Positivity in the New Year

How is it a new year already? My grandparents always used to tell me that time went by faster as you got older, which just seemed like a load of bull to me. I should have heeded their warnings. Even in my early twenties, I understand. Life picks up pace, you have a routine, days fade into one another until it’s the last week of December and you scramble through your memories of the year, trying to remember where the hell the time went.

The first half of my year was pretty mundane. I’d get up at 5.15 to be out the door by 6.00, yoga from 6.15 – 7.45 and then on the train to work where I would wait for the day to end so I could get on the train home. Then I’d eat dinner, try to study, end up watching TV instead and then go to bed. Every. Single. Day.

I think this is a pattern most of us can identify with. There might be slight variations – maybe you run instead of doing yoga, or maybe you have children and your mornings and nights are spent trying to help them through their day. This sort of existence isn’t bad. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it and you might be completely satisfied. Personally, I wasn’t satisfied and, anyway, who said satisfaction was the end goal?

Lucky for me, my mother had similar feelings, so for us, the second half of the year was spent working toward getting Ecoture up and running. As it turned out, time flew by even faster than before, but at least it was being spent on something fun and worthwhile.

This blog post began as your run-of-the-mill “How to Make Better New Year’s Resolutions and Stick to Them” post. The more I researched it and reflected on my own year and resolutions (or lack of them), I came to realise that’s not what I wanted this to be. There are plenty of great and not-so-great articles out there to help set you up for success for the next twelve months. There are also plenty that tell you not to bother because resolutions never work. I started thinking about why we make these promises to ourselves year after year – that this one will be different, better. Sometimes it works out, but is it truly because of promises we made ourselves in January?

I have a background in psychology* so I have a tendency to quietly analyse and assess why we do what we do, and when thinking about this post, I was inspired by Positive Psychology; specifically, human flourishing. If you’re not familiar with it, the field of positive psychology looks not at the things that are ‘wrong’ with people but the aspects that contribute to our wellbeing. It aims not to alleviate suffering but to build upon the strengths.

I believe life is about fulfilling your potential – be it a potential for creativity, good or something else entirely. I think this is why we make promises each year about changing our lives and being better. We want more, but aren’t sure how to go about it. The problem seems to be that when people form their resolutions, they tend to be based on ideas of what they should want rather what will actually fulfil them. Eating healthy, going for a run every day, saving an extra $x per week – these things will never be life changing but they can be part of a better life.

I’m not advocating for everyone to quit their jobs and pursue a dream. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic for everyone. I mean, if you have the opportunity, take it! Though, generally, improving on what you already have makes change easier. We respond better to small changes than large ones; they are easier to integrate both in terms of cognition and logistically in our daily lives. Small changes lead to flourishing; they cumulate to lead to a better life. One decision, one goal, is not a panacea for all of life’s problems. But if you choose to undertake challenges, be more present in your relationships, contribute to things for the good of others, this will impact on your daily life.

The things that will help us learn and grow are what we should strive for every year. Notice how often you feel positive, find an activity you find truly engaging, be present and mindful in your relationships, do something that gives you meaning, and strive for the things you want to achieve and celebrate those accomplishments as they come. This doesn’t have to be at odds with the goals you may have had in mind for the year, let it guide how you approach them.

We're so often told that resolutions are short-lived, most being abandon by March. That's because sometimes life is hard, it doesn’t go to plan. It's important to remember that failure is a part of life. Challenges and difficulties are a part of life – very important parts, in fact. They help build resilience, help you grow and learn. You don’t have to feel good all of the time. Life isn’t about happiness, though happiness is a fantastic part of life. Happiness, wellbeing and flourishing aren’t static states, there is an ebb and flow that’s a part of every day. It’s not an achievement in and of itself, it is a continuous process if living life in a way that takes you from satisfied to flourishing.

What inspires you? What challenges you? What brings out curiosity and playfulness? These are things you should be doing more of in your life. Strive toward something.

I’ll leave you with the following to take into 2017: What would flourishing look like for you?

*I’ve completed a Bachelor of Behavioural Studies (Psych) but am not trained as nor registered as a psychologist, counsellor or other mental health professional.

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