Why We Shouldn’t Keep Saying Happy New Year

Why We Shouldn’t Keep Saying Happy New Year

I admit, the title is a bit tongue in cheek – the saying certainly is better than some of the alternatives such as, “I hope your New Year doesn’t suck,” or, “I hope your year is mediocre.” I sometimes wonder, however, if the phrase has any real meaning, or whether happiness is really something to shoot for anyways?


Over the holidays I was reflecting on Christmas holidays in the past and some of my experiences. 19 years ago, I was living in Ukraine with a bunch of other young people doing things like working in orphanages, teaching sex ed in the local university, and running coffee houses for local youth. I was reflecting on this mainly because it was a very different experience to be in such a different country over a holiday, but also, because the culture is so different there. One of the things they taught us before we went, over and over, was that we had to only say things we actually meant. They used the example of the phrase we so often use, “We should go for coffee.” See, here we say this all the time to simply be polite, as a way of saying goodbye, or, really, for no meaningful reason at all. There in Ukraine, if you say this, they’ll expect you to actually go for coffee and it’s a great insult if you don’t.

 

This got me thinking about the phrase that we say so often this time of year – “Happy New Year,” is ubiquitous in our communication at the beginning of January. In fact, as I type this, I’m pretty sure I’ve written it in at least 15 emails today alone. What I wonder is – does this phrase actually have any meaning anymore? If I put aside my cynicism over holiday expressions, I’d like to say it does. It’s a positive phrase of encouragement and well wishes for a new season of life. It certainly doesn’t do any harm. Or does it?

 

I wonder if we should truly be chasing happiness. I know I certainly haven’t had great success in my life chasing it, particularly when I’ve struggled with depression and even with anxiety. I know I’ve had innumerable times where I’ve been around others, seemingly happy themselves or wishing others happiness, and wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” Does this mean I’ve never been happy? Of course not, thank goodness. I’ve had plenty of happiness in my life, but it’s never been the primary focus of my life. I also know that when I’ve chased happiness, I’ve met with very little success.

 

If I look at my experiences, and the experiences of the clients I’ve worked with over the years, it seems to me that feeling happy is a by-product of a more important process – that is, finding meaning. See, we can find meaning in life even if we’re depressed, anxious, dealing with trauma, in the midst of an addiction, and more. I can’t say that it’s always possible to find happiness in the midst of these things.

 

So how do we find meaning in our life? I’d like to offer a few suggestions that I’ve noticed improve the chances of finding meaning in our day to day lives, and thus, an increased chance of being happy.

 

Engage in Meaningful Activities

 

One of the things my clients hear from me frequently is that sometimes we have to do the things that we know help us feel better before we feel like doing them, as opposed to waiting to feel better and then doing them. In this case, if we’re stuck feeling like life isn’t particularly meaningful, sometimes we may need to do things that we know have meaning for us, even if we don’t feel like it; by doing so, we greatly increase the chances of shifting our mindset and experience into a meaningful one.

 

Some examples of things people you might find meaningful could be:

 

  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Being creative through music, visual arts, dance, or otherwise
  • Reading books that get your brain engaged, or are on a topic you have a curiosity about, or books that simply make you laugh
  • Volunteering your time and/or skills for a worthy cause

 

One of the things I’ve realized over the holidays is that I need to spend more time investing in myself, and particularly, in learning. This realization came after reading an article that quoted Warren Buffett, which you can read here if you like. It’s been a wild 3 years here and I’ve been focusing on the business and program development a lot, but my own personal growth has not been as much of a focus. I’ve committed to spending more time reading, and pursuing education and I’ve already taken steps toward that by booking a conference in January, doing an online course, and I’m planning more for the coming year.

 

What is one actionable step you could take now to pursue a meaningful activity that maybe hasn’t been a priority lately?

