Janet Sheridan: Worthwhile resolutions
December 30, 2010
I sometimes promise to improve, but never on Jan. 1, when my brain, sluggish from too much merriment, hatches dubious goals.
In 1955, I pledged to quit making New Year's resolutions after a gluttonous vow to save candy for a year and eat it for Christmas made a thief of my sister and nearly killed me.
But, contemplating self-improvement makes me feel virtuous.
So periodically, I determine to do better: I'll smile patiently when a meeting goes into overtime rather than noisily packing up my stuff and fixating on the clock.
I'll say so when I tire of hiking, even though it's more gratifying to sulk and mutter. When Joel wants to know what's for dinner, I'll just tell him, rather than sniping, "The same thing we were having the previous two times you asked."
Usually I fail miserably at my personal-improvement pledges and have to console myself with ice cream and Oreos. Recently, however, I've succeeded with a couple of pledges I'd recommend to all those seeking self-perfection during the coming year.
Recommended Stories For You
In my early 60s, when I first noticed the months revolving with increasing velocity, I realized I would run out of life before I read all the books on my ever-growing must-read list.
"Good heavens," I thought, surprised by my new reality.
Then, my mind startled but nimble, suggested a solution: I didn't have to finish a book when doing so felt like eating oatmeal.
With that thought, I vanquished Mrs. Beale.
She had hovered over me since third grade, the ghost of reading past: "If you take a book from the shelf, you have to read it all the way to the end. There are no boring books, just lazy readers."
In response, I've slogged through every book I've started — hoping to discover a passage not boring.
Now, I stop reading when I lose interest. I've pared my book list to a manageable 79 — not counting all those I plan to reread some day.
My second successful resolution involves taking time to smell the roses.
I'm an easy target for gurus who propose strategies for happier living; sometimes I even try their suggestions for a day or two before returning to my sluggish norm. Most recently, I've flunked organized closets, smaller servings and deep breathing.
Despite my botched history of self-betterment, last June I discovered a technique I like: each night, I think of enjoyable moments I experienced during the day.
The article I read suggested that before going to sleep I think of five golden moments the day included, no matter how insignificant.
The author anticipated my slip-shod nature by adding that I shouldn't repeat the same items night after night, but I could use variations on a theme: on Tuesday, I could think, "It's lovely to have strong arches;" and on Wednesday, a related thought: "I like how my footprints look in wet sand."
At first, my nightly struggles to appreciate five things led to sleep-deprivation, which seemed a poor way to achieve stress-free living. So, I cut the requirement to three and regained my composure.
My appreciations sometimes lack sophistication: "I enjoyed the lumpless gravy," or "No one laughed when I fell down the stairs."
Some nights I fall asleep before I get started, and others I'm so grumpy I give myself a pass — the only good decision of the day.
But most nights, I quickly think of three small happinesses: the crow that chided me for invading his territory, Joel's laughter when I described the bird's indignant behavior, and a vine-ripened tomato handed across the backyard fence by neighbors we're fortunate to have.
When I reflect for a few minutes on the pleasures of my day, I seem to sleep more easily and awaken more optimistically.
And sometimes the pleasure I remember is a book I chose not to finish.