sunday life: lowering your New Year expectations will make you happier

This week I resolve to have a crap-tastic New Year

2010 next exit XSmall sunday life: lowering your New Year expectations will make you happier

Stuck to my friend Katie W’s fridge is a list of New Year resolutions. From last year. At the top it reads, “Live life like you’re on holidays”. This concept – chipper-ly deluding yourself with a ”St Tropez at cocktail hour” vibe – has always appealed. Until Katie pointed out that the very fact she failed to keep this resolution has caused her untold self-flagellating angst each time she’s gone to grab milk for the past 12 months. That’s what resolutions do: they haunt. And make you feel deficient.

Now, as a relevant aside, this week marks six months of my seeking out a better life and writing about it in this column. One thing I’ve learnt along the way is that happiness is mostly about lowering expectations. Every life balance coach preaches this from their pod-casted pulpit. But, of course, lowering expectations for this generation of A-types is like telling the captain of the Titanic to make a 180 degree-turn. Another thing I’ve learned from my journey: change is best made in small increments, slowly. Turn the Titanic one degree to the left and in time you’ll wind up travelling in a completely new direction. It’s about easing gently. Always gently.

So, to this end, I’m not making elaborate resolutions this year. Instead, as we all face going back to work, regretting we didn’t pull off the perfect, Kokomo-kind-of-summer holiday, I’m going to try this: “Live life like it’s a series of low-rent excursions”.

My friend Dave P triggered the idea. Every other weekend he packs up his wife and young daughter and heads to the outer Western suburbs of Sydney on a food safari. Just to check stuff out and eat fattoush, visit a kimchi factory and look at colourful hijab shops. He says it’s an entirely liberating experience because you have no idea what to expect. “So everything is novel.”

When I was a kid, my Dad did much the same. Each holiday he’d blindly choose a destination on the map. “Kids, this year we’re spending two fun-filled weeks in….Gilgandra!” Or Dubbo! Or the drought-ravaged plains of Jindabyne! On a goat farm. No offence to any of these places, but they were no Coolum. We spent summer in dusty campgrounds with sagging aboveground pools and visited kooky Cooee March memorials and native animal zoos. The expectations were low, but the stories we brought home were grand and have made my life richer. (Another maxim gleaned: a richer life is more satisfying than one spent chasing happiness per se).

I’m sure you’ve experienced the same: the daggier the pursuit, the more fun you accidentally end up having.  A morning spent at Bunnings looking for espalier ties is often more of a hoot than a fancy poached eggs brunch. It’s because the bar has been lowered. You’re not expending energy chasing the elevated image in your head of the perfect morning/holiday. You’re not living outside of yourself; you’re firmly wedged in the (sometimes grim) here and “now”. And making the most of things from there. Yet another lesson: happiness is often found in the midst of dire conditions. Bad weather during a bushwalk or a noisy breather next to you in yoga can be the motivating grist that propels you to joy. We’re forced to create our joy when things are grim, not passively await it from without.

So, to this end, this week I went to the public library and read the papers. It was the most everyday place I could think of, even if the idea of a lovely spot in a café or park seemed more enticing. I had a marvellous morning. Old people smiled at me.  And the hubbub of interested people doing interested things was soothing. Other crappy/beige excursions on the agenda this summer include: supper at a Dracula-themed theatre restaurant, something Big and something Fun (the Big Worm, Ulladulla Fun Park) and, on a Twitter suggestion, a series of “seafood buffet rating” trips to the country.

This week’s also my birthday, coincidentally signally two decades since I made my first resolution at age 16 (you do the maths). I’m dragging everyone to the cheesiest Chinese restaurant I’ve ever encountered several suburbs away. The kind that keep their Christmas decorations up until May, have tissue boxes on the table and you drive past often and think who eats there. Well, my friends, we do!

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