 

Evaluate Your Current Activities

 

I’m fascinated by metrics, data, and analytics. It’s the geek in me that loves measuring results. I don’t know if I’m such a fan of these same things when they are measuring how I spend my time in the “off hours.” When I look at things like how much time I’ve spent on a screen, how much time I’ve spent on social media, how much of my reading is on Google News versus something I actually care about. There’s a lot of time spent in distraction versus intention.

 

Being intentional is hugely important when it comes to finding meaning in life. I’ve noticed that I get far more satisfaction in the activities I’ve intentional set out to do than the ones that I just find myself doing out of habit. The beauty of this is that there’s no right or wrong answer as to how you invest your time, but there is an affirmative or negative answer to the question, “Is doing this providing meaning in my life,” and, “By doing this activity, is it adding to my life, or is it taking away valuable time and resources from something that could be?” If it’s not adding to your life, or it’s taking away time and resources that could be providing meaning, consider whether it’s something you want to be doing.

 

Surround Yourself With People Who Invest In You and Speak The Truth

 

I actually laughed out loud after writing this title because I caught myself thinking, “Sure Andrew, let the introvert tell others to surround themselves with people.” I wasn’t thinking quantity, okay? I’m thinking quality.

 

I’ve got two very close friends. I’ve known each of them for 30 years or more, and at the ripe old age of 37, I think that’s significant. We know each other. We invest in each other. We ask each other the hard questions in life because we care enough to. I need people like this in my life because I spend a great part of my life caring for others. I need the same in return, and I need people who speak the truth to me even if it’s hard.

 

This is important when choosing a counsellor if you’re thinking about working with a Registered Clinical Counsellor this year. I remember when I was looking for my counsellor, I sat down with him and one of the first things I said was, “I need someone who isn’t afraid to call me out when I need it.” I’d been to other counsellors who were warm and caring, but didn’t challenge me and I am definitely someone who needs challenging at times. To his credit, he’s followed through and it’s been a very helpful relationship for me to have.

 

What Should We Say Instead of Happy New Year?

 

In a perfect world, I’d love it if we all had a happy 2019. As much as I tend to avoid pushing for happiness, it really is a wonderful thing. I’m a big fan of focusing on things we can control, though, and so my hope for is that you’d have a meaningful New Year, and in turn, that the meaning you create and discover in your life would bring you moments of great joy.

 

I’m a fan of Viktor Frankl and I’d like to leave you with a quote, in the hopes that it will help you on your journey toward meaning in 2019:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself

 

From all of us at Alongside You, I hope you have a wonderful start to the New Year, and that 2019 will bring you a renewed sense of purpose and meaning…and happiness.

How Can I Survive Holiday Stress?

How Can I Survive Holiday Stress?

Articles on holiday stress are prevalent. I even wrote one back in 2015, which you can read here if you like. So why do we need another article about surviving the holidays? I can’t speak for everyone, but the reason I’m writing another one is that my hope is that we’ll all thrive, not just survive through the holidays we are about to embrace.

I don’t often look forward to the holidays – part of it is likely a personality trait of mine in that I don’t get particularly excited about holidays, birthdays, or other “special” times of the year. I’m not sure why it’s just not part of my makeup. Part of it, I think, is that as the owner and director of a rapidly growing clinic, I’m well aware of the “vacation effect” whereby any time off that I take inevitably results in work piling up and waiting for me when I return. Or perhaps it’s part of my love for routine and my contentment with life. I’m fortunate in that I love what I do, and there’s comfort in routine – I enjoy having my week go rather predictably as far as my schedule is concerned, and vacations mess with that.

I was reminded this weekend, however, that my kids love the holidays. We went to get our tree from our friends at Sunnyside Nurseries here in South Delta, and we may as well have gone to Disneyland! My kids were running wild from tree to tree, picking the best one until they came across another one to top the first, and so on and so forth until we finally ended up with a beautiful noble fir that we brought home.

