Monday, January 01, 2018

I'm a little torn over the whole new year resolutions thing. On on hand, I absolutely love making goals and all the plans on how to achieve them. But, on the other hand, I am all too familiar with how much we set ourselves up for failure in the heat of resolution season. These cold winter days aren't ideal for jumping into life-changing resolutions, like getting out of bed earlier, working out harder, and saving money like never before. It's hard. But that shouldn't be a reason to abandon any attempt to change or make ourselves better.

I know there are things I need to change this year. Not so much a physical change, but a mind shift. It's not physical and because of that there's no easy step-by-step guide to achieving it. A change in perspective can be even more challenging than dragging oneself to the gym or starting a new diet on the first day of the year. So instead of setting a tangible goal, I've chosen a word to live by this year.


Twelve short months ago, we were in the throes of house hunting and dealing with the roller coaster of emotions that comes along with that. Too much of of my days were consumed with feeling frustrated because of what I couldn't find and didn't have. It took us two years to find our house and while it felt endless in the moment, it was all just a blink looking back. Those were special days living in our first house in Georgia and I'm sorry for how much I let wanting more put a damper on those times.

In April, we moved into our house and dove head-first into an enormous remodeling project: gutting the kitchen, living and dining rooms, enlarging the laundry, re-wiring, re-plumbing, and taking down load-bearing walls. (I posted a whole recap of what we did on Instagram Stories, if you're interested. It's saved to my profile.) It was a whirlwind few months and I let myself fall into another frustrating wishing stage. If we could just get the beams installed, if we could just finish the electrical work, if we could just get the plumbing done, if we could just install drywall before the end of the year (ha!).... Slowly, but surely, every deadline I made was left in the dust as our projects dragged on. Thinking that life would be perfect when a certain thing happened meant I was unconsciously telling myself that life wasn't perfect right then. Constantly wishing for the next thing made it hard to see all the good that actually existed in the moment.

It's not easy doing a DIY house remodel, especially when you're just a two-man crew. Some days the only thing that got done was a single pipe install or an outlet plate getting screwed into the wall. But somewhere along the line last year, as the lesson of patience got hammered into me again and again, I learned how to celebrate those little achievements without letting the next thing overshadow it. Fast-forward to me proudly showing off our newly installed gas line to guests - not because it's the most interesting thing in the world but because it is was a big freaking accomplishment to get that thing put in ourselves.

As if the lessons of a remodel weren't enough, Mark injuring his back was another lesson in the importance of right now. He is dealing with two bulging discs in his lower back that press on his sciatic nerve, causing severe pain down his left leg. So even though we're much closer to wrapping up this remodel and closer to that elusive notion of "perfect", we're now learning about life with chronic pain. The moral of the story is there's no magic date when life becomes perfect and if you're waiting for that, please stop because right now is the best time you have. That's not to say that things couldn't be better. For most of us, they very likely could, but wishing for something "better" or "different" breeds more unhappiness while simply being present in the moment can bring contentment.

A British philosopher named Alan Watts explained the danger of living for the abstract future rather than the present in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety:

"Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements - inferences, guesses, deductions - it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more. Happiness, then, will consist, not of solid and substantial realities, but of such abstract and superficial things as promises, hopes, and assurances."

Watts argues that improving our happiness is not a matter of improving our experience, but rather remaining present in the situation no matter what it is.  

Looking back, some of the best moments from this past year were little things that I enjoyed in the moment: playing card games on the bed with Mark (since our dining room table was covered in tools), setting up a "camping kitchen" (aka folding table) in the basement to cook on, scouting out hikes in the mountains near our house, grilling out on our carport, going fishing, taking long drives around town, reading a book in the backyard, walking in our neighborhood, having company over despite our torn-apart house. Instead of wishing we had a renovated house to entertain in or a nice kitchen to cook in, I was present in the reality of the moment - whatever that looked like at the time. That simple act brought more joy than drowning in abstract wishes ever could.

It's taken the year to help me see the beauty of now and I want that perspective to continue in 2018. This year, I want to do better at noticing the moment and appreciating it for what it is, rather than wishing it was something else. I'm not going to lie - I hope our house and Mark's back look a whole lot different this time next year but I don't want to spend the next twelve months wishing for that. I want to enjoy whatever this new years brings, all its ups and downs, while it's tangible and I have it. Now.

As part of this, I'm hoping to become better at sharing the reality of my now without the social media fluff and polish we so often hide reality behind. It's amazing the thought process and effort that can be wasted on perfecting an image for social media. And for what? To cause someone else the same pang of jealousy or unhealthy comparisons that they do to us? It's not worth it. For 2018, my goal is to worry less about the polish and just share the now for what it is. I know I appreciate that more in other people's posts. It also means re-evaluating the time I spend on social media and how that affects my view of my reality. A perfectly polished square on Instagram is just a tiny and distorted version of someone else's now and it shouldn't affect the way I think about mine.

It's going to be a worthwhile challenge this year, learning to balance the joy of looking forward with the contentment of now. Looking back, I'm glad for the disappointments of the year because they taught me a lesson I was badly needing.

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." - Annie Dillard

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