Some people like to make resolutions this time of year -- you know, the stuff that makes January the happiest time of the year for Jenny Craig and Gold's Gym. There won't be any "lose weight, exercise more" on my list -- not because I don't need to do both but because I'm feeling more introspective as we flip the calendar page into a new year.
And, since I know no better way to hold myself accountable than to publish my list for the whole world to see, here are my 2014 pledges.
1) To stop studying what makes other people happy because I think I'll learn something.
Whenever I run into people who seem satisfied with their lives, I am always keenly interested in how they got that way. I'm baffled when they don't seem any smarter than me and yet they have this calm and happy thing nailed. I always try to figure out what they know that I don't -- like there is a magic formula and if I just drink a long hard swig of it, it'll bring on a case of inner peace.
I'm going to stop doing that. I think the secret to being happy is learning to recognize it when you see it and stop thinking something better is just around the corner.
I am happy. This is what happy looks like. Accepting that your life is pretty damn good and learning to be content with what you have is the key to being happy. But I will understand if you wish to study me.
2) To stop looking in my life's rear-view mirror.
I play this parlor game with myself a lot, where I put myself back at some crossroads in my life and think about the path untaken. Like what would have happened if I married the first guy who asked instead of the second, or what would have happened if I went to the college of my dreams instead of the one I could afford. It isn't so much an exercise of regrets as it is a fascination with the idea of how a simple decision or random act -- stepping off a curb at the wrong second -- can so totally alter the course of your life.
Life is fragile and should be lived with gusto, not with one eye on the past.
I know a woman whose son was a nationally ranked college athlete until a random surfing accident left him a paraplegic. She told me that the hardest part of dealing with what happened was to stop looking back at the accident and the what-might've-beens. Both she and her son live active full lives because they learned to move forward. People call them things like "an inspiration" and she just smiles.
There is something to be said for looking forward instead of back. And I'm going to start doing more of it.
3) Letting others do it.
I'm someone who likes to be in charge of things; OK, I like to be in charge of everything. I'm the family organizer, the chief event, vacation and meal planner; I am the one whose plate overflows with commitments and responsibilities and who runs at 100 miles a minute until she goes crashing into a wall. I may be good at this stuff, but I always crash into the wall. Always. We all do.
I want to be someone who accepts help when it is offered. More than that, I want to be someone who knows how and when to ask for help when it isn't.
4) Learn to be more patient.
Busy people are often impatient people. We can't stand being kept waiting because it wastes our time. We are annoyed when our guests get stuck in traffic and say things like "They should have left earlier!" My impatience leads to anger sometimes. I walked out of my doctor's office because she kept me waiting.
Ultimately, none of it matters. All my impatience does is raise my blood pressure and stress me out; it doesn't make my guests arrive any sooner or the doctor see me any faster. At the end of the day, the one who suffered the most from my impatience was me. I've allowed evenings to be spoiled and friendships to be ruined. I want to be someone who remembers to breath.
5) Not every slight needs to be addressed.
Don't get me wrong: I believe in things deeply and passionately and am generally incapable of not speaking my mind. But it probably isn't necessary for me to be leading the charge all the time. Not every battle needs to be fought. I want to put down my weapon more and just let things be.
6) I want to forgive more.
I suppose this is the flip side of the coin where I address every slight. I often very wrongly assume that we are all competing on the same level playing field. I know we don't. Some of us carry around baggage that is invisible to the impatient eye. I should forgive more and judge less. So should you.
7) Remember that I can survive anything.
When I lost my job in the recession that nobody talks about anymore, I divided people into those with jobs and those who had lost them. The first group couldn't possibly understand what those of us in the second group were living, I believed. I remember telling a cousin that the recession was something she was reading about in the newspaper and I was actually living.
But a funny thing happened to me on the way to the unemployment office. I got my groove back, the one I long ago lost to the rut of complacency that I had fallen into. The two years I spent "between" jobs were the best two years of my working life. I was catapulted out of my creative stupor by sheer terror and forced to reinvent myself. I loved how energized it made me. Eventually I re-entered the corporate workplace, lured here primarily by health coverage and some security for my family. And I certainly don't want to romanticize those who are still reeling from the recession's bite. But let me just point out one thing: You are still here, my friend, which has to count for something.
8) Accept that there is not just one pathway to satisfaction, so stop looking for it.
Life would be so much simpler if things were black and white. But they aren't. There are many paths to the same goal. A few weeks ago, I reconnected with someone I barely knew from the newspaper where I started my career. I was one of the minions who passed through that suburban paper's doors on the way to some place else; he was a guy who took root and stayed in the same job for almost 45 years.
Our trajectories couldn't have been more dissimilar and I have the Allied moving boxes in the garage to prove it. But I heard it -- right there in his voice. He spent his whole career covering high school and college sports and loved every day of it. He is one happy man.
9) Have an attitude of gratitude.
There is much I am grateful for. My family, my kids, my friends -- you know, the usual suspects. I am also grateful to people who won't tolerate bullies and our soccer coach who banned booty shorts from practice. I am grateful to people who raise their children to be inclusive and always kind. I am grateful to people who aren't afraid to smile and be nice. And I am most grateful to readers who think I have something worthwhile to say and read down to the very end.
Happy new year, all.