The most common New Year's resolutions (you know, the ones that fewer than 8% of us actually keep) included vows to lose weight, get organized and spend less money. But science tells us that there's a simpler, more powerful resolution that we can all make — and keep:
Shut off your phone and live in the moment.
That may sound cliched and oversimplified. But there's strong science to back up the idea that engaging actively with what we're doing, sans distractions or stress about the next moment, makes us so much happier. The pull of Instagram or Tinder or texts may be strong. But there's too much we lose when our busy lives pull us away from actually living. Here's why.
Resisting distractions is good for our health. Not only do distractions limit our productivity and ability to focus, they can also increase our stress and anxiety levels. Our phones, of course, are our most common distraction; a 2013 study by researchers at Kent State showed that people who spend more time on their phones tend to report higher anxiety and dissatisfaction with their lives. Moreover, researchers at the University of Worcester also found a correlation between near-constant notifications and increased stress levels.
But we can counteract that stress with mindfulness. Living a mindful life, which some define as being "attentive but without judgment," includes being aware of one's self, something often achieved through meditation. In fact, recently released research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days, in this case — can alleviate psychological stress.
Other studies have linked mindfulness to cardiovascular health, assessing factors like blood pressure and obesity. It pays to pay attention.
Our minds are happiest when they're focused. A 2010 study conducted by Harvard's Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, presented in a TED talk viewed over a million times, found that 49% of the time, our minds are wandering — but we're happier when they're not.
The pair found that participants' minds wandering to more pleasant things actually didn't make them happier than when they focused on the moment. Meanwhile, having their minds wander to unpleasant things certainly made them less happy.
"Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people's happiness," Killingsworth said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette in 2010. "In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged." The more engaged and intentional we are in daily life, the happier we will be — even if we day-dream about happy things.
Experiences are the most priceless investments we can make. Experiences win out over things every time, a recent study showed. Money spent on doing, rather than having, tended to provide more enduring happiness both before and after.
That's in part because of the anticipation leading up to an event, but also because the memories from an experience that truly enjoyed linger (as opposed to the excitement you feel when an Amazon item arrives, which doesn't linger for months afterward in the same way).
In an era when we get constant, instant gratification and reach for our phones 1,500 times a week, tuning distractions out and focusing on the moment isn't easy. But if we can do it, it will make us dramatically happier people in 2015. And hey, it's certainly an easier New Year's resolution than vowing to lose 10 pounds.