We’ve all become accustomed to the familiar pressure of New Year’s resolutions and the societal view that; a new year requires a new, improved you.
These resolutions usually involve exercise and diets, budgeting, starting new hobbies and creating a strict Mrs Hinch cleaning list – not a dig, Mrs H, I’m a big fan! The goals are usually focussing on things that need ‘fixing’ in your life and strive for something that ultimately, isn’t sustainable and leaves you feeling like a failure when you realise; you’re still the same old you, just in a different year.
So why do we do it?
Well, we do it because our society tells us that we need to aim for perfection to be truly happy. It tells us this, whilst simultaneously promoting the importance of mental health and loving ourselves. Confused? Me too. Women are expected to be mothers whilst also being ambitious in their career. We’re expected to be a wife, friend, daughter, career focused, keen-exerciser, life and soul of the party, healthy life-styler and so on and so forth. It’s impossible. And New Year’s resolutions are one way in which you begin a year with unhealthy pressures and a one-way ticket to feeling like a failure.
The irony isn’t lost on me that this time of ‘reflection’ falls at the end of the festive season; when we’ve sat around eating and drinking too much and therefore feeling extra guilty for our laziness and gluttony. Better make those New Year’s resolutions extra strict as a form of punishment, hey!
Well, this year feels slightly different, doesn’t it? If 2020 taught us anything, surely, it’s that going into a new year with high expectations and a huge tick list can leave us a little disappointed, to say the least.
What we should be striving for is gratitude and acceptance. Acceptance of ourselves – all the good bits and all the imperfections which make us who we are. And gratitude – for the people and things we already have in our life.
More and more studies are being done into the correlation between increased gratitude and happiness. They’re showing us that practising gratitude can lead to lower levels of stress and depression, more fulfilment in relationships and better sleep (sign me up!). As Melodie Beatty explains perfectly: practising gratitude turns what we have into enough. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be happy with who we are and what we already have?
After losing our daughter last year, I can honestly say I entered this new year with zero expectations. The lead up to Christmas was probably the hardest few weeks I’ve had since the very early days and I’m constantly trying to find the answer to fixing my broken heart. Of course, there isn’t one but I have found that gratitude can help. It has been something I’ve done from the early days in my grief without even knowing it. It started as the odd sentence here and there – ‘I’m so grateful for all the support we’re receiving’, ‘I’m so grateful that we got to meet Cora while she was alive’. This thought process is never to devalue our problems, but to acknowledge that there is always someone or something to be grateful for and accept that perfection isn’t usually possible.
I’m making it sound like I have it all figured out – trust me, I don’t. Some days, I feel the familiarity of the old, optimistic me there; and other days I want to stay in bed all day, furious at the world for taking my baby from me. But I’m hopeful for the future and that’s a start.
Back in November, we attended an online workshop about gratitude from The Grateful Hearts Club, run by an amazing woman who has also found herself as part of the baby loss community. It was a teary session but a safe space and left us feeling empowered and of course, grateful. I spent the rest of the day after the workshop painting as a way to channel my gratitude. It was lovely. Of course, one day of gratitude doesn’t equal happiness – if only it were that easy. It’s a frame of mind and we need to develop habits to encourage the consistency of gratitude. I’m not claiming to be an expert but I know there’s plenty of help and research out there if this sounds like something you want to be doing more of.
So, new year, new me? Well, I’ve certainly not got a tick list this year but I have an intention for the year: learning to live with and accept my grief. It’s a big part of who I am now and it appears that there’s much I need to learn about how grief has changed me. I’ll be spending 2021 and every year here on, trying to understand and accept the ‘new me’. Not because it’s a new year and society tells me to, but because I know that, learning to love myself (imperfections and all) and concentrating on the many good things I have to be grateful for, is what will help me be happier in the long run.
Instead of New Year’s resolutions this year, I urge you all to think about the things you’re grateful for and concentrate on the parts of yourself you need to learn to love. There’s only one of you after all and that makes you pretty special!
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to gratitude, I can recommend The Grateful Hearts Club as a great place to begin.