Many people will spend the next week writing down “New Years Resolutions,” declarations of what they plan to do, who they plan to be, in the coming year. Within weeks, diets will begin and new gym memberships purchased. Within less than two months, both and more will be abandoned. Our resolutions will again be thrown upon the pile of discarded and broken promises made in previous years. So caught up in the ritual of deciding what we could be doing, we fail to do it.
Why? As John Tierney writes Carpe Diem? Maybe Tomorrow in the New York Times:
“People can become overly focused on an ideal,” Dr. Shu said. “Even if they know it’s unlikely, they get so focused on the perfect scenario that they block everything else. Or they anticipate that they’ll kick themselves later if they take second-best option and then see the best one is still available. But they don’t realize that regret can go the other way. They’ll end up with something worse and regret not taking the second-best one.”But even if you know about all this research, how can you apply these lessons? How can you avoid the temptation to postpone pleasure? … One immediate strategy, Dr. Shu said, is to cash in quickly any gift certificate you received this holiday season. “The biggest danger is that it will be forgotten and expire,” she said. “One of the best presents you can give back to the giver is to use it quickly and then tell them how much you enjoyed it. The regret from not using it will be bigger than the regret from using it on a nonperfect occasion, for you and especially for the person who gave it.”
Another tactic is to give yourself deadlines. Cash in the miles by summer, even if you can’t get a round-the-world trip out of them. Instead of waiting for a special occasion to indulge yourself, create one. Dr. Shu approvingly cites the pioneering therapeutic work of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, who for the past decade used their Wall Street Journal column on wine to proclaim the last Saturday of February to be “Open That Bottle Night.”
Our rabbinic teachers of old offered a different tactic to living life. They invited us to count the blessings we have today and to enjoy the lives we are living. Recognizing that so often we pine after the future instead of finding joy in the present, they taught us to count 100 blessings a day.
- Take a look at your family. What joys do they bring you? Count them up.
- Give a smile to your husband/wife/partner/significant other. How, over the years, has s/he brought meaning to your existence?
- Think about your job. In an economy in recession, how has it helped sustain you when others are struggling so?
- Consider your friends. In what ways have they provided strength, love, caring, companionship or…?
- What about community? How has your synagogue, club, or organization provided you with a sense of belonging and meaning?
- What else?
Then take some time to tell them each why they are blessings for you. Don’t shortchange the moment. Be clear, be long-winded, be openly honest. (Nothing feels better than to hear how much we mean to someone.)
Then figure out how to live in the present, enjoying the moment, experiencing the holy (meaning: “specialness, uniqueness, worthiness”) in the midst of the mundane.
As Tierney suggests at the end of his article, regarding that special bottle of wine you are saving…
But you don’t even have to wait. Remember the advice offered in the movie “Sideways” to Miles, who has been holding on to a ’61 Cheval Blanc so long that it is in danger of going bad. When Miles says he is waiting for a special occasion, his friend Maya puts matters in perspective:“The day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc, that’s the special occasion.”
May this secular New Year be filled with promise because we took enough time to count the blessings that we brought with us!