Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Mass. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next 18 years helping grow it to new heights. After Advance Auto Parts purchased it in 2005, he was free to focus on philanthropy, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy.
The following article is based on his new book, “Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and — Finally — Let the Sunshine In,” which was co-written with clinical psychologist Dr. Howard Rankin.
Patkin lives with his wife, Yadira, their son, Josh, and two dogs, Tucker and Hunter.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve come up with 10 simple things people can do to become happier in 2013. You don’t have to do all of them at once — just focus on the three or four that resonate most with you and do those.
- If you don’t exercise, start.
You already know exercise keeps you healthy and helps you control your weight. But did you know it’s also a natural antidepressant? Even a 20-minute walk every other day is great for both your body and mind if you do it consistently. And the good news is you can do it with your spouse or kids —and spending more time with them is another shortcut to happiness.”
- Be easier on yourself.
A lot of New Year’s resolutions are little more than thinly disguised vehicles for beating yourself up. There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement but it needs to come from a place of love.
Many of us have a we’re-never-good-enough-or- doing-enough mindset that’s antithetical to happiness. It’s not easy to change these ingrained thought patterns, but it can be done. And becoming aware of this tendency is the first step.
- Find some way this year to put your gifts and talents to work.
Talent wants to express itself. If your job doesn’t allow it to do so, find something that does. Playing to your strengths brings real happiness, and when you combine those strengths with a desire to do something good, it’s a double whammy.
- Strengthen family relationships.
Is your marriage running on autopilot? What about your relationship with your kids? Do you come home from work and sit in front of the computer while they play in another room (or worse, watch TV)? Too many Americans fail to engage their families in a meaningful way.
- Celebrate your spouse.
And speaking of your marriage, how is it? If it’s mired in negativity or characterized by bickering or tension, you’ll never be happy. The good news is that it may not take a lot of effort to dramatically change the tenor of your marriage. Random acts of kindness are always powerful, and that’s even truer inside a marriage.
- Let the people you appreciate know it.
Yes, of course you need to let your close friends and family members know how you feel about them. That’s a given. But what about your coworkers? Your barber? Your child’s teacher? The neighbor who keeps an eye on your house when you’re away?
Most of us are too self-conscious to make a big fuss over the people who are sort of on the periphery of our lives but who nonetheless make a big impact, Changing that stance is a key component of happiness. Be generous with hugs. If you’re just not the hugging type, that’s fine, try thank-you notes instead. Letting people know how grateful you are for what they do makes two people happy: them and you.
- Forgive someone who has wronged you.
This is the other side of the “forgive yourself” coin. Just as you deserve a break, so do other people. And forgiveness is, at its heart, an act of self-love. If you can’t let go of pain and anger, you can’t be happy.
- Become a giver.
Happiness is not about how much you make; it’s about how much you share. If you have good health, a sound mind, and as little as an hour a week to spare, you are truly fortunate. Whether you’re tutoring kids who need a helping hand or delivering hot meals to the elderly, there’s great joy to be found in giving. Many people know this intellectually; they’ve just never put it into practice. Make this the year you do it. Just give up some of the time you waste in front of the TV or mindlessly surfing the Internet. You’ll find that it’s no sacrifice at all.
- Take a “baby step” toward finding some faith.
This year, make a conscious effort to think a little bit more about your faith, perhaps check out a few different places of worship, or maybe read a couple of spiritual books. Happy people have a connection to a Higher Power. If you aren’t sure there even is one, make this the year you do some honest exploration.
- Make 2013 a year of gratitude.
If you make only one change in 2013, make it this one: Work to be more appreciative in general. Gratitude covers a lot of territory. When you’re grateful for your family, you’ll treat them better. When you’re grateful for talents, you’ll use them. When you’re grateful for your health, you’ll work to maintain it. All of these add up to happiness.
It’s ironic: Most of us have everything we need to be happy. The tragedy is we’re sleepwalking through life without really noticing that truth. If we could learn to live with an attitude of gratitude — for our kids, our homes, our friends, our health, the food on our tables — we wouldn’t need to worry about finding happiness. We’d be living it every day.