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When the excitement of Christmas has worn off, we look to the renewal of the New Year. We reflect on the past and hope for the future. We look for opportunity to change…ourselves.

Each January, roughly one in three Americans resolve to better themselves in some way ­— that’s about 100 million Americans making new-year-new-me promises. A much smaller percentage of people actually make good on those resolutions. While about 75% of people stick to their goals for at least a week, only about 8% actually achieve their New Year’s resolution goal, one study found.

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions are about getting fit, losing weight and eating an all-around healthier diet. But lofty goals such as these are often easier said than done. For example, a recent study by the American Heart Association found that the majority of people on a weight loss program or diet plan start off strong but lose momentum (and start making excuses) around week 6. Does that sound familiar?

Here’s one resolution that we might all be able to keep: increase our happiness.

It turns out happiness is good for you. A 2010 study found that people with positive emotions were about 20% less likely than their gloomier peers to have a heart attack or develop heart disease.

We tend to think our own bliss relies on bettering ourselves, but our happiness also increases when we help others. People who volunteer tend to live longer and have more social connections than those who do not volunteer.

Don’t know where to start? We have multiple outlets available in Newton County that can help direct your inner volunteer. Start with Hands On Newton to identify the need and match with your own personal interests. Opportunities range from reshelving books at the Newton County Library to clearing invasive plants at Chimney Park to mentoring a student through the Newton Mentoring program.

Feel like old friends (or family) have fallen by the wayside? It’s good for your health to reconnect with them. Research suggests people with strong social ties live longer than those who don’t. In fact, according to a 2010 study, a lack of social bonds can damage your health as much as alcohol abuse and smoking, and even more than obesity and lack of exercise.

Social bonds can take the form of lunch with friends, shopping with your mother, visiting a sick relative. Anything with another person, really, as long as you keep it positive! Want to create a meaningful social bond while kayaking down the Yellow River or discussing vampires over fried green tomatoes – it can be done right here in Newton County (although I would suggest waiting until the weather turns warmer again for the kayaking part).

Instead of making the same old resolutions to lose weight and eat healthier, resolve to make some new changes. Log some volunteer hours with your kids. Go to dinner with a friend. Spend some time with a neighbor. We might increase the happiness and healthiness of Newton County in 2015!

Hosanna Fletcher has lived in Newton County since 2005. With a Masters in Public Health and another in Sociology, she has worked on a variety of community development projects, led training sessions for Lay Health Advisors, conducted and evaluated health risk assessments, and designed and implemented employee wellness programs. Hosanna and her husband Kevin, a Newton County native, have been married for 15 years this October. They have two children — Miranda, 11, and Thomas, 3.