Category Archives: Holidays

New Year’s Absolutions

The interwebs are positively buzzing at the beginning of a new year, both encouraging us to set ‘resolutions,’ and simultaneously telling us we’re doing it wrong. Beware the Ides of January, folks…as it only takes most people a couple weeks to give up on their new year’s resolutions. This is, of course, according to the internet…the truest source of truth (ahem).

I’ve written myself a set of resolutions many times over…some years, my list has been lofty, idealized, and almost silly (complete with hearts and smiley-faces). Other years, I’ve tried to be realistic and pragmatic. Most recently, I’ve foregone lists for a ‘Vision Board,’ which appeals more to my creative side, and focuses on positive intentions for the coming year.

In looking at the types of things I’ve resolved for myself in the past, it occurs to me that they all presuppose that something is missing or wrong in my life. Why else would I want to lose weight, get healthier, fall in love, travel, save more money, pay off debt? These are all positive things, in theory, but the fact that I’ve written them down year after year means I never feel as though I have achieved them. I’m forever “not there yet,” which can easily become “not good enough.”

That doesn’t seem like a great way to start anything, let alone the next twelve months of my life.

Don’t get me wrong: I love words. Words are powerful, not only in how we communicate with each other, but in how we narrate our own experience. But ‘resolve’ has an air of drudgery about it, no? And ‘resolution’ is no better…at the new year, it is used to describe our goals, and even more so, our determination to stick to them. But most commonly, we use the word ‘resolution’ to depict a solution to a problem. We use it to describe a legal process or decision. We use it in mathematics and measurement. Resolution is a way of describing the quality of our digital images and television screens.

Is that really the best framework for pausing and reflecting upon our lives at the beginning of a new year? If so, let’s just simplify our list to the following:

1. Solve all problems that I haven’t figured out how to solve yet.

2. Do everything I haven’t gotten around to yet.

3. Measure up to whatever/whomever I’m comparing myself to.

I have a suggestion. Let’s try out a new paradigm in 2014. How about we absolve instead of resolve? This year, how about we let ourselves off the hook? When we look at our lives through a lens of absolution, we free ourselves from guilt, blame, and punishment. We forgive ourselves for our mistakes, our unmet goals, our lapses in judgment, our messed-up priorities, and our own human fallacies.

I admit…to absolve instead of resolve seems a little harder, doesn’t it? To me, that is a reflection of its importance…to do what is right is seldom easy. The real work often lies below the surface; for example, I want to lose weight this year. But more importantly, I need to learn to love and accept myself as I am, and stop obsessing about my appearance. If I am able to absolve myself of the shame and self-punishment that surrounds my weight…I’m pretty certain that “lose weight” will no longer appear on my list, come January 1st of next year.

So let’s try it, shall we? I propose the following New Year’s Absolutions for all:

1. I forgive myself for (this mistake), (that character flaw) and/or (these imperfections).

2. I also forgive (so-and-so) for (grr-that-was-terrible) and/or (that hurt my feelings).

3. I will no longer make decisions or set goals out of guilt.

4. I will stop punishing myself for (unmet goal), (past loss/trauma), and/or (regrettable decision).

5. I will love myself as I am, and love others as they are.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Putting the Thanks in Thanksgiving

As soon as Halloween was over this year (and in fact, a few days before), the stores filled with Christmas. Decorations, wrapping, gifts, lights, cards, trees, ornaments…you name it, and it was filling the aisles. Although I am accustomed to the hype and commercialism of our retail culture, it is starting to feel as though Thanksgiving is being overlooked. These days, it seems like Thanksgiving is treated as the starting line for the Christmas shopping race, and not much more than that.

This makes me rather sad…not just because I love to cook, or because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It makes me sad to think that our culture gives no more than a cursory nod to Thanksgiving, as we mow it down on the way to the checkout line, Black Friday purchases in hand.

All political commentary on the origins of Thanksgiving aside, it is supposed to be a time of gratitude and reflection. We gather with family and community, give thanks for the blessings in our lives (however we define that), and share with one another…food, company, warmth, hospitality, comfort. I have to wonder about the overshadowing of this holiday, and if it is deliberate on the part of big retailers and the corporate culture in general. After all, we Americans do not live in a culture that values gratitude and humility…we live in a culture of BUY MORE NOW. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Black Friday has gradually become Black Thursday Night, and then Black Thursday Evening…will Thanksgiving be crowded out completely?

As a therapist, I’ve read multiple articles and studies about the power of gratitude, and how it can impact our lives in measureable ways. Gratitude is incorporated into so many psychological theories and techniques that dissertations could be written on the topic. The biggest reason for this? It works. Employing an “attitude of gratitude” helps to alleviate depression, decrease anxiety, strengthen relationships, and improve overall mood and outlook.

Not sold on the idea? Try it! As Thanksgiving approaches, spend a little time each day being aware of the good things that are happening around you, no matter how small. Notice when someone lets you merge in traffic, when a barista doesn’t charge you for the extra whipped cream, or if someone holds the door open for you.  Notice the love that is present in your life, and take an extra second to cherish laughter, hugs, conversation, smiles. I have no doubt that this will help you give more sincere and joyful thanks as you sit down to your holiday dinner…because truly, there is always something to be thankful for.