Auld Lang Syne, the song we often sing at the turn of the New Year, is thought to have been composed by (or at least compiled by) Scottish poet Robert Burnes in 1788. The origin of the melody is unknown. The phrase Auld Lang Syne literally translates old long since and basically means days gone by or the good old times. (Listen to a hauntingly beautiful version – sung in both the original Scots and the English translation – by Dougie McLean here.) Together, the words and the tune evoke nostalgia and longing – for what once was and what might yet be.
And that seems an appropriate way to enter the New Year – with both nostalgia and longing. Perhaps especially appropriate for this New Year, as we look back on what we have lost and long for days filled with more joy and less worry. If nothing else, the past two years have taught us that very little in life is within our control.
One way we have traditionally tried to take control of the New Year is by making resolutions. I used to make long lists of resolutions, only to find myself left with a feeling of defeat when I was unable to keep up with them. January 12th is reportedly the day that most resolutions fail. That seems about right to me. Overall, the success rate for New Year’s resolution is only, by some reports, 20%.
I wonder if that is because, in our culture, resolutions have less to do with loving ourselves than changing ourselves. The whole idea of resolutions plays on our belief ~ and the cultural and capitalistic reinforcement ~ that we are not ‘enough.’ We are not thin enough or healthy enough or smart enough or whatever enough.
We are told that there are things we need to buy and things we need to do to change. In order to be truly happy, we have to be different. We have to resolve that we are not going to put up with ourselves in our current state. Then, when the inevitable stumble comes, we feel even worse about ourselves than we did before we made the resolution to change.
One of my favorite podcasts is Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things. (Check it out and give it a listen!) Glennon, along with her wife Abby and sister Amanda, talk about the hard things of life. On a recent pod, they discussed the pressure associated with the New Year, the whole “New Year New You” propaganda that is pushed every January. Glennon suggests, “There is no premise you have to accept that says who you are wasn’t good enough in the first place…” What if it wasn’t New Year, New You, she wondered. What if it was New Year, Same You and that was okay?
New Year, Same Me. That feels better to me. Because we bring our whole selves with us through every threshold we cross. We bring our joys and our disappointments. We bring our hopes and our griefs. And, sure, there might be things we want to change but the whole of us is pretty amazing. The whole of us got us to this point in our lives and that’s no small thing. I mean, just look at what we’ve been through in the last two years. Here, on this threshold of 2022, we are pretty amazing. YOU are pretty amazing.
What if, instead of focusing on an arbitrary date, we approached every day as an opportunity to learn and grow, an opportunity to discover the meaning of our life. What if, instead of focusing on resolutions, we focused on resilience?
Instead of New Year’s resolutions, these days, I have created a New Year’s ritual for myself. Sometime around the New Year, I sit down and make two lists. One list is of the things I would like to carry with me into the New Year and one list is of the things I would like to let go.
The things I want to carry with me are often things that bring joy into my life.
The things I want to let go are often related to anger or fear.
I take the list of things I want to carry with me and place it in a special box. The list of things I want to let go, I burn. From year to year, I find that I build on the joys – adding new ones and carrying others forward – while the list of fears and anger, while always there, gets smaller.
This ritual helps me to reflect on what is truly important in my life, not what other people tell me should be important. This ritual also helps me love myself more than if I were to – as I used to – make a list of the things I wanted to change. It is my way of trying to shift my perspective from one of scarcity to abundance, one that recognizes that life’s unfolding can’t be controlled, one that focuses on resiliency rather than resolutions.
Welcome to this New Year, with its longing and nostalgia, with its remembrances of the old, good times and hopes for the future. There is one line from Auld Lang Syne that spoke to me especially this year:
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne
This refers to lifting a glass in goodwill, friendship, and kind regard. As we lift that glass to 2022, let’s lift it not only to each other, not only to the New Year, but also let’s lift that glass of kindness to ourselves.