Recently I shared an article about how meditation helped me to find satisfaction in small daily routines. This is in spite of the fact that, as we go through the height of this pandemic, I have to isolate at home because of my suppressed immune system.
Yet as we start the new year, I still have an urge for renewal. As in prior years, I came up with some resolutions. These resolutions give me a sense of growth, even within my current confinement. My resolutions are to:
1. Read a different perspective daily: With all of the content on the internet, it is not difficult to find new writing. However, our preferences online tend to build an echo chamber around us. The new articles and books that flood our feed mostly stay within our general worldview. This resolution is about seeking out and reading an article or blog or book excerpt by someone who challenges my way of thinking. For example, I am now following Robert A. George, who leans conservative and writes for Bloomberg. Although I don’t always agree with his positions, I respect his intelligence and integrity, and he always gives me food for thought.
2. Create something daily: This resolution is about fun and creating new things, no matter how small. It might be a new post that I write, or it might be trying a new recipe or planting some seeds for winter greens. When I do this, I feel renewed. I feel that a small channel has opened in my mind to appreciate creation and recreation (re-creation). I see things in a new way. Along these lines, Romans 12:2 reminds us that creating helps us to see everything in a new light:
3. Move for at least 30 minutes daily: As someone who has always been active, going through chemotherapy has been very humbling. I used to work outdoors for hours on our small farm, but now just carrying a bucket across the yard leaves me winded.
However, I am determined to keep moving. I realized I just needed to reframe my concept of what qualifies as “exercise.” As noted in a 2017 Mayo Clinic article
“Certainly running, lifting weights, playing basketball and other fitness activities that get your heart pumping can help. But so can physical activity such as gardening, washing your car, walking around the block or engaging in other less intense activities. Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood.”
Physical activity boosts both mental health and physical health, and it is worth noting that a study published in 2015 Exercise Attenuates the Major Hallmarks of Aging concluded that “Regular exercise has multi-system anti-aging effects.”
From improved cardiovascular health to stronger bones to weight control, as well as other benefits, activity certainly impacts physical health. However, as the 2017 Mayo Clinic article quoted above notes, the mood lifting effect of exercise is also well documented:
“Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms.”
Fortunately, the 30 minutes can be broken up into smaller amounts of time throughout the day and still be beneficial. So I count things such as walking briskly to the road to get the mail, vacuuming, and feeding our livestock.
4. Show appreciation daily for my family, friends, and the animals that have been entrusted to my care: This might mean saying something loving to my husband before he leaves for the day, thanking my sons for doing chores I cannot do, and petting the dog (instead of just putting his food in the bowl and rushing off to the next task). It means taking a picture of the beautiful hawk that sits on our fence, showing my son how to renew his car registration, and texting a friend who lives alone.
It might mean sending food to my colleagues at school even though I am on medical leave, sending a card to an elderly relative who doesn’t use email, or recording a show that my husband enjoys.
Appreciation says “I’m thinking of you,” or “you are special to me” or “you make my life better just because you are there.” It is intangible, yet so important. When my physical body feels drained or in pain, I can still spark a connection by appreciating the people and critters around me. Focusing on that connection brightens their day, but it also pulls me into a better place.
There is some evidence that deliberately practicing gratitude can even lead to more happiness in your life. As a 2011 article on the Harvard Healthbeat site says,
“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
I like the fact that looking for ways to appreciate those around me is supposed to boost my happiness and health in the long term, but to be honest that is not why I do it. It just feels good in the moment to connect, to say or do something that expresses “I’m so glad you are a part of my life.”
Much has been written about the fact that most people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions. Inc. magazine reported in 2019 that 80% of people fail to keep their resolutions, and offered an interesting suggestion: To choose instead a “word of the year” that acts as theme or overarching goal.
While I see the value in the “word of the year” suggestion, I have some confidence that I can keep my four resolutions. I am already in the habit of doing these four things several times a week. For me, 2021 will be a year of stepping up these positive habits, not trying to adopt something completely new. This is my path to feeling growth and success while still confined. I hope you also find a pathway to those feelings as you navigate 2021.