When we think of New Year’s resolutions, the first thing that comes to mind for many of us is exercising our self-control and willpower muscles. But according to research, willpower is not only a finite resource that can be depleted—it could also have a potentially harmful long-term impact on our health.
A recent study out of Northwestern University conducted on 300 teenagers from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds found that the teens who had stronger self-control were in fact better at resisting temptation, but they also saw increases in stress and experienced signs of premature aging in their cells.
So, what’s the solution? According to extensive research around this topic, gratitude, compassion, and pride can help. One study found that when people are feeling grateful, they experience double the self-control that people feeling happy or neutral do. Additionally, when people are able to view their skills and accomplishments with pride—taking into account the small wins they experience along the way—their willpower strengthens. And when people feel compassion for others, it’s easier for them to exert effort and time to help them get out of whatever they’re going through.
While pride and compassion may seem like more abstract concepts, cultivating a gratitude practice is something you can start right now. So if you want to actually achieve your New Year’s resolutions in 2018, consider volunteering locally, meditating, and always saying thank you.