Resolve to like yourself

Posted Jan. 07, 2010, at 8:10 p.m.

One week down, 51 to go — how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Still holding strong?

I confess I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in years. When I was younger, I used to write lists every New Year’s Eve: lists of things I had done that year, things that had happened in the world that year, and things I wanted to do next year. For the last several Januarys, though, all such list making has been only mental, if it happens at all, and resolution making forgotten altogether.

It’s hard to think of a year as a unit of lifetime when it changes in the middle of winter — especially as life gets busier and busier. I always thought it would be better to mark the passage of time by school years, age or season. Perhaps the best time to take stock of it all is while in the middle of everything, but I don’t yet have the knack.

As for resolutions, well, perhaps my lack of interest in them stems from having witnessed, and made, very few sensible New Year’s resolutions. Instead, the most common New Year’s resolutions I seem to hear are arbitrary and nearly impossible to adhere to.

The “after the holidays I will never eat chocolate again” resolution? That lasted just two days. How about the “I will stop biting my nails” resolution? Two weeks.

That time I resolved to “stop being dependent on coffee, cold-turkey”?

Worst week of my life.

The thing I dislike the most, though, is the process of coming up with resolutions. For many, it ultimately means that at the turn of every year, they end up going through their faults and shortcomings like flipping through a personal Rolodex of negativity. What a terrible way to go about contemplating the annual passage of time.

I spent New Year’s Day last week at an all-afternoon Baltimore poetry slam. Literary Baltimoreans ate brunch, sipped mimosas and nursed hangovers while being about as contemplative as one can get on the first day of a new year. We sat together in a room lit by holiday lights as performer after performer rose to the microphone with their poetry, offering up to the crowd their personal distillations of insight, thought and observation. Some were wryly funny, eliciting the kind of laugh from the crowd that probably did more for those hangovers than the bottled water did; others contained poignant, touching phrases that hung in the air for a moment before disappearing into the minds of all present. Unavoidably, a common theme of the new year — and how we meant to spend it — wove through, popping up again and again.

One thought, though, the lone gem in a somewhat trite recitation of wishes for the new year, stood out to me: Wouldn’t it be fantastic if — more than anything else — we all just liked ourselves a bit more?

A small, subconscious sigh swept through the New Year’s Day crowd, several people nodding their heads, others tapping their hands together lightly in appreciation. Just imagine it. How many people do you know who really, truly, are content with who they are? What would the world be like if everyone liked themselves just a little more?

I decided then and there not to make a New Year’s resolution for my 2010 improvement based on self-admonition, not to start off the year by rifling through all of those things about myself that I didn’t like. My resolution, such as it is, is to indulge in a bit of contentment every day. Not complacency, not apathy, not defeatism in the face of my shortcomings — but contentment with all of the things I do right.

Someone wise once said not to ask what the world needed, but rather to ask what made you come alive, because what the world really needed was people who had come alive. This is how I feel about New Year’s resolutions. The world doesn’t need more people struggling with reproach; it needs people who plan to celebrate and enjoy every day.

I stepped out of the theater into a cold, blustery January afternoon. The crumbly sidewalks of East Baltimore greeted me, flanked by tired-out coffee shops, Korean convenience stores, Mexican takeout restaurants and the occasional office. A few decorations still hung on the street lamps, struggling to remain festive in this first post-holiday week. There are days when this experiment of living in one place for a year wears on me, but I am determined to find new things to quell the restlessness in me. Every day, for as long as I remain here, I mean to discover something new and interesting in Baltimore.

I’m one week into 2010, and I still bite my nails, still drink a little too much coffee, and I’m still munching on the holiday chocolate I acquired while home. But I’m working hard at pursuing the art of everyday happiness — and how to be an explorer in one place.

Meg Adams, who grew up in Holden and graduated from John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and Vassar College in New York, shares her experiences with readers each Friday. For more about her adventures, go to the BDN Web site: bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at meg@margaret-adams.com

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