Columbia Faculty Share Research-Backed Tips to Start the New Year Off Strong

Columbia experts weigh in on ways to optimize 2024, from "Dry January" to a trick to help heighten moments of joy. 

Kelly Moffitt-Hawasly
January 05, 2024

As we flip the page into 2024, some 76 percent of Americans are heading into the new year with resolutions at hand. That's according to the American Psychiatry Association, which found physical fitness, finance, and mental health goals were top of mind in making those resolutions. 

Whether you believe in New Year's resolutions or not, Columbia faculty have been starting the year off by offering their research-backed insight into how to start the year off on the right foot. Whether you are interested in giving "dry January" a try or looking for tips and tricks to sock away moments of joy this year, our experts have you covered. 

Pay attention to the foods you eat; they could be responsible for boosting your mood. 

Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry

"... some researchers have even posited that the mineral zinc, which is found in foods including oysters and nuts, may boost levels of a protein that promotes new growth in the brain, potentially leading to better cognitive function and mental health, says Dr. Drew Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and author of Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety. By eating well, 'you’re giving your brain cells all the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.'"

— TIME, "How Food Can Improve Your Mood, According to Nutritional Psychiatrists"

Reducing alcohol consumption, even for a month with 'Dry January,' could have a variety of health benefits, including improved sleep.

Aimee Chiligiris, instructor in medical psychology (in psychiatry)

"'We can absolutely see benefits from shifting our relationship with alcohol or not using alcohol for a month,' Chiligiris says. One of the biggest reported benefits, she says, is improved sleep: 'The quality of sleep, feeling much more restored upon awakening, being able to go into a deeper sleep.' She notes that other beneficial effects, including lower cholesterol and reduced blood pressure, are also possible."

— CBS News, "Dry January tips, health benefits and terms to know—whether you're a gray-area drinker or just sober curious"

Starting with small goals can set yourself up for success. 

Jennifer Cruz, associate clinical professor of medical psychology

"'One of the things we always say is that goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound,' says Dr. Cruz. 'Most people end up putting goals that are way too big on themselves.'"

NewYork-Presbyterian Health Matters, "How to Change Habits and Meet Your Goals"

Keeping a positive secret for a time could heighten your joy this year.

Michael Slepian, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics

"'It’s not energy in the sense of, you know, "I just drank coffee,' said Slepian, the author of 'The Secret Life of Secrets' and a lead researcher on the study. Instead, he described it as a kind of 'psychological energy,' more like the feeling you get when you are deeply engaged in something.

"... 'Positive events tend to sort of blend together,' Slepian said. 'One way to sort of break out of that, and to leverage the positive experiences that we all have, is just to spend a little more time with them, thinking about them, reflecting on them, and enjoying them.'"

The Boston Globe, "New research suggests that keeping a positive secret to yourself may heighten joy"

You are never too old to make a resolution or goal for the New Year.

Mark Nathanson, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry

"A resolution is important because the implication is you're looking toward the future. It's one of the things I do as a psychiatrist: Encourage people to look forward. It's a critical element of my evaluation: Are people looking forward to the future, looking forward to tomorrow, or are they feeling hopeless and helpless? When people look forward, when they are future-oriented, it’s a good thing. (a sign of mental health)

"This said, there are many seniors who can't make a resolution because they don't have the wherewithal. I hope their family members, caregivers, or home attendants can help them make resolutions, such as getting involved in something where they increase their social networks. And improve the quality of their lives."

Columbia Doctors, "Are You Ever Too Old to Make a New Year's Resolution?"

Looking for more inspiration as we head into 2024? Check out Columbia Magazine's list of six health and wellness books to add to your reading list and this Columbia News story featuring advice from Columbians on how to handle new beginnings.