New Start for a Happy You!

Research-based advise on New Year resolutions for happiness

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As we all know too well, New Year resolutions are not even expected to last, but that doesn’t mean we should give up before even starting. Here are some secrets to maximising your chances:

1.Keep it simple – our brain can’t retain too many complex actions

2.Formulate your wishes in a positive way

3.Form a habit

How about adopting a well-known framework to help you out? You might have heard of Five Ways to Wellbeing – a set of evidence based happiness promoting actions proposed by nef (the new economics foundation).

First comes CONNECTING with people – friends, family, colleagues or even strangers. You might not feel like it after spending the whole festive period in the kitchen to cook for your extended family, but that may mean you simply need a different type of connection. How about a vow to spend a dedicated one-to-one moment (this without children, friends or TV) with your partner at least once very fortnight? Or reconnecting with at least one old friend at least once per month over the year to come?

Next comes EXERCISING. Forget the scales, pounds or kilos – these are precisely the resolutions that don’t work. Focus on feeling good in your body, gaining health, energy and vitality rather than loosing something. Research is pretty clear that an intention to simply stabilise our weight has a greater chance of coming true than the one we all usually have. Getting into shape is not the easiest task, especially if you are out of habit of regular exercising, but the consequences are not only physical, but also psychological. If fact, when I am asked for the best intervention for overcoming low mood, I always respond with “physical activity”, often to the astonishment of the inquirer.

TAKING NOTICE may also sound a little strange as a New Year resolution, yet all the evidence points to the importance of this action. Noticing comes in many different shapes and forms. You can notice the good things that happen to you every day, even on the bad days (see the Mindapples website to help you out), take one of the many courses on mindfulness or even focusing, a revolutionary technique that teaches you how to hear your own body.

Now comes my favourite, LEARNING. You might want to learn some cooking techniques, a new language or to dive. Whatever you choose, your chances of forming a habit are maximised if you decide to embark onto a structured course of some type. Why? Because a structured course helps you to carry on without relying on your fluctuating intentions. After all, it offers a time and a place of learning, new friends expecting to see you there, and certain form of commitment. You wouldn’t want to waste your investment after all! Given your interest in psychology, you might even decide to do something as radical as to embark onto a new international MSc in Applied Positive Psychology (iMAPP), perfectly adapted to the needs and schedules of busy professionals fascinated by the way human beings work.

And finally, don’t forget about GIVING. Whilst the other four actions are really all about you, giving is truly about others. Yet, the research shows that you can also benefit. To bring a little happiness into this world, what can you give to others? How about inviting a lonely neighbour for dinner? Have you ever wanted to volunteer but then kept putting it off? Is there someone you know who would benefit from a gift of time, just time, with no specified label?

Hope these five ways will take you a long way towards happiness. Personally, I am starting with exercise and sharing the learning with others, as the iMAPP is about to open its doors to the first cohort!

If you want to learn more about the Positive Leadership and Focusing Programme or the iMAPP, you can contact me on

Dr Ilona Boniwell

Strategic Programme Leader, MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and CEO, Positran, Positran and Anglia Ruskin University

Who am I? I suppose, the very first answer would be a “positive psychologist”, since all my career and professional achievements have something to do with this wonderful area of scholarship. I founded and headed the first Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) in Europe, created the European Network of Positive Psychology, organised the first European Congress of Positive Psychology (June 2002, Winchester), and was the first vice-chair of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Nowadays, I run the iMAPP, international MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, teach positive leadership at l’Ecole Centrale Paris (a top engineering school in France) and run Positran, a busy consultancy dedicated to achieving transformation through positive psychology. When it comes to my areas of expertise, I have quite a few passions: psychology of time, resilience, eudaimonic well-being and applications of positive psychology to oneself, leadership, coaching, parenting and education. I am the author or editor of six books (including Positive Psychology in a Nutshell and the Oxford Handbook of Happiness) and multiple academic and popular articles. My media work included BBC, Guardian, Times, Psychologies, Top Sante and Cosmopolitan. I am often invited to give keynote addresses to psychologists, coaches, and other professional audiences, including delivering a TEDx talk last year. Every year, I teach hundreds of leaders and mature students in the UK, France, Portugal, Singapore, Japan and many other countries across the world on how to use positive psychology in very real, tangible, nuts-and-bolts ways. Who am I personally? First of all, I am a wife and a mother or step-mother to five children (2, 14, 15, 16 and 17 years old). In fact, I progressed from having two to five children in the space of one year, so I had to really learn to walk the talk when it comes to positive parenting. Since last November, I've had the pleasure and the privilege to be a monthly Psychologies columnist, writing about the triumphs and challenges of running a large step-family; being friends with the ex-wife and negotiating educational expectations… I speak four languages, and can no longer clearly say where I am from (mixing Russian, Latvian, British and French origins and experiences). I have two cats and one dog, and I love ideas, making sense, creating something new from existing elements, and making tiny baby steps to changing the world towards something better.