It’s that time again: when we reflect on the past year, but look to the new year anticipating a fresh start and the opportunity to do things differently. Perhaps this year was great and we want to make next year even better! Maybe we had a challenging year, and this is our year to improve and make a positive change in our life. Either way, this time of year affects us all.
What is it about the new year that inspires us? Why are we suddenly motivated to set a New Year’s resolution, that for many of us, won’t last through January?
In many ways, the new year represents possibilities—a hope for something better. For many of us, we look to the new year as a chance to wipe clean the slate. To undo or make right the wrong decisions we made throughout the past year. Simply put: we think of it as a do-over.
This time of year, many blogs provide a list of suggestions for creating new healthy habits—a list of dos and don’ts for the coming year.
And the list goes on and on.
While these are great suggestions, many of us have tried and failed in at least one, if not all, of these areas. Although our intent is impressive, we quickly feel discouraged and once again disappointed by this annual event.
So this year, let’s try something new.
Here are three healthy habits—or areas that may create lasting change—for the new year.
All of us want our life to have meaning. We want to believe that our life is significant and worthwhile; that it has value. We want to think that we contribute something important to the greater good, and especially to those closest to us. We want the satisfaction of knowing that our life has purpose.
As Christ followers, we know that our life has value: through Jesus, God paid the ultimate price to redeem us. The fact that God sacrificed his only Son for us shows that our life is significant. God’s incredible grace and love for us gives our life meaning.
Although we may know this to be true, it sometimes doesn’t feel true. When life goes sideways, when we are struggling with pain and brokenness, it can feel as though our life is meaningless; that we are worthless and insignificant.
One of the best ways we find meaning in our life is through serving others: taking our focus off ourselves and our situation, and focusing on the needs of others. This often happens when we least expect it—when we are so consumed by our own problems, that the last thing we want to do is shift our focus elsewhere. However, in our weakness and vulnerability God is going to do something amazing! Though we don’t see it in the moment, this is God’s grace in our life.
My experience: it is usually when I’ve come to the end of myself that God does his best work in me and through me. When I trust him, he reveals his purpose in my life. Whether this is serving at church, spending extra time with a friend in need, or leading a Pure Desire group, when I serve God and others, this gives my life meaning.
So often, we let our circumstance dictate our attitude, instead of recognizing that our attitude is a choice, regardless of what we’re going through. I know, easier said than done.
The truth is, none of us escape this life unchanged by the experience of pain, hardship, and suffering. We all will experience trials and sorrows in this life, but how we respond in the midst of our suffering—our attitude—is what matters.In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms––to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.Viktor Frankl
We get to choose. We get to decide. When we choose an attitude of gratitude, it impacts our life in several areas. People who practice gratitude are happier, physically and mentally healthier, and more empathetic. Developing gratitude also contributes to positive social connections, creating confidence in building relationships.
Even when we don’t feel it, we can choose to have a grateful attitude. Sometimes we have to practice gratitude, based on an intentional act and thought process, until our feelings catch up to what we know is true. This is so powerful.
One of Pure Desire’s best practices, found in several resources, is writing down what we’re thankful for on a weekly basis. Many men and women in recovery groups, struggling with the reality of their addiction or reeling from betrayal, don’t feel grateful. They feel discouraged. They feel angry and alone. Gratitude is the last thing they feel.
This is a great way to start developing an attitude of gratitude. Commit to writing down one thing you are thankful for each day. Write it in a journal, a notebook, or on a napkin. It doesn’t matter. Write it down—look at it—read it. This process helps to create awareness; an ability to recognize God’s goodness in our lives regardless of the circumstance, chaos, and craziness.
Personally, this is one of my favorites. This has become my go-to when something unexpected happens and life feels out of control. I grab something to write on and start making a list. I’ll admit, some of the things I write down seem a bit random (and of course, not in order of significance), but I start to write whatever comes to mind—I’m grateful for:
When we practice gratitude, especially in the midst of uncertainty, it takes our focus off ourselves and the situation, and draws us to our heavenly Father. In the moment, we are reflecting on God’s goodness in our lives. Developing an attitude of gratitude will continue to bring us into relationship with God.
It has been suggested that loneliness is becoming a serious public health concern. While loneliness is subjective and based on experience, feeling lonely is often associated with poor coping behaviors, and an increase in feelings of anxiety and depression.
Being in relationship is an important part of the human experience, but it can be a bit tricky. If we have been hurt in relationship, we tend to resist connecting with others, fearful that we might get hurt again. If we were raised in an environment where we didn’t learn how to be in relationship, we may feel ill-equipped or feel that we lack the social skills to engage with others, fearful of rejection. This mindset, fueled by fear, only leads to isolation and loneliness.
So, what does it mean to cultivate relationship? When we cultivate something, it means to improve, enrich, or make it better in some way. To do these things in relationship with others—again, easier said than done.
My dad once told me (and continues to remind me) that people are like sandpaper; and this is God’s design for relationship. When we experience tension in relationship—when their issues scrape against our issues—this helps to smooth some of our rough edges, allowing us to change and grow. This can sometimes be a grueling process, but a helpful perspective nonetheless.
While cultivating relationship can feel overwhelming, intimidating, and scary at times, God designed us to be in relationship...with other humans. We need to stay in community—in relationship—with others, even if this means a small, safe community with only a few close friends. Staying connected and engaged is the goal.
This is my favorite definition of cultivating relationship: to try and win the friendship or favor of another.
Can you imagine what our world would be like, what the church would be like, if this was our mindset for relationship? If every time we encountered another person, our perspective was focused on preserving the relationship above the issue? This would be amazing!
This is an area I’ve been working on for the past couple years, and believe me, it’s a process. If we are commanded to love one another—those who are easy to love, those we really don’t like, strangers, our enemies...basically, everyone—then this has to be our mindset for relationship. We have to think, “Relationship first, issue second.”
Developing this mindset of relationship first has strengthened many of my relationships, even when this includes putting healthy boundaries in place to preserve the relationship. A relationship first mindset begins with recognizing that I have to be in relationship with God to have relationship with others. This becomes the model and standard for relationship. With a relationship first mindset, I can engage in relationship with my defenses down, and strive to see the other person as God sees them: someone he loves, who is worthy of relationship.
If we look at the coming year as a do-over—an opportunity to create positive and lasting change in our lives—why not start with one of these areas?
Pick one area to work on over the next month. Perhaps God is calling you to serve others in a new way to find meaning in your life. Maybe you need to develop an attitude of gratitude and want to take steps to practice this on a daily basis. It’s possible that God is prompting you to cultivate relationship with people in your life—cultivate: improve; make better; intentionally; on purpose—with a relationship first mindset.
While these suggestions may not help us stop drinking, lose weight, eat healthier, or exercise more regularly, they have the potential to change our life in ways we never thought possible—mentally, spiritually, and relationally.
Over the next year, may you feel inspired to create habits that continue to move you toward meaningful relationship with God and others.
Happy New Year!
1. Firestone, T. (2018). Thanksgiving is Good for Your Mental Health: Gratitude counteracts toxic emotions and increases happiness. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/daring-love/201811/thanksgiving-is-good-your-mental-health.
2. Ali, S. (2018). What You Need to Know About the Loneliness Epidemic. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201807/what-you-need-know-about-the-loneliness-epidemic.
Heather is the Content Manager and Neuroscience Professional on staff at Pure Desire. She has a Bachelor's in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Criminal Behavior. Heather worked several years as a college professor prior to joining Pure Desire. She is an integral part of our speaking team and is the co-author of Digital Natives: Raising an Online Generation.