I often puzzle about what makes me happy. What do I enjoy, what do I find to be fun, what conditions make me stop and think, almost with a start, "I am happy"?
It's surprisingly difficult to discern. So what I'm going to try to do this year is make a note of those moments, and the circumstances under which they occurred. It goes without saying that many, more fundamental factors undergird this happiness, but what I'm seeking at this point is the extras that bring the joy bubbling to the surface.
Today, for example, I felt the surge of joy for "no particular reason" My father-in-law was reading contentedly in his recliner chair; my husband working away in his office (perhaps not so contentedly, but without obvious signs of discontent); I was unhurriedly working ("labor without perturbation") on bringing order to the house and organization to the New Year (activities I always find quietly satisfying if I am not under time pressure); there was good music playing in the background, including recently (thanks to the random selection of our music player) a selection from the soundtrack to Local Hero, which always makes me smile, because it makes me think of my brother and how blessed I am to have such a wonderful family (even though it's a bittersweet joy as I grieve once again that we are so far apart); and I smiled again at the memory of a three-way phone call with our children.
A full cup of quiet happiness is hard to beat.
Focusing on the Foundations
Goal: Read A History of the Medieval World by February 14
Reading is foundational for intellectual grown, and reading history all the more so. My 2013 goal of reading fifty-two books has already been mentioned, and will be chronicled under "Books Read" in the sidebar. Having finished 2012 with several short books, I'm starting 2013 somewhat ambitiously. I enjoyed Susan Wise Bauer's A History of the Ancient World, and had bought the sequel more than two years ago. Since her next book, The History of the Renaissance World, is due to be published this September, I decided to give Medieval World high priority.
This takes prioritizing, and goal-setting, because it's 667 pages long. It's enjoyable, but dense, and not conducive to casual reading. I'd originally planned to give myself three months to finish it (reading other books in parallel, of course), but halved the time when I realized that goal had me schlepping a three-pound book through airports. Still, reading 14 pages/day should not be difficult, IF I make it a specific goal.
Focusing on the Foundations
Goal: A 10 p.m. bedtime
I'm dividing my Foundation 2013 efforts into three categories: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. Not that I believe that body, mind, and spirit are truly separate, any more than the Christian Trinity is separable. As with the Trinity, however, it is sometimes helpful to consider the "persons" individually, if only for the sake of balance. I could have chosen different categories, or more, or fewer—but these will do, and I have a pernicious tendency toward analysis paralysis, so it is what it is.
Anyway, a first step that requires little analysis is to set a consistent bedtime of 10 p.m. That means in bed with the lights out, so all the preliminaries must be completed before then. For most of my life I've let circumstances (some avoidable, some not) dictate my bedtime, but it's abundantly clear that I do better in almost every way when I'm in bed by ten and asleep soon thereafter. Of course there will always be exceptions, but with this goal I choose "rules with occasional exceptions" over anarchy.
What I need next is a system of measuring progress/compliance with the goals I set. As I've discovered with my book-reading goal, what gets measured is much more likely to be accomplished. But first, a first step. (See above comment about analysis paralysis.)
While Advent or Lent would seem to be more obvious seasons for reflection and resolution than New Year's Eve, which falls right in the middle of Christmas, it's actually a logical time for me. Advent provides plenty of inspiration for generating random thoughts about improvements to be made—though no time for actually doing much about it—and by halfway through the Twelve Days of Christmas I am sufficiently sated with festivity to be happy to focus on simplicity, austerity, and discipline.
I don't normally make much of birthday milestones, and my 60th birthday this year was no exception. Nonetheless I find myself considering 2013 to be a foundational year for the next 30 years of my life, just as an infant's first year is fundamental in setting the course of his growth to maturity.
My initial thought was to focus on health, a not unreasonable goal at an age when good health seems to require more effort than it once did. Health will still be a major concern, but I've decided to broaden this year's concentration to all the foundations of life. In this new post category—Foundations 2013—I will be sharing some of my efforts to figure out just what I mean by that. I won't be attempting to define what counts as "fundamental" for anyone but myself—though He Who Lives With Me can't help being affected by my choices, so I hope we're at least somewhat on the same page—but I'll post about it in hopes of clarifying my own thoughts, keeping myself accountable, eliciting suggestions, and perhaps providing ideas or inspiration to others.
One things I know: focusing on fundamentals is not intended to be a "Back to Basics" move as defined by schools that drop art and music in favor of more drill in reading and arithmetic. Rather, I view it as strengthening foundations instead of continuing to build at the top. Or perhaps pruning a bush and fertilizing the roots to encourage healthier growth. At any rate, I plan to help prioritize my actions by asking, "Does this contribute to the foundation, or add to an already top-heavy structure?" Thus I hope to distinguish between the good and the better. For example, I may cut down on the number of blogs I follow, not because they are bad or uninteresting—I weeded those out long ago—but because I know that reading them will add to my already-overburdened pile of things I want to blog about. I may actually turn down an offer from Penzey's for a free jar of one of their new spices, simply because I'm already overwhelmed with spice jars. I may pass up any number of important and/or enjoyable activities in favor of getting to bed on time on a regular basis, in order to be able to give my best to the more important and most enjoyable.
I'm not judging anything as off limits entirely, and I'm not cutting myself off from these good things forever. Just for a season—a season of regrouping, rejuvenating, and shoring up a 60-year-old edifice to be able to handle the slings and arrows of the next 30 years.
At least that's the theory. Now to figure out the practice.