A kinder, gentler January

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There’s no month quite like January. It wants us awake at the stroke of midnight for parties, fireworks, a kiss, and a toast to the New Year. But then it steamrolls in at daybreak with demands that we drop and give it 50 push-ups before the first cup of coffee.

It wants us to eat kale, stop running late, save more money, do 10,000 steps a day, floss after every meal, learn how to meditate, get a promotion, organize the garage, and put our nose to the January grindstone to become much better humans than we currently are. After December’s fun and games, January can be a real buzzkill.

If you’re already prone to beating yourself up over any number of things, January is rough because it turns up the volume on self-criticism. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up “should-ing” all over our self-esteem.

I need a kinder, gentler January – something to balance out all this “new year, new you” hullabaloo. I want the voice in my head to be a compassionate coach, not a demeaning drill sergeant.

So, in the spirit of a gentle January, here are three of my favorite quotes hand-picked to remind us not to sacrifice goodness for the sake of goals.

“Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” (Dolly Parton)

Leave it to the dazzling Dolly Parton to boil things down to a one-liner that serves as a guiding life principle. There’s no denying that money matters. And we humans are designed to work. But when your workaholic tendencies don’t know when to quit, use Dolly’s quote to remember that true wealth is found in the strength of our relationships with the people we love.

When we’re in a crisis, sick, stressed, lonely, or just want to celebrate good things, those human relationships are the assets that count. Invest in them.

“Sooner or later, good things always come around.” (Snoopy)

Post this quote on your bathroom mirror if you (like me) have a bad habit of “borrowing trouble” and torturing yourself with worst-case scenarios. Just as surely as Charlie Brown brings a bowl of dog food for Snoopy, good things will happen in your life, too. What if we watched and waited for those?

Life taught me this lesson recently. Four years ago, our teenage daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy and began having seizures – some big and some small. Sometimes, she had up to 60 seizures a day. We tried at least six different medications that didn’t work. Doctors even implanted a device connected to her vagus nerve designed to decrease the episodes. But the seizures kept coming, and all my worry, fear, and hypervigilance couldn’t stop them.

Last spring, after yet another medication change, the seizures slowed down. We held our breath and barely acknowledged the change for fear of jinxing it. Then, last month, we took Kate for a routine appointment with her neurologist in Kansas City. He connected her to an EEG machine for 24 hours to see how many small seizures might still be happening in her brain.

The answer? Zero. I had to ask him to repeat it. “Zero seizures,” he said. “The new medication is working.” We cried, hugged, and rejoiced because we had stopped expecting an outcome so amazingly good. After four years of struggle, side effects, and setbacks, this huge, miraculous, joyful thing has really happened.

And if such an incredible blessing can happen to us, then just imagine what might happen to you. Wait for it. Watch for it. Sooner or later, it’s coming around.

“Some days, doing the best we can may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect – on any front – and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.” (Mister Rogers)

This is the quote to reach for when your day (or month) doesn’t go as planned. Memorize and mentally repeat it when you start thinking that what you do equals what you’re worth. That math is not accurate.

Mister Rogers liked us just the way we are, and he was one of the wisest, kindest people to ever wear a cardigan. I believed him then, and I still do. He would want us to be kind to ourselves.

May 2024 be the year that all of us enjoy the riches of deep relationships. May it be the year we watch for good things to happen, trusting ourselves to do what we can with what we have in this imperfect (yet beautiful) life.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon. 

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