Monday Musings… “Happy” New Year?

Well, we have all exchanged the traditional expression of glad tidings for 2017, but wouldn’t you agree that it is a pretty empty expression? I know I sound very cynical and I am not meaning to set off this New Year on a depressing note by offending those who look at the dawn of a new year as a chance to change a habit, relationship, or even an attitude. But let’s be realistic. Very few of us are living problem-free lives and the thought of having a year (or even a few months) full of happiness is likely not going to happen. In fact, we are destined to set ourselves up for disappointment, discouragement and potentially despair if we focus on this cheerful sentiment to pull us through the year. Instead, maybe there is a way to get our head space prepared for whatever lies ahead for you and for me.

If we do some historical research into the origins of this festive slogan, you will learn that it began circa 46 B.C. when Roman Emperor Julius Caesar declared January 1 to be New Year’s Day. Janus, the Roman god for whom the month is named, was the god of doors and gates. The god was depicted as having two faces: one looking forward and one looking back. Caesar, therefore, felt this symbolism was appropriate to represent the beginning of a new calendar year. Now, you might be thinking that is pretty cool. I mean how many of us looked back on 2016 and maybe even wrote a reflection about the last 12 months, ending said reflection with hope-filled words about the future? I know I did. But, if you dig a little deeper into what followed this announcement in 46 B.C. you would be rather shocked as to what that New Year brought as it was more likely something you would wish upon your enemy than on your friends and family. Advancing through history, it actually doesn’t get much better, as evidenced by the amount of bloodshed associated with the dawn of a new year. But in 1843, the slogan we all say appeared in print on the first commercial Christmas card, having ties to Charles Dickens’ novella, “A Christmas Carol”, which was published that same year. And so you breathe a sigh of relief, thinking, ah yes, that was such a sweet story with a ‘happy’ ending, or was it?

The fact is we don’t know the final history of the characters. We are told that Tiny Tim survived his ailment, but perhaps he was left with an impairment that compromised his full functioning. We don’t know if the raise was enough to get the Cratchit family out of poverty. We cannot be certain that Scrooge did not eventually go back to his old habits in his last days because his New Year’s resolution didn’t stick?

Think about it. We want a life full of sunshine and roses and spontaneous gifts of turkey. We love sentimental slogans and stories that make us feel warm and wonderful inside, but those things are all outside of us. We appreciate them at a distance. They may affect us in the moment, but they don’t change the fact that we, like Bob Cratchit, have mounting responsibilities when we return to work on Tuesday, or that we have a loved one who is struggling with a life threatening illness where maybe there is no cure, or that we don’t know if we will get a job when we graduate, or the weight of student loans just keep mounting, or….

Procrastination, denial, avoidance, taking out another loan… this is what we tend to do, so we can stay ‘happy’. But it doesn’t take long for the happiness to fade and defeat to set in. The KEY is in our state of mind.

We’ve been fooled into believing that happiness is our goal in life; even our brain begs for a constant dopamine fix so we can feel great ALL THE TIME. And when we don’t feel it, we go into withdrawal.

Here is the solution. It’s not a 6 week body or mind detox. It’s not 10 steps to a better you. It’s merely changing the word ‘happy’ to a much better word: steadfast.

It’s probably not a word most of you use regularly in your vocabulary, but you should. While ‘happy’ is an emotion, ‘steadfast’ is a state of mind that begs action. You could say it is the essential cognitive-behavioural therapy. A person who is steadfast is in control of and committed to their thoughts and beliefs to run the race ahead of them, to dodge the bullets that are thrown at them from every angle, to keep moving along despite the pain, to push through and never give up.

Be steadfast. This is what the citizens in Julius Caesar’s time needed to survive the ensuing slaughter. This is what Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim and Scrooge needed to weather the financial and physical challenges, and to prevent the temptation of returning to old habits. This is what we need as we open the door of January 2017.

And so I bid you all, and myself, a Steadfast New Year!

This week’s song is “These Hard Times” by Need To Breathe. There is always a way out when you are steadfast!

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