The busyness, festivities, and stress (or chaos) of Christmas is over. Work and school vacations are coming to an end, decorations are being put away, and “normal” daily life is almost ready to resume, except for the approaching end of the year. New Year’s Day, a fresh new year, 2018!
There are still a couple days left, as we finish living the last week of this year. New years resolutions (that many never really stick to…) are being decided, people are running to the doctor for prescriptions to help them stop smoking, others are signing up at the gym, some may take up new hobbies, predictions are being made about all sorts of things by the media, political changes for the new year are being debated, companies are announcing what to expect for 2018, parties are being planned to end the year with a bang, and so forth… The festivities are not quite over yet. However, there is something great about starting a new year, people start thinking about positive changes that can be made in their own personal lives.
For me, I am not making any new year’s resolution to carve in stone. I am also not setting any new major goals at the moment. What I am thinking about is… what I can do to change my life for the better in the new year. What characteristics do I want to improve in my character? What changes do I need to make to improve my personal well-being? I didn’t want to make an overwhelming list so I’ve thought hard about, and pondered over, each area of improvement that I came up with. To avoid the feeling of being paralyzed by too much , I decided on a select few changes I am going to work on.
Acceptance AND Adaptability
We have all heard the well-known serenity prayer. It is a short little prayer that has often been a help to me, as well as thousands of others I am sure. I have thought of this prayer many a time when dealing with difficult decisions, when in need of peace and comfort, or when other people, things, or situations are just plain driving me crazy! I think the hardest part of the guidance in this prayer, for me, is acceptance. I have been getting better at it, but it’s not always easy to just “accept” things that are bothering you, even when you believe that you really cannot change them.
There are certain things in life that we just can’t change. It’s very rare that we can change other people. Sometimes we are stuck in temporary circumstances, that just have to play out, and can’t be changed as quickly as we would like. There are all sorts of examples, of things we run into, that we really can’t change. Regardless of the frustration, and even pain, that sometimes comes with acceptance. It is still often “freeing” to just accept it, and move on. (IF it can’t be changed of course.) Over the years, I have learned how to accept most of the things I cannot change, and usually do find serenity in just letting go, when I choose acceptance. However, I still really resist the idea of resigning myself to just accepting things that may be causing me pain. So this year I am going to work on adding adaptability to acceptance.
Adaptability is a healthy, and important quality, for a happy life. Generally, there is a way to adapt to the trials that are causing pain. Circumstances of our life are always changing and adaptability gives us the opportunity to learn, get creative, and find a resolution, if there is one. I don’t really like the word acceptance, without adding adaptability to it, because than we may just resign ourselves to our problems and lose hope. I feel that we either adapt our lives and thinking, to fit these new challenges, or our well-being deteriorates. Losing hope is too dangerous. There may not always be a solution that we like, things still won’t always go the way we want them too, and people will let us down. So we do have to practice some acceptance. But this year, I will adapt to the change if possible, before just throwing up my hands in acceptance. For example, if things are not going my way, I can ask myself, “Do I have a part in this, and is there anything I can do?” If the answer is yes, than that’s great, I can adapt. If the answer is no, than I can accept whatever it is and move on. Where there is no control on our part, there is also no responsibility for the outcome.
Another example, if someone is not treating me right, or let’s me down, I don’t have to accept that behavior in my life. I can adapt by moving myself away from that relationship. I do have to accept that I can’t change other people, many people focus on fixing others, rather than themselves. Trying to fix someone else only leads to frustration, trust me, I tried that once! I think it’s ultimately better to choose to adapt to living a life without that person in it. You can still have hope that the person will change on their own, and maybe repair the relationship one day. In some cases, you can also adapt by making changes in yourself, sometimes this helps the other person change their own behavior too. This is a good option when dealing with family, or people your kind of “stuck” with. In my own experience, this has worked for me on a couple of occasions, but that’s a discussion for another day.
These are just a couple common examples, but hopefully you get the idea. In a way, I have chosen to adapt to the serenity prayer in a way that works better for me.
Empathy, Sympathy, and Compassion
Some people don’t understand there is a difference between empathy. sympathy and compassion. Most simply put, empathy is the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” When you empathize with a person you feel what they are feeling, you share their emotions. This is one reason why support groups can be so helpful to people. When you have actually shared in the same experiences, with another person, you can easily understand, and relate to, the emotions they are feeling and what they are going through. Even if you have not shared in the same experiences, you can still try to practice empathy by trying to see things from that person’s perspective. However, this can be really hard, if the experience is something you cannot relate to at all. For example, if you have never been violently assaulted, you may have a hard time empathizing with the fear, a person feels, when a person has been through that kind of trauma. When empathy is not possible, we can still be compassionate and have sympathy.
Sympathy is a feeling of care and concern for another person. It is much easier to sympathize than to truly empathize. To sympathize you don’t have to have a shared perspective, or a real understanding of another’s emotions. Sympathy means that you care about someone and have concern for their plight, but you don’t necessarily experience the same level of distress that they may be feeling.
You may also feel some compassion for others. Compassion is defined as a desire to help alleviate their suffering.
