The New Year in all its glory has once again, graced us. Yet for all the celebrations, in reality, it is a time people either tend to love or hate. It brings up thoughts about our lives; how we live them here in the present and our anticipation of what is to come. So today I am asking the question, how can we best find the “happy” in ‘Happy New Year’?
The beginning of January brings with it, the expectation of taking stock of our lives. We consider making changes, resolutions, and promises to ourselves and others. It is almost as if we can wipe the slate clean of last year’s misfortune or perceived failures. And people respond to this in different ways. Some people are full of energy – signing up for gym membership, re writing their CV, making lists of things to do. Take one of my friends for example, she promises herself every year that she will be more ‘cultural’ (whatever that means), and she starts off with such good intentions. Then come February, she realises the most cultured she has been is eating an Onion Bhaji in Bloomsbury. And like so many of us, she beats herself up about it and the ugly head of “failure” arises again.
All of a sudden, it’s easy to realise that comparing a blackboard with life, is probably a rather stupid analogy; if only it were that simple! It is so often the case that the energy we put in to commitments and change can quickly plunder into the realms of disappointment, disengagement and sometimes depression.
Other kinds of people are faced with more difficult feelings from the get go. As we watch our energetic friends with all their plans and resolutions, our seeming inferiority to those dynamic individuals, or, the thin celebrities in the magazines, can sometimes be despairing or pointless. Maybe it is difficult to reflect on moving forward if there are still things left over from the past year. Maybe we already feel like a failure come 1st January when after promising ourselves to cut down on drinking, we wake up with a stinking hangover.
I believe that the New Year does not have to be “AMAZINGLY HAPPY AND FULL OF POTENTIAL” (see I wrote that in capitals to represent the nation’s excitement), but nor does it have to be depressing and something to dread. A balance between finding new ways of challenging yourself, whilst also remaining self-compassionate is paramount.
I used to have a client who would continually beat herself up about the amount of progress she was making in her life. I would say to her, “but you’re here….” – the truth being each week she was making progress in counselling, but because it wasn’t all song and dance she could not see it. It took about 6 months for her to recognise her achievements in what had been a year of very difficult circumstance. Everyone has a different level at different times in their life of what they can manage and do. Maybe this is the same with the New Year; committing to change is good, but, opening a greater awareness of ourselves can balance out against the pressure.
And taking a bit of time to consider ourselves and who we really are, seem a pretty good New Year’s resolution in itself. If you want to lose weight, then that can be a very positive resolution. But, considering why you are doing it and if you really need to (that’s called checking our own levels of self-esteem), is also important. And of course this also enables you to consider how you might do it and what is going to work for you and your personality. So, before you sign up for ‘Military Fitness’ on Clapham common 5 times a week….stop! Can you manage it, is it really likely that you will stick to it, and if not, surely you are setting yourself up for failure? And rest assured that for some people living in Clapham, Military Fitness really isn’t the way. It’s true you know! To cement that belief – I admit it! I am one of those people. Instead, I watch you out of my window whilst doing my own exercise regime in a way that works for me. Well, that’s when I’m not sitting eating sweets enjoying the view instead! Never mind, that’s something no amount of pressure will ever make me give up, which leads me onto my next point…
This world, I believe is made up of many weird and wonderful people, and along with our vices (like my sweet eating); we have different talents, traits and uniqueness. It might be a cliché, but we all have something to offer, and yet, so often we give our power away by trying desperately to impress other people. Of course, we are all guilty of this sometimes, but it seems crazy that whilst writing this blog, the word ‘judgemental’ seems to keep coming into mind. Whether it is judgements about ourselves, judgements from others or perceived judgements from others (which is not the same thing), we do tend to engage rather a lot in this-particularly at this time of year. Yet of course we live in a society which brings expectations and so also the possibility of us being a disappointment to someone out there. As we become adults, we realise that sometimes we do have to comply because of our engagement in society, but the question is, can we in the New Year, find a way to also embrace our individualism, and live by our own mission statements? Here’s a true example from my own life, which has helped me think about this. I think it works as a nifty metaphor:
Many years ago, I used to play in a Jazz band. Now, a Jazz band is the perfect example of playing in unison, but also exercising the uniqueness of each member. And what makes it so, is the scope for improvisation. You follow the music as a band playing together, but in the middle, each main instrument gets the chance to have their moment in the spotlight. And this is no easy feat – you have to make sure you know what key you should be, you have to play in tune (always helps), as well as conquering any performance anxiety you may have. Even when the player is improvising, they have to be sensitive to the rest of the band and honour the original music they are playing….
Much like society: where you need to live in and respect your fellow humanity (and I would add, the world), but you can also be creative and free in your individuality – even when it is hard to do so.
And from individual mission statements to our mission here at The Awareness Centre. This year, we are taking on new challenges too. One of these is running the NHS counselling service for the entire borough of Lambeth (in a partnership of talking therapies with SLaM), a move which paves the way for new opportunities in training and work for counsellors/therapists. The centre has evolved since it began nearly 8 years ago, and yet I think the embracing of more variations of clinical therapeutic work, only enhances the holistic mission of the centre, which is certainly a positive for both the centre and the local community as a whole.
For all of us, making changes in itself requires courage. Sometimes it can be hard to move away from the old, but although we may acknowledge fear, it does not always have to be about being too scary. The only way forward is forward! You can never be the person of yesterday again, so celebrate the now. Focus on what you can realistically do in the present. And if you need a bit of assistance with this, counselling can help you with: thinking about making positive changes, exploring negative repetitive patterns, increasing self-esteem or working through difficulties.
And as for all the promises and expectations the New Year brings, try to not let it exhaust or overwhelm you. Celebrate the ‘you’ of today, and be the driver of your own vehicle. Moving forward productively is about knowing ourselves. The more we become aware of our being, and the hopes and dreams we have, the more we can become masters of our own destiny. And this goes way beyond January 2013…
Caz Binstead is a qualified counsellor and member of the BACP. She currently works in private practice in Clapham, London, and also writes for Therapy Today magazine.