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With spring knocking on the door, it’s a good time of year to reflect on New Year’s resolutions. Did you stick to them? And did they help you feel happier? If you’re like most people, the answer to both is probably no. The reason is not because losing weight or racing faster are wrong goals. The problem is that we are not very good at estimating what will make us happy. Let’s see if experts in psychology and motivation can help us here.

Three basic needs

Happy cyclists

One of the most widely accepted frameworks of human motivation in behavioural science, self-determination theory (SDT), suggests that if we lack motivation or are unhappy, it could be because we are not fulfilling one of 3 basic needs.

Relatedness – This is a need to interact with, work with, feel connected to, and experience caring for others.

Competence – This is a need to feel in control of the outcome, feel effective, have a sense of accomplishment, and experience mastery.

Autonomy – This is a need to feel overall psychological liberty and to be able to engage in activities in which you feel true volition and find personal value.

Giving to others checks all three boxes

Help

Richard Ryan, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Rochester, who helped develop SDT about 40 years ago, says: “Think of how you can help. There’s a lot of distress out there. If we can set goals that aim to help others, those kinds of goals will, in turn, also add to our own well-being.”

Together with Edward Deci, co-author of SDT, they say that all humans have a natural tendency to behave in effective and healthful ways. But these are not automatic. They need to be activated. “If you want to make a New Year’s resolution that really makes you happy, think about the ways in which you can contribute to the world. All three of these basic needs are fulfilled. The research shows it’s not just good for the world but also really good for you,” says Ryan.

Offer help to other cyclists

Friends cycling

So, knowing that helping the world and helping others is a pretty reliable way to make yourself feel happier and more motivated, what can you do about it? Here are a few ideas how to help as a cyclist.

• Commute by bike. Help reduce emissions and traffic congestion.
• Get a friend into cycling. Help them fix up their old bike and take them out for a ride.
• Volunteer to help organize a local cycling race, triathlon, or a group ride.
• Offer advice to less experienced cyclists in your community offline and online.
• Stop and offer help if you see a cyclist (or anyone) in need on the side of the road or trail.

There’s always someone who can use your help. Make yourself available and be a happier cyclist this year.