JMU researcher gives some tips for starting 2023 with a positive attitude

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by Eric Gorton


Harrisonburg, Virginia — The end of a calendar year can be a stressful time. Just planning for and observing the end-of-the-year holidays can raise the blood pressure. Add the stresses of inflation-based anxiety, political strife and everyday stressors of American life in 2022, and it’s not hard to see why many people are looking for some positive change.

JMU psychology professor Ben Blankenship says there are a number of strategies to help make 2023 a positive year.

Blankenship does research on the interplay of various social identities across various critically important contexts, including education and politics. He also is interested in how gendered stereotypes of minority groups (women & sexual minorities) interact with contexts that are stereotypically masculine.

Some of the strategies include finding a new hobby or activity, volunteering, expressing gratitude and even remaining politically active.

Find a new activity

One of the challenges to lasting happiness lies in the fact that we adapt to the pleasant but ordinary stuff of everyday life. Combat this by trying something new. Start small: Try a new class at the gym. Take a pottery class. Cook something exotic. Or go bigger: Learn a new language. Register for a triathlon. Audition for community theater. You might uncover a latent talent or passion, make new friends, or feel more connected to your community. Don't forget the oft-cited finding that experiences, not things, are related to happiness. Take advantage of all of the rich experiences that lie just outside of your comfort zone.


There is ample evidence to suggest that doing prosocial behaviors—actions that are done to benefit others—brings surprising benefits to the person performing the kind acts. From random acts of kindness to spending a small amount of money on others, there is a clear mood boost that comes from doing a kindness. As positive psychology research pioneer Marty Seligman once remarked, “Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.” So find a cause you care about and get involved. Or simply offer to drive a friend to the airport or the doctor's office. Prosocial behavior is a win-win.

Become or remain politically involved

Research shows that political engagement can have a number of positive outcomes, including building a sense of community, feeling connected to something bigger than ourselves, and by creating feelings of political self-efficacy. These benefits can continue to improve and shape our lives well after an election has concluded. A good place to start may be identifying a candidate  and getting involved in their campaign. 

Express gratitude

In one groundbreaking study, the simple act of counting your blessings — that is, writing down three things that you're grateful for — showed surprising benefits for participants' mental and physical health. Why? One reason is that it takes the blinders off, encouraging us to examine and appreciate small things that might otherwise go unnoticed. And it can enhance our relationships, too: Recent findings suggest that expressing gratitude in relationship contexts can enhance intimate bonds, so don't be afraid to offer a genuine "thank you" to your partner.

As with any goal, the key is finding something that fits your schedule, lifestyle and personality, and then sticking to it. 


Contact: Eric Gorton,, 540-908-1760

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Published: Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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