Did You Get What You Deserved in 2015?

I do not know about you, but I definitely did not get all I deserved in 2015. If I had, things would have been worse. I came to this felicitous realization by reflecting on the year in a different way.

At year's end in the past, I used to conduct an annual self-sabotaging ritual. It consisted of documenting in a diary and ruminating on the Grand Canyon-size gap between what I wanted to accomplish and what I actually did over the previous 12 months. This led to my mind getting sucked into an abyss, where I would perform psychological self-flagellation as penance for my sin of failing to display industrious virtue. I would hoist myself out of that dark place with resolutions to change in the upcoming year. These resolutions inevitably produced disappointment by around February when old habits of procrastination and the allure of frivolities reasserted their command over me.

This holiday season I successfully avoided all masochistic meditations and found that I could acknowledge my shortcomings in a way that led to gratitude rather than self-loathing. This was made possible by reflecting on the year using one simple question: "Despite my failings this past year, what good happened?" This question revealed how even in the absence of any spectacular event, how fortunate I was in 2015.

Below are some of the things I came to feel grateful for and the self-reflections on things I did this past year that led me to a deeper awareness of them:

Good fortune: I too often ate cinnamon rolls for breakfast and gorged on chocolate deserts after dinner. As for exercise, my regime consisted of little more than hastily walking to catch a city bus or running to appointments for which I was late. Did I deserve to be healthy this past year after doing so little for my health? No, yet I had the good fortune of being so.

Kindness: When my wife expressed concern to me about some neighborhood teenagers who were hanging around near our house yelling and acting wild, I dismissively said, "Don't worry about it. Just ignore them." She wanted me to listen to her and acknowledge her concern, but I did neither. Despite the fact that I was inattentive to her desire for empathy, she showed me kindness by making me dinner that evening and listening to me. I did not deserve her kindness that day, especially after neglecting her, yet despite that she was kind to me.

Tolerance: One afternoon I waited at a red light in a left-turn only lane. When the light turned green, I decided I needed to go straight. I cut off a driver coming up from behind me in the right lane who had to slam on his breaks so as not to smash into me. Rather than laying on his horn with one hand and giving me the finger with the other, which I most certainly deserved, he tolerated my carelessness and just let me go in front him.

Forgiveness: One evening when my son who is in middle school did something that annoyed me on the family computer, I snapped at him saying "You idiot!" When I went to say good night to him later, I sat next to him on his bed and apologized for what I said. He looked up at me and responded, "It's okay Dad," then patted me on the forearm. His forgiveness was a gift that engulfed me with a sense of love.

The above are only a few examples of how I came to see that failings could sometimes be tied to blessings.

As a child when I complained to my mother about some perceived injustice done to me, she often said, "Life is not always fair." She was of course correct. Life is often unfair. But what I did not recognize for too long is that frequently I am not a victim of unfairness, but a beneficiary of it.

How was 2015 for you? Did you get all you deserved?