“The average person can live a happier life by incorporating meditation into their busy schedule,” says Andy Kelley, a.k.a. the Boston Buddha (www.thebostonbuddha.com), who teaches mantra and breath-based meditation. “Ten minutes a day, at the same time each day, is an achievable goal even for busy people, and is enough to make a difference in the rest of your day,” Kelly says. Several recent studies confirm the health benefits of meditation. Do it while you’re stuck in traffic, or in another situation that would unravel you, Kelley suggests. “This small commitment [of time] will help you to remain focused and more relaxed.” There are a bazillion books on the subject, but a guided class is a great way to begin, and there are many around Greater Boston. The Boston Buddha leads Meditation Mondays on the rooftop Sky Lounge at the YOTEL Boston hotel in the Seaport District. Mondays, 8-8:30 a.m., $15, free for hotel guests. 617-377-4747; www.yotel.com/boston.
Studies reveal that having a strong circle of friends is a major component of well-being. “Friends make us feel valued and understood,” says Leslie Sands of Harborside Counseling Services in Newburyport. But as we get older, the number and variety of our friendships tend to decline, she notes. Loneliness and isolation are shown to have adverse effects on health and happiness. “Seeking out friendships with a diverse group of people of different ages and backgrounds can add immeasurably to the richness of life,” Sands says. To find them get involved in your community. One option: Look for a Meetup group (www.meetup.com) that matches your interests or create a Meetup group of your own, and greet 2018 with a merry tribe of peeps.
Experts agree there are major benefits to learning new things: It stimulates brain activity, increases creativity, and boosts imagination. In 2018, dedicate time to mastering new skills, and you’ll be healthier and happier. For inspiration, check out CourseHorse (www.coursehorse.com/boston). Launched in 2017, the online company lists hundreds of classes and workshops in Boston. Always wanted to learn a new language? The Boston Language Institute (617-606-4448, www.bostonlanguage.com) offers group (limited to 12 students), private, and couple lessons in 40 languages. Sessions run from four to six weeks. And, if your last home improvement project was not exactly HGTV-worthy, consider taking a workshop at Boston Building Resources (617-442-2262, www.bostonbuildingresources.com), where you can learn DIY kitchen design, carpentry, window rehab, and more. No time to attend class? Udemy (www.udemy.com) is an online marketplace with a library of more than 55,000 courses.
Research suggests that most of us have a wellspring of creative energy. And there’s good reason to tap it: Creative folks tend to be happier, more successful, and even live longer. The Museum of Fine Arts (617-267-9300, www.mfa.org) is a great place to ignite your creative spark. It offers studio-art classes year-round, including drawing, painting, sculpture, and stone carving, along with weekly kids (ages 5-11) and preschool (ages 4-5) classes. A variety of studio-art classes and workshops are offered at Art School 99 (651-245-9710, www.artschool99somerville.com), including a class where parents and children (ages 5-8) create a painting together. Learn to be a better writer (and maybe pen that bestseller) at GrubStreet (617-695-0075, www.grubstreet.org), a nonprofit creative writing center offering more than 600 workshops, classes and events. Play with clay at the Mudflat Pottery School (617-628-0589, www.mudflat.org.)
Lending a hand in the community is a surefire win-win. In a new survey by UnitedHealthcare and Volunteer Match of 2,705 adults, 75 percent of people said volunteering made them feel healthier; 93 percent said it improved their mood; and 79 percent said it lowered their stress levels. There’s no time like 2018 to help a neighbor, work at the local food bank, volunteer at a school or senior citizen center, read books to kids at the public library, or get your hands dirty in a community garden. For more options, check out Boston Cares (617-422-0910, www.bostoncares.org) or VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org) for a list of volunteer opportunities throughout the city.