Every day I try to go for a walk throughout the grounds of the retreat center while listening to various podcasts. I am currently a fan of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us, The Argument by the New York Times, and The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos… among others. During this time of pandemic, these podcasts often give me hope. Brené Brown is famous for her research on vulnerability and shame. The Argument is a conversation between two people with opposing viewpoints regarding current affairs. (Though it is called “The Argument”, “The Healthy Debate” might be a more descriptive title as I have never heard the hosts get into an intense screaming match or anything.) And The Happiness Lab discusses various things that we think will make us happy versus what actually does.
Episode 1 of The Happiness Lab’s 2020 season, which ironically came out shortly before the pandemic began, was called A New Hope. In this episode Dr. Santos spoke of the idea that making changes in your life on certain days of the year will lead to a greater likelihood of that change sticking. She gave an example where, given the opportunity to start something on say, Saturday, March 20, a number of people may fail in their attempt. It is a Saturday, not the first day of the week. It is the 20th, not the first day of the month. And it is March, not the first month of the year. In some ways, the date seems so unimportant. And yet, if those same people knew that March 20, 2021 will be the first day of spring, there would be a greater likelihood of success. Why? Because the first day of spring is a fresh start, a new beginning, a reason for hope. Nothing changed, and yet there is a greater expectation of success.
So, does that mean we should all wait two months before we try to incorporate in our lives changes that we’ve been thinking about? What about today? Is there something special about January 26, 2021 which could give us “A New Hope?” For a friend of mine, it is his birthday. For him, it seems like a very good day to try something new. But what about the rest of us? Is there a way to get passed this “fresh start” phenomenon which makes people more successful in making changes on unique days?
Technically, today is a new and very unique day. No one in history has ever experienced today before. In fact, today is the only time ever that anyone will get to experience January 26, 2021. Thus, we are the only people ever who will get to experience today. And not only that, today is the very first day of the rest of our lives. Why is that? Because we can’t do anything yesterday anymore, and tomorrow is not here yet. Today is the only day that we can experience right now. Can’t that be enough? Can’t today be special because today is now?
I do not say this because I do not believe in the science behind the data that Dr Santos is working with. I do. In fact, I am looking forward for my birthday to come so I can feel that sense of a fresh start. I say this because in this time of pandemic we are all struggling, and we all need hope, right now, today. Last year around Thanksgiving I started to keep a gratitude journal. For the past 15 days, every morning in my journal I wrote that I am grateful for the previous night’s sleep and the fact that I woke up healthy. I can’t promise that I will be able to write those same gratitudes in my journal tomorrow morning, but today I did. And today I feel great. And thankfully, the pandemic cannot take away today. Today I can make choices. Today I can act on those choices.
So, what change would I like to make in my life today? Today I would like to let go of my fear and anxiety over this pandemic. I would like to live in the present moment, fully enjoying my everyday activities. It may not seem exciting to you, but today I am going to go for a walk and listen to a podcast. Today I am going to write a blog post and edit a draft of a witness for a future retreat. Today I am going to prepare for a retreat this week by practicing a witness and preparing for the small group sessions. Today I am going to practice the drums. Today I am going to have dinner with my housemates. Today I am going to do all of these things, all of which I will fully enjoy, because today I am so grateful to be alive and healthy, working at a job that I love, and living with friends. Hopefully, as I practice being grateful for so many things in my everyday life, every day will feel like a fresh start.