Search and the other Reform websites:

Don’t Waste Time Making Resolutions - Instead, Count Blessings

Don’t Waste Time Making Resolutions - Instead, Count Blessings

Glittery hat and new years banner amidst confetti

Many people will spend the week writing “New Year's resolutions,” declarations of what they plan to do and who they plan to be in the coming year. Within weeks, diets will begin and new gym memberships purchased. Within less than two months, both and more will be abandoned. Our resolutions will again be thrown upon the pile of discarded and broken promises made in previous years. So caught up in the ritual of deciding what we could be doing, we fail to do it.

Why? As John Tierney writes "Carpe Diem? Maybe Tomorrow" in the New York Times:

“People can become overly focused on an ideal,” Dr. Shu said. “Even if they know it’s unlikely, they get so focused on the perfect scenario that they block everything else. Or they anticipate that they’ll kick themselves later if they take second-best option and then see the best one is still available. But they don’t realize that regret can go the other way. They’ll end up with something worse and regret not taking the second-best one.”But even if you know about all this research, how can you apply these lessons? How can you avoid the temptation to postpone pleasure? … One immediate strategy, Dr. Shu said, is to cash in quickly any gift certificate you received this holiday season. “The biggest danger is that it will be forgotten and expire,” she said. “One of the best presents you can give back to the giver is to use it quickly and then tell them how much you enjoyed it. The regret from not using it will be bigger than the regret from using it on a nonperfect occasion, for you and especially for the person who gave it.”

Another tactic is to give yourself deadlines. Cash in the miles by summer, even if you can’t get a round-the-world trip out of them. Instead of waiting for a special occasion to indulge yourself, create one. Dr. Shu approvingly cites the pioneering therapeutic work of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, who for the past decade used their Wall Street Journal column on wine to proclaim the last Saturday of February to be “Open That Bottle Night.”

Our rabbinic teachers of old offered a different tactic to living life. They invited us to count the blessings we have today and to enjoy the lives we are living. Recognizing that so often we pine after the future instead of finding joy in the present, they taught us to count 100 blessings a day.

  • Take a look at your family. What joys do they bring you? Count them up.
  • Give a smile to your husband/wife/partner/significant other. How, over the years, has this person brought meaning to your existence?
  • Think about your job. In an economy in recession, how has it helped sustain you when others are struggling so?
  • Consider your friends. In what ways have they provided strength, love, caring, companionship or…?
  • What about community? How has your synagogue, club, or organization provided you with a sense of belonging and meaning?
  • What else?

Take some time to tell each of them why they are blessings for you. Don’t shortchange the moment. Be clear, be long-winded, be openly honest. (Nothing feels better than to hear how much we mean to someone.)

Then figure out how to live in the present, enjoying the moment, experiencing the holy (meaning: “specialness, uniqueness, worthiness”) in the midst of the mundane.

As Tierney suggests at the end of his article, regarding that special bottle of wine you've been saving:

But you don’t even have to wait. Remember the advice offered in the movie “Sideways” to Miles, who has been holding on to a ’61 Cheval Blanc so long that it is in danger of going bad. When Miles says he is waiting for a special occasion, his friend Maya puts matters in perspective:“The day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc, that’s the special occasion.”

May this secular New Year be filled with promise because we took enough time to count the blessings that we brought with us!

Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.



Rabbi Paul Kipnes
Submit a blog post

Share your voice: accepts submissions to the blog