Regardless of the technical definitions, I do try to practice empathy, sympathy, and compassion whenever possible. Nevertheless, at times this can be easier said than done. It’s easy to feel sympathy and be compassionate towards someone you love and care about. But how about a stranger, someone who isn’t being nice, or someone who is different and usually stigmatized due to some disability or mental condition. My motto lately has been: “You never know what someone is going through, so just be nice.”
This year I am going to try to be more understanding when I am having difficulty feeling empathy, sympathy, or compassion. Sometimes it can be tough to feel compassion and sympathy for someone you CAN’T empathize with, or even in cases where you just don’t understand the situation. It can also be tough if the person is a stranger or one of those people who just seem difficult to be around. So this is where I intend to work on these qualities. Empathy, sympathy, and compassion for all human beings. I don’t expect it will always be easy, but I do feel it’s something worthwhile to work towards. Not only will it improve my own self esteem, but also the self-worth of those who I come into contact with.
Here are some more scenarios…it’s hard to feel any of these feelings for someone who is being mean, sarcastic, or expressing unwarranted anger towards you. And I don’t have to like the behavior or even put up with it. But I can try to understand where the behavior is coming from. I can realize that there may be something, I don’t have a clue about, going on in that person’s life. Depression can, and often does, manifest in a person as anger. Stress can lead to sarcasm and lashing out, that has nothing to do with the person receiving the verbal attack. A person may seem mean or “stuck up” due to abuse, social phobia, and a whole host of other circumstances. It’s easy to empathize and be sympathetic towards people we love and care about. But what about the guy who just cursed at you for taking his parking spot. That’s not so easy. Who knows what’s going on, maybe he’s running into the store to get something real quick for his sick mother, I have no idea, but it’s obvious the person is having a bad day. I don’t know why, so I will try to be at the very least sympathetic and “kill them with kindness” so to speak.
Bear with me for one more example, if you are a person who has always worked hard for what you have, and have never had to deal with issues such as homelessness, drug dependence, mental illness, etc… It may be hard for you to empathize with the person standing on the street corner begging for money. Sometimes, we walk by these people and think, “why can’t they get a job, I work hard for my money everyday.” When we think these things we are not feeling empathy, sympathy, or compassion. And I get it, when we can’t empathize it’s hard to NOT think this way. However, if we try to empathize, we might think about how we don’t know what this person’s circumstances are. The person could be mentally ill and unable to function in most job situations. The person could have lived a life of abuse and not knowing where to turn, unfortunately, turned to alcohol, or drugs, to numb the pain, again making them unemployable. The idea is still the same, I don’t know what the person is dealing with, or has been through. And I don’t have to know. I can still be compassionate and offer a dollar, some food, and a kind word… versus a dirty look that will only drive the person further into the ground. This year I will be compassionate towards all human beings to the best of my abilities.
Self-esteem (Taking it easy…)
With regard to my own self-esteem, I think the biggest thing I need to work on is learning how to take it easy on myself. It’s a good thing to want to do a good job, but it can be exhausting to be a perfectionist. This year I am going to allow myself to make mistakes, without beating myself up. Starting with this article. I am not going to proof read it twenty times, so if you notice a grammatical or punctuation error, take it easy on me. 🙂
In addition, I am going to STOP beating myself for past mistakes, and allowing others to do the same towards me. I have already learned all I can from my past mistakes. To improve my self worth, this year I am done with the past, with regard to mistakes! And it felt really good just to type those words. Try saying those words yourself, I just found it to be liberating!! I am also going to take it easy on others as well. We are all humans and make mistakes. A mistake is just that, a mistake. It’s not something done on purpose. I am going to give myself, and those around me, a break (from mistakes) this year.
Best Wishes for 2018
To sum it all up, this year I am going to work on acceptance (including acceptance of others), adaptability, kindness & love through practicing empathy, sympathy & compassion, and taking it easy on myself, and others, by being forgiving of mistakes. This list can give you a starting point to think about your own life and character. I found when making my own list that the most difficult, but most important part, was to be honest with myself. It’s hard to admit we have areas that are flawed or need improvement. And the truth is, most of us are already good people. The idea is to improve to become even better people. At the bottom of the page I posted a short list of common character traits that can be a jumping off point to get the wheels turning. I pray that you all have a wonderful new year. Best Wishes!!
As always feel free to add your comments below. If you can think of an important trait that I didn’t list post it in the comments, if you are having trouble with something and want to talk, or just have a desire to bounce your ideas off of others, feel welcome to comment on those things as well. I would love to chat and hear from you.
- Communication Skills
- Ability to Set Boundaries
- If these are not enough to get you thinking, just google a list of character traits!
Thanks for supporting me by reading this article. I love to write, learn new things, and I love to get to know new people from all around the world, all walks of life, all religions, races, genders, backgrounds, cultures, etc… So I would absolutely love to hear from you. I think our difference make us great, interesting, and able to learn something from each other. You can contact me directly by using the Contact Form. I also have started a Facebook Group with a good friend, and a Twitter page of my own (that are both pretty new), so I would love the support there as well, if you wish to join the links are below. I will look forward to getting to know you. HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Sincere best wishes to you for a truly happy 2018.