Happy familyOverall, Americans are exhausted—and it isn’t surprising. Society tells us we should perform to a certain standard, look a certain way, weigh a certain number, make a certain amount of money, and more. Too bad that “perfect” lifestyle is impossible to achieve. Nobody can do it all, all the time. So when you inevitably take on too much and allow one of the plates you’re juggling to drop, you end up disappointed, tired, and miserable. Case in point: How are your New Year’s resolutions faring? Chances are, they’ve fallen by the wayside, and you feel like a failure.

The problem is that you set yourself up for disappointment by having unrealistic and unsustainable expectations. So here are 12 things you should resolve to stop doing now if you want 2012 to be your greatest year yet:

1. Give up on relationships that aren’t working.

Whether it’s a coworker who hands out backhanded compliments or a “frenemy” who always tries to one-up your accomplishments, there are people in your life who drain your energy and harsh your mellow. No matter how much you may want to make these relationships work, forcing yourself to spend time with negative people won’t do you any favors.

2. Stop being so darn nice.

Perhaps you’re one of those people who always blurts out what’s on your mind. If so, skip this item. However, it’s more likely you swallow barbed comments or constructive criticism in favor of a diplomatic response. You might even allow yourself to be taken advantage of occasionally to please another person. But it’s time to stop. Dishonest politeness doesn’t develop authentic relationships.

3. Stop working so hard.

No matter how good your intentions are, overloading on work will cause your relationships, mindset, and health to suffer.

4. Lower the bar.

Whether the issue is your appearance, your house, your family, or your job, you want to achieve as much perfection as possible. And you probably focus on what you do wrong and rarely celebrate what you do right. This year, realize you’re human, thus fallible, so it’s inevitable that you’ll be less than perfect or mess up now and then.

5. Ignore the Joneses.

We constantly compare ourselves to our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even people on reality TV. But “happy” for you won’t look the same as it does for anyone else—and that’s okay! Focus on your own feelings and fulfillment. Don’t use another person’s life as a measuring stick to determine how good your own is.

6. Don’t focus on your spouse to the point where you forget to take responsibility for yourself.

Yes, conventional relationship wisdom tells you to focus on your spouse and to put his or her needs first. To a point, that advice is accurate: As a partner in life and love, you should be your spouse’s biggest supporter and coach. Just don’t let tunnel vision blind you to your own needs and responsibilities.

7. Stop giving so much.

If you don’t, you’ll eventually run dry. Many people in our lives want our help, time, advice, etc. Especially if you care for them, you’ll want to be accommodating. (Or perhaps you just have a hard time saying no.) For whatever reason, it can be too easy to keep giving to the point where there’s nothing left for you

8. Stop pushing your kids so hard. 

As parents, we care about our kids, and want them to have the best possible futures. But you don’t need to become a so-called “Tiger Parent.” Too much pressure to perform can cause children of any age to burn out and make self-destructive decisions. In fact, some kids are experiencing symptoms ranging from stomachaches to severe depression due to the daily stress they encounter at school and at home.

9. Forget quality time with your kids, and focus on quantity.

It’s easy to use the words “quality time with my kids” as a free pass to focus on other aspects of your life 95 percent of the time. In other words, we think we can make up for working 70-hour weeks by going to Disney World, or catch up on the week’s events by going out for ice cream. But life is found in the everyday moments, not the big blowout trips. And kids are perceptive; they can tell if they always take second place in your life.

10. Cancel your gym membership.

I’m not saying give up exercising; if you’re a gym lover, continue going. But newbies should start with something sustainable, like taking a 20-minute walk around your neighborhood every other day. Exercise will make you feel more relaxed, stronger, and more capable of handling life’s challenges. It will improve your sleep, and it’s a natural anti-depressant that will help your attitude.

11. Stop obsessing over your health. 

If you fret over every health threat you hear on the news or see on the Internet, you’ll be afraid to leave your house without a hazmat suit on. Just eat right, go to the doctor, and fit in as much exercise and relaxation as you can. If you don’t, the worry and stress will be what kills you.

12. Trash your goals, except for this one: be happier.

Like striving for perfection, being too goal-oriented can harm more than it helps. When you’re always focused on the next big thing, you’re perpetually anxious, don’t live in the present, and can’t enjoy the blessings you already have. Plus, taking a step back from “the plan” can bring clarity. You may find the direction you’ve been headed isn’t what you want after all.

Todd Patkin is the author of 
Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011), available at bookstores and online.

Will you give one (or more) of these 12 steps a try in 2012? Which one(s)? Leave a comment!