Moving beyond New Year’s resolutions
A new year has dawned. This is an opportunity to reflect, design and plan anew. After an unforgettable 2020, one where our whole world was shaken, it’s important to take a moment and let it all settle. Simply begin by listening. As much as it may be about looking ahead, the new year is an excellent opportunity to pause, reflect and review our life’s situation, direction and priorities.
Maybe the gift that 2020 offered us is to become aware of unquestioned assumptions and beliefs we individually and collectively had about work, relationships and life in general.
Let’s see this as an opportunity to go beyond conventional New Year’s resolutions and dare to take personal intentions and commitments to the next level. No one knows what 2021 will bring or what post-Covid realities we’ll have to face, but why not prepare to surf the tsunami?
What does it mean to take your intentions and commitments to the next level? How can we prepare or even think of the future in such an uncertain moment? Are there some sound principles to guide us in these fluid times?
When I say take your intentions to the next level, I mean daring to go beyond asking yourself what do I want to HAVE in my life (or even what do I want to DO during this coming year) to asking yourself: Who do I really want to BE?
I invite you to consider the following questions:
- Who are you at your best?
- What gives you meaning?
- What brings you joy?
- What are your strengths and gifts?
- What if you could become the best version of yourself?
To include this dimension (identity) in your reflections, opens new possibilities when creating the life you want. It creates the baseline to transform your life from a sound and sturdy bottom up. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “It is easy to live for others, everybody does. I call on you to live for yourself.”
“It is easy to live for others, everybody does. I call on you to live for yourself.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
What one can be, one must be
All human beings have an impulse to become. We all have a desire for self-fulfilment. Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be at peace with themselves. In the words of Abraham Maslow: “What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualization“. Self-actualization refers to the drive to become everything one is capable of becoming.
In nature, an acorn becomes an oak by means of automatic growth; no commitment is necessary. But a person becomes fully actualized only by their choices and their commitment to them. People achieve a sense of worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make day-to-day. These decisions require courage.
We all have the choice to work on ourselves and to develop the latent capacities and talents that are waiting to be expressed. When we commit to work on the “BE” dimension, transforming our identity, by extension, a new set of actions become available to “DO”. At the end of that sequence, we get new results (“HAVE”).
The mirage of happiness
If you ask yourself or anyone why they do something, most will tell you that they do what they do in order to be happy. It seems natural, reasonable, and commonsensical to reach that conclusion. I want to invite you to take a moment and explore what we mean by that word “happiness” and reveal the dangers we might face in our pursuit of it.
If we look for the classical definition of happiness we find that it is “the state of being happy or pleased”, contentment, comfort, pleasure, enjoyment and absence of distress. This definition of happiness can be conceptualized as experiencing more pleasure and less pain; it is composed of an affective component (high positive affect and low negative affect) and a cognitive component (satisfaction with one’s life). The problem with this definition of happiness is that these pleasures can lift your mood and leave you feeling wonderful, but their effects can be fleeting. We get used to them relatively quickly. We can feel trapped on a treadmill, always looking for the next thing that will make us happy and that will remove the pain. This is called the “hedonic treadmill”.
Besides the hedonic treadmill, there are some dangers or traps in our pursuit of happiness that I’d like to explore with you.
The first danger or trap we experience is the “I’ll be happy when” syndrome. The illusion is that reaching some future destination will bring lasting happiness. In this state of mind, we fail to appreciate the significance of the journey itself. We start playing the game of putting off enjoying life. We’re told to work hard for some future benefit so that we can get ahead in life. No pain, no gain. The problem is that we’re always pushing forward, rarely enjoying what we’re doing right here and now. We become confused and discouraged about why we’re rarely consistently happy in this future-only outlook.
The second approach to happiness is the hedonistic one. The hedonist’s illusion is that only the journey is important. We are only concerned with what gives us pleasure now. No goals, no long-term planning. Just doing what feels good in the moment. This lifestyle leads to boredom and meaninglessness. Again, trapped in the never-ending cycle of seeking out the next happiness fix without a care for consequences.
The third danger is the helpless or nihilist approach. The nihilist, having given up on both the destination and the journey, is disillusioned with life. From this perspective, one looks at the past with regret, considers only failures in the present, and sees only a dark future. This person adopts an attitude of helplessness, usually accompanied by resentment.
There is another way
There is another way of viewing “happiness” that is not solely focused on chasing experiences, acquiring material things, or getting somewhere else. It is call eudaemonic happiness. From this perspective, our subjective wellbeing is the result of the pursuit and attainment of a life of purpose, meaning, challenge, and personal growth; happiness is expressed through the aspiration of reaching one’s full potential.
Eudaimonia is a Greek term that essentially means human flourishing. It consists of the words “eu” (“good”) and “daimōn” (“spirit”). So, the Greek word eudaemonia literally means the state of having a good indwelling spirit. According to Aristotle, eudaemonia is constituted not by wealth or power, but by rational activity, and living through the virtue of a life lived fully. Aristotle is alluding to what we describe in modern terms as self-actualization. It can be defined as the achievement of one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world. The Stoics believed to some extent that eudaemonia was the highest good. For them, virtue and well-being consisted of living according to this ultimate Nature.
How can we experience “eudaemonia”? The Greeks would say that we must live with “Areté”, which translates literally as “virtue” or “excellence”. But it has a deeper meaning – something closer to living out the best version of yourself in every moment. In other words, the ultimate aim of life is not “happiness” as we know it, but more of a sense of ACTUALIZATION, expressed in every moment of our lives. True happiness, in the Aristotelian sense, MUST include the successful actualization of our greatest potential. THAT is the ultimate purpose of life, the summum bonum or the highest good.
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