As we turn the page to a new year it is tempting to sit down at your kitchen table and scribble out a list of changes you’d like to make, goals you hope to keep. I have never had much use for New Year’s resolutions but since the theme of this month’s magazine is “healthy, wealthy and wise” some sage advice from a guy with a few miles on the odometer certainly can’t hurt. Call these my top 10 suggestions for a happier you.
1. Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it. I’m putting the toughest one first because nothing will have a greater impact on your mental health than moving past the anger you have toward someone. Even if they absolutely deserve your disdain, hatred is like water on the sidewalk, seeping into every crack of your soul. Just let it go, wish them well and move on. It will look like you are doing it for them but, trust me, this is a selfish act. You are doing it for you.
2. Do something nice that you’d normally brag about and don’t say a word. I don’t know why but if you are feeling down, this works like magic. The key is performing this act of kindness with no possibility of reciprocation or reward—not even the praise you’d get from friends if they knew. Do you know that annoying feeling you get when you see someone posting on Facebook how they’ll be volunteering at the soup kitchen, then they put up photos of themselves ladling out soup, then they tell the world, in a passive way, how great they are for helping the less fortunate? This is the exact opposite. You won’t get “likes” on your page but you’ll have warmth in your heart.
3. One hour a day no technology. That means no phone, laptop or TV turned on. Just sit, relax and think. You’d be amazed how the stress melts away and solutions to problems appear when you turn off the noise.
4. Pay attention to your co-workers—one of them has a problem they’re hiding. Maybe it’s relationship trouble, or financial or a health thing; trust me, someone sitting near you at work is suffering in silence and could use a friend. I’m not talking about wading waist-deep into their drama; I’m talking about listening. Sometimes a sympathetic ear, helping them finish a project, or just surprising them with a cup of Starbucks at the end of a long week is all it takes to make things a little better.
5. Try a new food that’s out of your comfort zone. It took me 34 years to try sushi and would you believe almost 50 before I sat in an authentic Mexican restaurant and ate fresh guacamole. That’s criminal. I should be locked up on a charge of second-degree stupidity for waiting so long.
6. Play hooky from work, buy an Amtrak ticket and go to New York City with no plans. Once you’re there, go where the wind and whimsy takes you. One of the best days I ever had involved a half-price ticket to “Rock of Ages,” two bags of nuts from a street vendor and “people-watching” in Central Park, and none of it was planned. If ever a city was built for serendipity, it’s Manhattan.
7. Read a classic. Gone With the Wind, Moby-Dick, To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t care, just pick one and give the author twenty minutes a day until you are done. You’ll thank me later.
8. Do something only a child would do for fun. Walking barefoot in wet grass, catching a lightening bug, ice skating on a frozen pond. You just might giggle when no one is watching.
9. Go to a museum. I don’t care if you aren’t the museum type; we have some wonderful treasures in the Capital Region—Norman Rockwell, The Clark, Albany Institute of History and Art, the Dance and Auto museums, Cooperstown, the list goes on. I promise something will surprise you.
And last and most important.
10. Forgive yourself for a past mistake. Since we began this list with the hardest, I thought we should close with the most important. Even though it is a cynical, judgmental world filled with people rooting for you to fail, no one—and I mean no one—is harder on you than you. When the sun sets and the world falls away, we are judge, jury and executioner on ourselves and, more often than not, we are able to forgive others but not ourselves.
Forgiveness doesn’t change what we’ve done but shapes what we do next. For short, it is the nature of things. Learn from it, don’t repeat it, and make your penance—being a better person because of it.
I firmly believe when we stand before God, he’ll judge us on all of it, not just the mistakes, so fill the jar with love, compassion and laughter. And for heaven’s sake try the sushi.