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  • Writer's pictureJ. Basil Dannebohm

A Lasting New Year's Resolution: Learning to be content with just being okay.




Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson




J. Basil Dannebohm

The time between Christmas and the new year has always been one of my favorite weeks of the year. During the interregnum, diets don’t count, our labors are slightly more relaxed, and nobody seems to know the exact day. Most of us just kind of meander aimlessly in residual merriment.


This year, however, I’ve been nursing a nasty bug with a regimen of teas and toddies. Hence any goal of writing some sort of profound year-end reflection evaporated like the steam from my humidifier. The downtime has served as a timely reminder: sometimes it’s okay just to be okay.


Though I’m not overindulging in leftover Christmas desserts, binging holiday movies, or hitting up the after Christmas sales, I’m okay. Granted, I’m just okay, but that’s enough. I could be one of those unfortunate souls hooked up to a ventilator, fighting for my life, but I’m not. For that, I am grateful.


We live in a hyper-competitive society. We tirelessly strive to keep up with the Joneses. At the end of the year, what do we have to show for it? Copious amounts of debt, lack of self-esteem, lifestyles of absurd excess, mental health issues in abundance. Then New Year’s Eve rolls around, and we start the entire process all over again.


As the calendar turns, you’ll read a lot of commentaries encouraging you to be a better version of yourself than you were last year. It’s sage, albeit often misunderstood advice. Far too many of us set unrealistic expectations for ourselves under the guise of a “New Year’s resolution," which is precisely why the ritual is futile. By the time February rolls around the road to hell is once again paved with more good intentions.


Oscar Wilde wrote, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."


Therein lies the problem.


The resolutions we make are often rooted in competition and keeping up with the Joneses. Granted, weight loss goals are great if they are truly aimed at being a healthier you; but if the motive is just to look like somebody else, the effort is in vain. Saving up for a home is admirable; but not if the intention is to live outside your means in order to impress others. When we make goals that contradict our authentic self, we’re bound to fail and sink lower into an abyss of our own creation.


To be a better version of ourselves, we first have to truly know, love, and accept ourselves. Unfortunately, as Wilde notes, most of us haven’t the slightest clue who we are anymore. It’s as though we graduated high school, but never left the cafeteria drama and peer pressure behind.


We have to learn to walk again before we can run. Self-improvement is a step-by-step process, the first of which is self-acceptance. Once we have mastered self-acceptance, addictions become easier to overcome, diets become less of a chore, saving becomes a habit. Why? Because our goals aren’t a competition. Rather, they are rooted in a genuine love and concern for our personal wellbeing. When you’re comfortable in your own skin, another step in balanced transformation occurs: a healthier, happier outlook on the world.


Ralph Waldo Emerson keenly observed, “People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.”


Miserable people project their misery on their surroundings. When you love yourself, petty things don’t matter. Suddenly political arguments, religious debates, and the need to constantly interject your self-perceived expertise begin to subside. It’s as though the veil has been lifted and you suddenly see what truly matters in life and what is simply a distraction. In a sort of butterfly effect, the world becomes a better place simply because you’ve become a better person.


In this age of relentless noise, to love yourself you must also learn to be comfortable in silence. Only in silence can we hear things that aren’t spoken - meaningful things that give us a clearer understanding of ourselves, the world around us, and how the two should interact. Loving your neighbor and maintaining that goodwill of the holiday season becomes easier when you love yourself and your place in the world. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better man.”


Letting every new year find you a better person means letting every new year be a bright new step in your journey toward contentment. Don’t fool yourself though. The road to contentment can at times be just as bumpy as the road paved with good intentions. It takes patience that will only come once you have mastered that first pivotal step. From that point on your stumbling blocks can more easily be transformed into stepping-stones. A path that is lined with gratitude for small blessings and little victories can be inspiration for the journey to a better you. You’re going to fall; but it’s a great deal easier to get back up when you’re doing it for yourself and not to impress others.


Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes the best we can do is just get by, and that’s okay. Resolve to discover and love yourself this year. Learn to appreciate what you have and to recognize life’s little blessings and accomplishments.


Tecumseh wrote, “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”


Let that be enough for you and the rest will fall into place. Life is complicated enough. Create a simple haven for yourself and dwell therein.



 

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