At the start of a new year, many people resolve to make big changes – physically and emotionally - to improve health and happiness. Gyms, diet food companies and health food stores look forward to this time of year. So do publishing companies, offering a whole new crop of self-help books. Popular book titles include Get Out of Your Own Way and Be You, Only Better.

By mid-January, you may already be ignoring the self-improvement books, apps and exercise equipment received as holiday gifts.

The rubber exercise bands are dangling from the doorknob and the cardio tracker is practically flat-lining as you sit on the couch eating left-over holiday cookies and candy. One glance out of the window and your excuse of “it’s too cold/snowy/icy” to drive to the gym sends you back to the couch. It’s hard to keep the momentum going.

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Standing on the check-out line at the grocery store, we are bombarded with headlines blaring “Live Longer with Superfoods!” or “Celebrity New Year’s Resolutions” and “The Tricks to Staying Motivated.”

A popular theme a couple of years ago was to face your fears and improve your life by saying, “Yes!” to new ideas and challenges.

It takes a concentrated effort to actually make changes to your life. Marianne Power, a journalist in England, decided to try a different self-help book each month for one year. The idea was to see if she could face her fears, improve relationships and gain financial independence in one year. Of course she wrote and published a book about her self-help journey titled, Help Me!
When I was researching the concept of cold water swimming around the world for a previous column, I read about author Katja Pantzar. After moving to Finland, she noticed that men and women of all ages enjoyed swimming daily in icy water and bicycle riding in below freezing temperatures. She interviewed lots of ordinary Finnish citizens as well as experts in the field of health and wellness. She also learned more about the traditional Finnish concept of “Sisu” which translates into the overall attitude of grit, fortitude and perseverance.

The ancient concept of Sisu refers to the idea of determination and forward movement over uncomfortable or unlikely odds, turning challenges into triumphs. In her book, The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness and Happiness through the Power of Sisu, Katja embraced the national attitude of determination in everyday life in Finland. She became a devotee of cold water swimming and winter bicycling and realized the benefits of overall happiness and well-being all year round. Unlike the culture of immediate gratification and convenience that people in the U.S. take for granted, she admired the Finnish mindset of not taking the easy way. 
Activities seem more enjoyable after conquering the challenges. Finnish people put the concept of Sisu (tenacity, resilience and determination) into everyday practice. Here’s an old Finnish saying that sums up this national attitude: “Happiness does not come from searching for it, but by living.”

Another old Finnish proverb that you can put into practice is: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” So if your plan for the new year is to eat healthier, exercise more, stay in touch with friends, watch less TV, read more books, try a new hobby, expand your social life, volunteer to help others, clean up your language, de-clutter your closets or learn a new skill just get started!  Step by step, little by little with an attitude adjustment of determination and the ability to enjoy the process along the way, you will be on the path to happiness and well-being in 2020!

Kim Kovach challenges adults to discover their inner writers in the winter session of Writer’s Inspiration on Tuesday mornings at the Pound Ridge Library starting January 14th.