New Year, Same You … But Happier — Here’s How to Do It
In 2020, let’s be kinder to ourselves. One writer shares how she made a big life change and how that changed her thinking for good.
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.
Two reasons. First: They don’t work. Sure, a few people make big promises and stick to them and their lives are never the same, but most of us don’t. Most of us choose goals out of guilt (weight loss, anyone?), motivate ourselves with shame, and give up before the snow melts. We might have a taste of hope for a few weeks, a sense that everything could be different, but then year after year … it isn’t. We go back to how we were before, but with an added sense that we failed. I don’t do that to myself anymore.
It’s possible to make big life changes in a healthy way. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since January 1, 2007, which might sound like it was only three years ago, but it’s actually about 13. Despite the timing, it was not a resolution. It was a moment of clarity, then a decision that had been coming for a long time.
What’s the difference between a resolution and a decision?
Where it comes from, for one thing. Resolutions come from the will. Decisions come from the gut. I stopped drinking because I couldn’t control it anymore. The blackouts were scary. The fear was constant. If I’d made a resolution to stop, I might have lasted a week, but I know I would have started drinking again. (How do I know? Because I’d done it before.) Instead I finally got honest with myself about how bad it was, then started seeking out therapy and another way to live. It wasn’t a willpower thing. It was a show-me-what-to-do, I’ll-do-anything thing. It came from someplace much deeper than my ego.
I got sober because I couldn’t stand to be drunk for one more day. That is not the kind of moment you can schedule for a specific date, or choose to experience because you want the payoff. For me it happened on New Year’s Day because I had been to a New Year’s Eve party the night before, and that’s where everything changed. It could as easily have happened after any deeply disturbing night out.
The second reason I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions is that even when we stick to them, they rarely give us what we wanted. Most resolutions are based on the illusion that we’ll be happy later, once that one thing gets sorted out. Once we lose the weight. Once we get the job. Once the wedding is over, or the promotion comes. Happiness is always just on the other side of something. We’ve got to get over this one barrier, and then we know we’ll finally be okay.
But that’s not how happiness works. I’m capable of dieting until I’m very thin, and I’ve done it before, but it didn’t make me happy. I thought it would. I was sure it would. Instead it sucked the joy out of my world. Yes, I liked the way my clothes draped on me, but that gave me a few minutes of pleasure every day. Meanwhile I wasn’t baking, trying interesting new recipes, indulging my sweet tooth, dancing around my kitchen, reveling in my colorful apron collection — all the things that really delight me.
Faced with a choice between glance-in-the-mirror pleasure and dance-in-the-kitchen delight, today I choose delight.
Happiness isn’t around the corner. It’s here and now. It’s taking a free and easy breath with those healthy lungs. It’s choosing a candle that makes you feel cozy. It’s artwork you love and tea with a friend and a phone call to that sibling you haven’t talked with in too long. It’s baking lemon bread and sharing it with the neighbors. It’s clean sheets. It’s good skincare. It’s the love you already have.
You don’t have to get different to be okay. You have to make peace with yourself as you are and your world as it is, right now. Today. That’s where real happiness comes from.
If you want to change something about how you’re living, it’s okay to think about that. It’s okay to be inspired by the season. Heck, it’s okay to disagree with me and call it a resolution. But keep your expectations realistic. Choose goals that mean something to you, choose daily objectives you can easily work into your life, and focus more on the process than the outcome.
And be kind to yourself.
And if you want to have fresh berries for breakfast tomorrow instead of a Pop-Tart, there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless the desire comes from shame.
My wish for you is that in the next year, all your desires come from joy.
Do you make any resolutions for the New Year? What changes do you hope to make this year?