2017 is over, and, like any other year, there are both joys and sorrows to reflect on. I went from hating running to completing a half marathon; I gained a brother in May; I grew closer to some people and drifted from others; I didn’t pray enough; I realized how rapidly time passes and how much I miss my siblings; I didn’t get to see Summer Jackson; I listened to a lot of good music; I didn’t fall in love; I got two semesters closer to completing a Biochemistry degree; I despaired often over the state of the planet and this country; I got an internship in Grand Rapids for next summer; I laughed for most of the past couple weeks with my family; I ended the year and brought in a new one with the two people who love me most.
I am thankful that the year was both good and bad, and despite my relentless craving for predictability and consistency, I remain convinced that the more colorful my marble of experiences, the better, richer, wiser and fresher my life is. I think it’s a little cliché to try to avoid being cliché, and especially when it comes to the New Year, I’m all for the optimism and excitement of resolutions. They help us admit the disappointments lingering in our consciences, allow us to humbly acknowledge the things we didn’t do very well the year prior, and show a common human desire for wholesome self-improvement.
I just finished a little book called The Art Of Living : The Classical Manual On Virtue, Happiness And Effectiveness, a modernized adaptation of the writings of the ancient stoic philosopher Epictetus. The book contains page after page of encouraging nuggets of wisdom, and is partially responsible for my determination to make this year one full of joy, discipline and growth. One quote of his in particular resonates with this time of year and my “pro-New Year’s Resolution” stance: “Clearly define the person you want to be…It’s time to stop being vague. If you wish to be an extraordinary person, if you wish to be wise, then you should explicitly identify the kind of person you aspire to become.”
So without further ado, here is my attempt at a short, doable list for 2018:
1. Play a little.
Last Sunday my parents and I went out for brunch with Tracy and Marny, a great couple from our church. Throughout the meal and conversation, we filled each other in on our lives, and I gave my typical update consisting of classes, studying, books, and goals for the future. They kindly but adamantly told me I need to have more fun, and although I’ve had friends and family telling me the same thing for a while, their words finally convinced me of this. I got home and wrote down quotes from each of them: Marny’s “play a little” and Tracy’s “Go for the B”.
So, this year, I will try harder to play—to create, to keep reading for fun, to go outside often, to dance, and to be with people.
2. Sleep. Give your body what it needs. Take breaks.
This one may speak for itself, but is a necessary reminder for me. Physical health so deeply affects mental, emotional and spiritual health, and especially after last semester, I know I need to take better care of myself. I’ve read and heard countless times how vital sleep is to overall health, so (with the help of my roommates) I will aim for 6-7 hours of sleep per night.
Last week’s Saturday Essay from the Wall Street Journal emphasized the benefits of breaks, saying “One powerful way to recast your daily routine is to take more breaks. Short breaks can help us to maintain focus and reactivate our commitment to a goal. And certain kinds of breaks are better than others…Frequent short breaks are more effective than occasional ones. The ideal break also involves movement.” Throughout this tough semester of studies, I hope to keep in mind the importance of giving my body and mind plenty of time to recharge.
3. “Enjoy Right Now, Today.”
Yes, this is the title of a Tyler, The Creator song. But it’s also the concept I struggle most to hold to in my day-to-day life. I find myself constantly thinking about the next thing or reminiscing on things past, and this worries me. I came across this theme again the other day when reading C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, where he wrote, “Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”
About a year ago, I was walking with one of my favorite friends, Peyton. Out of nowhere, she exclaimed “I am where I am supposed to be!” and it stuck with me. I’m not sure how to practically go about changing my mindset, but I think I’ll start by repeating this simple sentence often to bring myself back to the here and now.
4. Be patient with yourself.
Despite its consistent urging to live a morally impeccable life, The Art of Living actually ended on a realistic and graceful note, saying “Forgive yourself over and over and over again. Then try to do better next time.” It’s an idea that friends, family, pastors, professors, and others throughout my life have been telling me, but seeing it in writing from an ancient stoic, someone who values discipline and excellence more highly than anyone, was deeply meaningful to me. If I can remember to practice this last one, I think all my other goals for this year may actually be attainable.