The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a time of nostalgia, as we visit with good friends and family and receive that last smattering of Christmas cards in our mailboxes, and inboxes. It’s also, for many, a time of reflection as we look back on the year that is ending, and prepare ourselves mentally for our return to work, school, and/or reality in the new year coming our way.
During this time of introspection we are often encouraged to make New Year’s Resolutions. NYRs may be old-fashioned, over-rated, and all-too easy to misconstrue as a flippant promise we don’t intend to keep beyond January 31st, however the concept of a resolution still retains value to some of us. It’s a promise to ourselves to change, to improve, or maybe just to try something different and new.
I personally love NYRs. I love the period of reflection that precedes choosing a resolution, and I love the specific flavor of commitment that goes along with making – and keeping – resolutions. You don’t owe shit to anybody – you owe shit to yourself.
This week, I’m thinking about all of the NYRs of the past that I kept, and also the ones I still haven’t achieved. My way of going about NYRs is that once I put one on the table, unless my life drastically changes to a point where the NYR has become utterly ridiculous, that NYR stays on the table until it is complete. For the past several years I have chosen to renew my past years’ NYRs rather than pile more brand new ones on the table. This process always requires the filtering of a certain amount of guilt.
This brand of guilt is the same as the one that made us feel obligated to make perfect Christmases for our families. So, shouldn’t we reject it with the same attitude and finally make a promise worth keeping – a promise to treat ourselves with respect and not beat ourselves up over un-kept resolutions?
In January we may have decided exactly what would make us happiest, but in February the path to that happy could be a completely different one! We cannot promise ourselves that what makes us happy today will still make us happy tomorrow. We simply have to be at peace with the fact that The Pursuit of Happiness that shapes all of our lives is possibly not going to look the same in 2016 as it did in 2015, probably not going to look the same in 2021, and it definitely isn’t going to look the same in 2026.
It's hard to be at peace with this fact that the world is constantly in flux. It’s when we finally find peace with that that we can progress to the next level of our soul's development in this universe. [Interpret that as you like or take it with a grain of salt.]
When I say "the world is constantly in flux," by that I mean not only the ever-evolving world and society that we live in, but also our own ever-changing desires, goals, perspectives, and directions. In short, the flux of our lives.
One day we might be 100% confident that we know what we want, and have made a life-altering decision. The next day, the next year, or five years later, we may realize that it's not what we want anymore. This is evident in the fact that college students change their majors, middle-aged adults change their careers, couples divorce, carpenters become soldiers, and nurses become novelists. Every day life has an opportunity for us. It beckons us with a promise of what could be. The grass is always greener there.
So we find ourselves in a world where finding someone who has worked the same job their entire lives is rarer than rare. This is testament to the fact that none of us are able to stick with one thing for too long. Some of us just manage to do one thing longer than most and society has made that the standard. Or at least, the ideal. Society encourages commitment; wants us to pick something and stick to it, colloquially known as finding our niche.
Of course, to refuse change completely and live in routine, may be a comfortable place. It may feel safe. But the slightest unbidden change can send that house of cards crumbling to the floor.
Even the hardiest of souls resilient to change experience a reluctance to change at some point, because it can feel like giving up; like not persevering. Most of us, who say we are completely adaptable, still have trouble adapting to the whims of our own soul. It's hard for all of us. Even for me, someone who was born into this life with a penchant for constant change and a wanderlust that keeps coming back to haunt me. Even for me, it's hard not to turn my head back at what once was, and wonder if I should have tried harder, even if I wasn't happy anymore. Never mind that being happy is the whole point.
This disappointment in oneself for a lack of perseverance spans across the board. We all pick up jobs, hobbies, or education that we intend to see through and then have a change of heart. This feeling can lead to remorse at best and low self-esteem at worst. I challenge you to find one person who doesn't feel this way about at least one thing in their lives.
Unfortunately, we all fall into the trap because there really isn't an alternative. (Except perhaps becoming a pan-handling bum or a Buddhist monk, but either way you don't get to take a lot of showers.) It is a fact of human nature that we will never stop wanting to improve ourselves.
To be honest, part of me wants to commit. To find that one thing I was meant to do. To do it, and to save the world. But commitment binds us, and makes us accomplish less in this lifetime than we were meant to do; than we are capable of.
But wait… How can commitment to accomplish a wonderful goal - a good goal - ever possibly be bad? I'm not saying it's bad, I'm saying it's good, but we need to listen to the flux of our lives and not let it keep us committed past a point of being happy. If you wake up one day and you're no longer happy in your commitment, it's OK to change it. It's okay to say, This commitment is not making me happy anymore, I'm going to let change happen even if it feels like giving up, because it's not, that's only what I've been trained to think. I'll think of it as simply going in a new direction in life, one that I was actually meant to go in.
The problem is not with commitment itself, it's with the word. It's a permanent word, disallowing any future changes to the self and to others connected to the commitment. Imagine I committed to being a nurse, but then the zombie apocalypse broke out and my job required me to treat zombies all the time but their rotting flesh made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. In that case, it's perfectly ok to break the commitment and decide to do a different occupation.
Despite it being the natural proclivity of all humankind to ceaselessly seek improvement, I feel that the answer lies neither in constant improvement, nor in sitting back and watching life go by. It's somewhere in between. A place in that spectrum is appropriate for one soul, but inappropriate for another. We all must find our own balance.
So what can we do? We cannot abandon our current life circumstances, or the loved ones who unwittingly bind us in chains to this life we have chosen or let be. I think the answer simply lies in acceptance: a complete and utter calm despite any disruption, change, change of heart, or catastrophe that befalls us. The calm cannot be forced however, it must stem from an understanding that change is an inevitable part of the universe that we cannot control.
This is what Buddhist monks are trying to teach us when they spend countless hours building mandalas out of sand only to destroy them immediately upon completion. It's more than a straightforward representation that nothing lasts; that all things are impermanent and that everything eventually dies. It's about personal acceptance of impermanence and how it affect us in the here and now. And that is not something that can simply be taught and known. It must be experienced in order to be understood, and it must be actively practiced in order to be accomplished in true faith.
This year my NYR is to publish a novel – a lofty goal, but I like to challenge myself. If I don’t make it happen by next year, it won’t be the end of the world, just the end of another year. My mother’s NYR is to send out Christmas cards next December…
In the end we are all dreamers and collectors of experiences. In the end we never stop pursuing happiness. So Happy New Year to you and yours. Wherever you find yourself this New Year’s Eve– at whatever juncture along your own personal Pursuit of Happiness, make your resolutions, write your Christmas cards, and keep the change ;)
P.S. This is my last blog post for CDG. It is time for change to make its debut once again in my own life. New roads to Happiness are beckoning my pursuit. It has been a pleasure to write for this blog, and I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Nissa for publishing all of my crazy rants here. Thank you, and farewell.