New Year’s Resolutions
Here we are again at the New Year, like Janus, that two-faced god of ancient Greece, one face cast back to the old year and the other looking forward to the future – steadily or tentatively, with anticipation, trepidation or both.
It is time once again for our New Year’s resolutions. But before we resolve to do anything, let’s take stock. After all, if you wanted to fix up your house, you would first inspect it thoroughly, decide what needed fixing, and then make plans to do so. In the same vein, I encourage you to ask, “How has the last year been for me? What am I pleased about and what might I like to change?” Consider those areas of your life that most people regard as important so that you can tackle them one by one.
Here they are:
- Physical health
- Emotional well-being
- Relationships with friends and family
- Spiritual life
- Engagement with the world around you
First, do you have any physical illness that needs ongoing maintenance or care? This is one area where attentiveness or neglect can make a huge difference to the quality of your life. As a doctor, I encounter all too often people who skip necessary medications, dietary advice or exercise. One patient of mine, for example, a highly intelligent woman with diabetes, often forgets her daily insulin with unfortunate consequences.
Now is an excellent time to take inventory of your health, identify problems or vulnerabilities and review your plan for how to take care of them in the New Year.
But even for those of us without specific ailments, we are becoming increasingly aware of the value of preventive measures in creating a healthy and happy life. Review your diet and exercise program and make just a few small changes that can have big payoffs. For example, cut out or minimize pure sugar in your diet. Take a 20-minute walk once a day. You are more likely to stick to such simple measures than to complicated plans.
Ask yourself how you are doing emotionally, which is something many of us don’t do. Instead, we might focus on the emotion of the moment, as in “I am happy or sad, angry or lonely.” But take the opportunity to question more broadly how you are doing overall in your emotional life – a first step to any change that is needed. For every emotional problem there is a potential remedy. Sadness can be lifted, rage pacified, anxiety relieved. At the same time, satisfaction can be expanded and happiness attained. For each of these goals many solutions have been offered. They can easily be researched online, in books or by speaking with a counselor. But the first step is to ask the question, diagnose what is needed and then set out to make a plan to address it.
Relationships with friends and family
It is well known that happiness depends to a large degree on relationships with friends and family. Now is a good time to take stock of these and ask yourself about the health of your relationships. Often we find ourselves complaining that others misunderstand us, do too little for us or don’t appreciate us enough. But let’s not forget also to look inwards and ask ourselves whether we are doing enough for them. Let me quote here from the famous prayer of St. Francis
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
As it has often been pointed out, we cannot control the behavior of others, only our own behavior. Being creative in how you relate to others and help them can be key to improving your relationships.
Consider those practices that uplift you and make you feel better about yourself as a person. Often these very same practices also help others, in that they involve charity and kindness. In helping others, we lift our own spirits. Spiritual practices may or may not involve a specific religion. Think about what practices are right for you and put them on your list.
Engagement with the world around you
On the macro level, we all share the same home – the earth – and we realize, now more than ever, that its resources are finite. The earth is getting more crowded and hotter. At the same time it is a more interconnected world. Be mindful of the health of our planet and develop some investment in the importance in our interconnectedness.
On the local level, we can support our communities in many ways, from buying local produce to helping local charities and simply being a good citizen. I think of the Dalai Lama’s famous saying, “Be kind whenever possible, and it is always possible.” This kindness should start with yourself. Your body is your dwelling place. Look after it. Your brain runs all your life’s activities. Nurture and respect it. The better you take care of yourself, the more you will be able to reach out to others in the New Year and take care of them.
With these thoughts, I wish you all a healthy and happy New Year, and hope that you manage to accomplish at least some of your resolutions in the New Year.