Then came the decorating. My job is putting up the lights. It’s the part I care about because, well, there’s symmetry involved and I love symmetry and order. Then came the decorations, and the kids have an ongoing dialogue about who gets to put the star on top of the tree. Let me tell you, they know exactly who got to do it last year and if ever one deviates from this knowledge, a veritable onslaught of objections ensues. I realized this year that both of my girls have grown up a lot, and quite literally. They’re a lot taller now, and lifting them above my head to place the star is a much more difficult proposition than in years past! But, we figured it out and I put my younger daughter on my shoulders, climbed on the couch and onto the window sill and she placed the star on the tree. All, I might add, without injury.

It wasn’t until after we were done decorating that it hit me; that is, what I love about Christmas and the rest of the holidays. Remembering this is also what helps me survive the stress of the holiday season, which is no small feat as I’m sure you know!

 

I get excited by the little ones, and the little things they get excited about!

 

My girls are not so little anymore, which they love reminding me of on a daily basis. They may be growing up, but they still love the little things about Christmas: the decorating, making cards, baking cookies, wearing their pretty dresses, and of course, eating all the chocolate.

We may not get excited by the little things ourselves, but we can get excited vicariously through others who do. If we can do this, we’ll release endorphins, and be reminded of the joy around us, and invariably it’ll rub off on us too!

 

I’m mindful of what I enjoy about the season

 

When we’re stressed, it’s difficult to stay present, and our brain naturally focuses on the negative. It’s built into our neurobiology – when our stress level rises, our limbic system becomes more active and as a result, our brain natural looks for signs of danger – that is, the negative.

So, as we’re going from activity to activity, busying ourselves with the details, we need to remember to take time to slow down. Remember what we used to love about Christmas and all of the things that go with it. Remember those times when Christmas carols excited us and we found them soothing, rather than annoying; remember when the bells from the Salvation Army donation buckets were a positive reminder, rather than a resounding cacophony of ringing; remember when we got excited to give gifts rather than stressed about getting through our gift list without forgetting anyone!

 

I focus on others

 

One of the most wonderful things about the holiday season is that there are literally thousands of ways to get involved in helping others. So many people do this on a regular basis, but others may not during the year for many reasons, including time and availability. If we’re having a tough time this Christmas, perhaps getting involved in a charity, or another avenue of helping others would be a good idea for you, and for the whole family! There have been countless studies showing the benefits, a sample of which you can read here, here, and here.

One of my favourite things we do every year, and we’ve done with a group of friends for over 30 years now, visit a local mental health group home to sing carols, and bring Santa and treats. Every year we gather with these folks, many of whom have been there for as long as we have, and we celebrate together. Mental health homes often aren’t the cheeriest of places, but for a couple of hours, it turns into a giant party, with singing, and lots of joy. Quite honestly, it’s one of the most joy-filled times for me over the holidays because what is a very simple thing for us to do, brings such great levels of joy to the residents. They look forward to it all year, and they tell us so when we’re there.

If you’re struggling through the holidays, I highly recommend taking some time to focus on others through volunteering. There are some great places to do this, including Food On The Corner, UGM, Covenant House Vancouver, Deltassist, Delta Hospice, and so many more local organizations. Or, grab some friends, and go around the neighbourhood singing carols. Or perhaps you want to buy a bunch of roses, stand on the street corner and hand them out to people, just because!

 

Farewell to 2018

 

I don’t know about you, but 2018 has been a whirlwind for me. I’ve even remarked to clients on numerous occasions, “Didn’t I just see you last week,” and it’s been a month. Time goes fast! I know that one thing I’ll be focusing on this Christmas is slowing down. Resting. Recuperating. Reflecting.

It’s so easy to just keep going, and staying busy, even if it’s not at work. I’d encourage you to pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read, write that letter that’s been on your desk for the past 6 months, get together with that friend who you’ve been trying to get together with for the past year and somehow, it’s just never worked out. Find opportunities to share with those closest to you just how special they are to you, and how much you value them. If you can do this, you’ll do far more for them than any present could, and for yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you, from Meg and I, and the rest of the team at Alongside You. We are blessed to be a part of your lives, and we wish you nothing but the best of times to finish the year and to start the New Year.