Welcome 2024!

What a year we enter! Uncertainty, suffering, joy, injustice, and grief surround the experiences of many of my friends around the globe. My stage of life and the experience of friends have taught me to make room for a wide variety of experiences, disappointments, victories, defeats, gladness, and grief. But isn’t that life? How do I approach this new year? My resolutions this year take a different turn, I’m not as concerned about what I will do as who I will be. Facing all that life brings isn’t rooted in what I plan or don’t plan to do, but in who I am amid my pursuits. So, here are my resolutions for the new year.

Be present. The greatest gift I can give in today’s world is simply to be present. It doesn’t matter about the context. The surgeon general’s report on the epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the United States notes that nearly half of U.S. adults report experiencing loneliness, with some of the highest rates among young adults.[1] I live in a mixed urban/rural setting. I frequent crowded coffee shops and stores. Yet, I never cease to be amazed at the bubble people seem to exist in sometimes never acknowledging the people right next to them. When I smile, when I warmly greet another, I break down the isolation. I’m a bridge to friendship and health! Why health? Again, the surgeon general wrote that,

“The lack of social connection poses a significant risk for individual health and longevity. Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of premature death by 26% and 29% respectively. More broadly, lacking social connection can increase the risk of premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. In addition, poor or insufficient social connection is associated with an increased risk of disease, including a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke and with increased risk for anxiety, depression, and dementia. Additionally, the lack of social connection may increase susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illness.”[2]

When I am present, I actively participate in the ministry of Jesus Immanuel, e.g., God with us who comes with healing and reconciliation.

Be generous. Janice and I find many occasions to respond to needs. We see homeless people who have inadequate clothing and food. So, we bought winter coats and supplied them with hats, socks, and other personal items to give away as we encountered the homeless. This has led to some powerful emotional encounters. I work with leaders around the world who don’t have the same access to resources I do. I give away hard-earned intellectual property to help them in their development as leaders. There are so many ways to be generous. We find that being generous with our time to our children and grandchildren presents a way to make a difference and live out our purpose right at home. There is something about generosity that makes a powerful difference.

Generosity has all kinds of impacts according to research on the topic, from increased sense of well-being to better mortality rates – generosity seems to have far-reaching psychological and physical impacts for good.[3]  Here too, I live out the ministry of Jesus whose generous grace I find transformative in my own life.

Be grateful. The power of gratitude has long been documented. I have experienced a much clearer awareness of purpose and meaning through the exercise of gratitude. My friendships seem to grow deeper and offer a greater sense of intimacy as I practice gratitude. Like the other characteristics I have described, gratitude also has measurable impacts according to research. Studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.[4] Gratitude decouples us from toxic emotions. The more we practice gratitude we may help train our brains to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude in the future, and this may contribute to improved mental health over time. 

Be inquisitive. Knowledge is moving at rates I find it impossible to keep up with. My oldest granddaughter asked me how I used ChatGPT last summer. I had to ask for a definition, she showed me this aspect of artificial intelligence and how she used it. I started peppering her with questions. Wow, I learned! I find the older I get, the more important it is for me to exercise curiosity as a therapeutic intervention for fear and feelings of being overwhelmed. I’ve found a correlation between the lack of curiosity and toxic cynicism and depression among men and women my age. I don’t want to exist in an emotionally caustic state relative to those around me.  I want to participate in the growth and discovery they experience even if it means disentangling myself from the anchors of the familiar to drift into the uncomfortable. What I have found, especially in my conversations with my grandchildren, is that the new things they teach me take on a depth of application as I learn they learn something from me that expands their horizons. This has led me to be very attentive to intergenerational mentoring opportunities. They find I respect who they are and what they know, and they discover a deeper respect for who I am and what I know.

Be candid. There is a reason I list this last – its effect and its affect depend on exercising the above characteristics first. By candid I mean truthful and straightforward, and I use it to describe how I relate to those around me and how I answer their questions. Sometimes I run across those who claim to be candid but are simply opinionated bigots unwilling to consider views, facts, and insights that are different from what they are familiar with. In my relationships with generations younger than I – which occurs with far greater frequency as I age – I find little tolerance for dissembling, ambiguous, and vague responses on my part. I find even greater intolerance of unsolicited opinions. The greatest gift I can give to the various generations and orientations I run across is candid responses to their questions as I have understood those questions in the context of their experience. Truth in this context sets people free.

Each of these objectives requires effort. The more traditional goals of exercise, diet, reading, networking, etc., are given. But these objectives transcend and give meaning to the kinds of resolutions I have often posted for myself. If aging has a significant benefit, it is the realization that who I am has a deeper and more meaningful impact than anything I have ever accomplished. I am ready for 2024.

[1] Source: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf; Accessed 1 January 2024.

[2] Ibid, 8.

[3] Source: https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Generosity-FINAL.pdf; Accessed 1 January 2024.

[4] Source: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain; Accessed 1 January 2024.

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