New Year's resolutions that will actually lead to happiness

Let me suggest two direct happiness resolutions for 2021: forgiveness and gratitude.

In this difficult period in our history, from the pandemic to the culture of political contempt, there is a lot of potential for bitterness in our lives. Open up social media and you will see nonstop Olympics-level grudge matches. Even worse, estrangement between family members is strikingly common; one study published in 2015—even before the polarizing political period following the 2016 U.S. presidential election—found that about 44 percent of people were estranged from at least one relative, nearly 17 percent from someone in their immediate family.

One of the most frequent questions I get from readers is about how to deal with family conflict and estrangement. My answer is a New Year’s resolution to forgive. In experiments on forgiveness interventions—helping people forgive those who have harmed them—scholars have found clear evidence that forgiveness has direct happiness benefits. Forgiveness increases hope and self-esteem, while lowering anxiety and depression. This astounded me personally, but my wife found it blindingly obvious. “To refuse to forgive is to cling to something unpleasant,” she reminded me. “It is like hugging garbage.” I had to concede that it’s nice to let go of garbage.

Easy to say, hard to do, of course.