Happy 2012! We're still a couple of days away from resolution time, but it's never too soon to get down to the business of becoming a better person.
Exactly what "better" means is different for each of us: more efficient, more patient, more adventurous. Less tobacco-scented, less workaholic, less messy.
There's a lot of pressure in New Year's resolutions that are focused on you – how you look, how you act, how you eat. The moment you slip, the whole thing's a failure, and somehow so are you.
Allow us to propose an alternative. It's easier than never checking Facebook at work or learning Italian; more fun than running on a treadmill or organizing your garage.
It's possible this resolution could cause you to lose 10 pounds, be in better shape, learn a new skill, and find that special someone. In fact, studies have shown that making this resolution can make you happier biochemically.
This year, consider resolving to make more socially conscious choices. Little ones and big ones. Often or occasionally. Instead of a better you, try aiming – modestly or boldly – for a better world, starting with you.
Sounds intimidating? Try this: Choose organic meat or eggs next time you shop. Just one time and already you're healthier, the animals are happier, and the environment is cleaner. Or turn down the thermostat and throw on an extra layer to compensate. You've saved money, fought climate change and made Grandma happy because you're wearing the sweater she made.
The more you do, the better you feel, and the more resolutions you keep.
You can skip the gym and train for a charity run this spring. Grab a few friends to up the ante and add the peer support to keep your goals. You're saving more money, shedding pounds, getting fresh air, and maintaining relationships while contributing to a good cause.
Take that, samba lessons! Start volunteering with an organization you feel passionate about, and see if there is a special someone you meet who shares your values and interests, instead of your taste in shooters and dance music.
Become a little league coach, a Girl Guide leader or the neighbourhood park chaperone to spend more time with your kids. Bring soup or muffins to a neighbour who's sick, lives alone, or is expecting a baby (for the latter, bring frozen food so they can pull it out in the days after birth).
The list is endless, and it's easy to make your own: Think of how your choices or actions affect other people and the planet, and resolve to live better. The best part is, if you slip, there's always next time.
Otherwise, it's the same as any other resolution: Start small, with concrete first steps, and gather your own momentum. The joy you feel from helping others – a scientifically proven rush of endorphins equal to vigorous exercise known as the "helper's high" – feeds your next action, until you're happier, healthier and "better" in whatever way you want to define it.
As for us, this year we've resolved to be the best new dad (Marc) and uncle (Craig) that we can be – less sleep and more diapers, yes, but a lifestyle change we're wholly excited about! We're also determined to make this column useful in helping you keep those socially conscious resolutions, so send in your questions.