As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, here’s how you can be happier in 2021, according to a psychologist

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  • Making New Year's resolutions is a great idea, but also has a small chance of success
  • This is according to a professor of psychology, who suggests a better resolution: helping others
  • Doing good in 2021 will not only make the world a better place, but also enhance our own well-being

After a tumultuous year that wreaked havoc on every aspect of our lives, it’s safe to say that we’re all desperately seeking light at the end of the tunnel. 

Although we may still be a long way off, there is a key to being happy in the new year, and an international expert on motivational research suggests we try it in 2021.

It’s really simple: "Think of how you can help," says Richard Ryan, a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Rochester.

"There's a lot of distress out there: If we can set goals that aim to help others, those kinds of goals will, in turn, also add to our own well-being."

Ryan advises that for now, we forget about setting any lofty goals for the new year as the evidence shows that, most of the time, people are unsuccessful.

The analysis was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Pros all around

Ryan’s advice is grounded in decades of research, which, together with his colleague Edward Deci (also a University of Rochester professor emeritus of psychology), led to the co-founding of self-determination theory (SDT) – a framework for the study of human motivation and personality.

Their theory has become one of the most widely accepted frameworks of human motivation in contemporary behavioural science, and has nearly 40 years of research to support it.

Acts of willingly helping others satisfy all three of the basic psychological needs identified in SDT research, explains Ryan. These three psychological needs are for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. 

Autonomy in this context relates to us engaging in activities in which we feel true volition and find personal value. Competence relates to having a sense of accomplishment, and relatedness means working with and feeling connected to others, the researchers explained.

"If you want to make a New Year's resolution that really makes you happy, think about the ways in which you can contribute to the world," Ryan added. "All three of these basic needs are fulfilled. The research shows it's not just good for the world but also really good for you."

READ | Six ways to 'reboot your brain' after a hard year of Covid-19 – according to science

READ | Getting high on doing good

READ | Helping others curbs depression

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