Even in a world filled with fears and frets, you have some control over your health and happiness. College of Human Ecology researchers at Kansas State University offer advice to help you survive and thrive in 2016.
Jared Durtschi has one word for people who want to build a stronger romantic relationship: sacrifice.
In our culture, it is common for us to value our own wants and needs more than those of others. Unfortunately, research shows that this type of self-centered approach has the tendency to erode romantic relationships, said the assistant professor of marriage and family therapy.
Durtschi studied 260 married couples across four years to determine which of among 25 specific observed behaviors demonstrated by each spouse best predicted the quality of the relationship.
“What I found surprised me,” he said. “The most consistent and strongest predictor of relationship quality was the willingness to change one’s own behavior and comply with the needs of the partner. In other words, sacrificing.”
To strengthen a romantic relationship, Durtschi suggests both partners access how they can do a better job at putting their partner’s wants, wishes, hopes and preferences before their own.
Be money savvy
According to a study by the American Psychological Association in 2014, money is the top stressor for Americans. For couples, research has demonstrated that money is one of the most intensely argued about topics, which can have negative impact on a relationship.
However, if couples have shared goals and values and engage in positive communication tactics, such as no yelling, they are more likely to resolve their conflicts and satisfaction with the relationship goes up, said Kristy Archuleta, associate professor of personal financial planning, financial therapist, and licensed marriage and family therapist.
She advises couples start the new year by discussing their hopes for the future and then identifying short-term — one year or less — and longer-term goals. Develop a spending plan to help achieve those goals, she said. If the goal is to not have debt the following January, then couples can start saving for anticipated expenses that will occur in December. This may mean saving each month.
One of the most important things, Archuleta said, is for couples to regularly talk to one another about their financial goals and how they are going to continue to work toward reaching them.
Emily Mailey, assistant professor of kinesiology, studies working parents’ struggles to establish an exercise program.
She suggests starting 2016 by paying attention to immediate benefits. If you are active because it helps you relieve stress or gives you more energy, you will want to prioritize it because it makes you feel good today.
Be active with others, Mailey said.
“This makes the activity more enjoyable and helps keep you accountable,” she said. “If you don’t love exercise, but you value time with your friends, combining the two can make doing the activity more meaningful to you.”
Especially for busy people, Mailey recommends rethinking what counts as exercise.
“Always be thinking about little ways to add movement to your day, even if it’s just using the restroom on a different floor, or dancing around with your kids while you’re making dinner,” she said. “An activity tracker is a great motivator to accumulate more steps throughout the day.”
Set small, manageable goals and plan ahead, Mailey said. Put your exercise sessions on the calendar at the beginning of each week, then bring your gym bag to work, sleep in your exercise clothes, or do whatever you need to do to follow through.
Be smart at the table
Start to improve your eating habits with an honest assessment, recommends Jennifer Hanson, assistant professor of human nutrition and a registered dietitian.
Hanson suggests keeping a food diary for three to five days. Compare what you typically eat to the guidelines at www.choosemyplate.gov.
Once you identify an area for improvement, set goals that are realistic. For example, research has shown that most Americans fall short when it comes to eating enough fruits and vegetables. Replacing a bag of chips with a side salad or fruit at lunch is a small change that will have positive effects, Hanson said.
Preparing more meals at home will allow you to control portion sizes, she said.
Last, do not forget to monitor the beverages you drink and the foods you snack on throughout the day.
Good nutrition does not have to be complicated, Hanson said. It is about identifying those things we need to improve and then taking incremental steps to get there.
People who express their gratitude for the good things in their lives feel more happiness and optimism, have better health, deal better with adversity, and build stronger relationships than those who do not, according to Amber Vennum, assistant professor at Kansas State University’s School of Family Studies and Human Services.
In romantic relationships, researchers find that taking the time to express gratitude to your partner may increase how positive you feel about your partner as well as increase your comfort with expressing concerns in the relationship.
Expressing gratitude isn’t ignoring the bad; it’s paying special attention to what is working in order to increase your ability to navigate the tough times, she said.