Always Be...

I do resolutions every year. Usually not on New Year's day itself, just one of the nameless and unhurried days that follow but can't really be separated from it. For me, those days pass slowly and give themselves over easily to books, video games, and naps. But also, at some point, inevitably, irresistibly, to resolutions.

Image by tomertu via Shutterstock

Composing resolutions is easy at that time of year. Quite outlandish thoughts slip easily past snoozing skeptical sentries. Relaxation and distance from day to day obligations gives one an illusion of unlimited capacity. I also experience a certain insensitivity to irony. This, you'll understand, is necessary to effectively envisage achievements of athletic accomplishment from deep within the dent of my couch.

Then the story, for me, usually proceeds in the predictable way. The resolutions fall away over time and get stored away in a box full of shame, failure and Christmas tree lights. And every time, it's not this time.

But actually it was a little different this year, a little better even.

This time my focus was squarely on the great white whale of resolutions: to be happier. Ruminating on that one is advanced resolutioneering and not to be taken on lightly. However, unexpectedly, I did hit a productive vein of thought. I reflected that all the times I was happiest over the previous year shared a couple of reasonably consistent features.

Excluding obvious fun times around holidays and such, the common feature for happy periods was not ease or idyll, but progress and a sense of balance.

Interestingly, the kind of progress that stood out wasn't towards success or goals in any normal dimension of my career, financials, personal etc. Rather it was completion of projects or learning something new.

Conceiving, working productively, and completing projects in any area had happy associations regardless of their impact on any objective measures of success. And likewise learning new things reliably boosted happiness, regardless of any utility or impact of new knowledge or skill on my objective awesomeness.

My tussle with the whale had borne fruit and is still paying dividends. For example, just now, delightfully, it has gifted me, and now you, with this tortuously mixed metaphor.

More practically it suggested a new form of resolution to try, namely the 'Always be...'.

For me the ones that fell out were :

Always be... reading something.

Always be... learning something.

Always be... finishing something.

The idea being that in sum, I actually find it difficult to be unhappy if I'm doing all of these actively.

Not an earth-shattering insight but a really helpful touchstone for my mental health.

Since then I've observed periods of disquiet or unhappiness have been associated with the over-riding of these through busyness. Keeping lists of things to read, learn and do that span a wide range in terms of demand on effort and energy is key.

An example from recent times: "I may be flat out at work and exhausted but hey, I'm enjoying my trashy detective novel, can now bake a passable cheese scone, and just cleaned out all the apps I never use from my iPhone."

Or in a different universe: "Things are pretty routine at the moment and I'm on top of all my obligations. Not sure that I'm entirely grasping Mr Hawkins' point but it's fun to try. My Ancient Greek is coming along, and that model Parthenon I built out of toothpicks looks great."

Your mileage may vary, but you're always...?

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