One of my favorite movies from the ‘90’s is the Bill Murray starring film Groundhog Day. The story line imagines what happens when a self-absorbed weatherman relives a very bad day over and over until he changes his perspective and outlook on his situation, finds redemption and gets the girl he loves in the end. The first couple of times the character Phil realizes the day is repeating, he is confused and understandably distressed. But then he begins to realize what a gift he has been given especially when he anticipates the events of the day and changes his responses to them. Hindsight can be wonderful.
I often think that this is how many of us approach the new year. It’s as though we have been given a reset button on the first day of January that allows us to actually attempt to accomplish those things we hoped to accomplish last January but didn’t or at least not fully for whatever reason. Lose weight. Quit smoking. Exercise more. Drink less. Save money. All of our good intentions to overcome those challenges fall by the wayside the further we move into the new year. Although to be fair there are many who do accomplish what they have set out to change. It’s just that no one really knows how many times they have tried before actually succeeding.
I believe what is really happening each January is the revival of hope. Hope truly does spring eternal and as we come to the end of one very long year, the prospect of a fresh new shiny unblemished year to start over allows hope to come into play. It feels so good to have that hope that often we binge on whatever thing we are trying to change all through December because we are certain by January 1st it will magically resolve itself. The very nature of hope spurs a feeling of positive action. Webster’s dictionary defines hope as “a desire accompanied by expectation or belief in fulfillment; to want something to happen or be true”.
To have hope in change involves no uncertain amount of magical thinking. I confess I have reached for that golden carrot too many times to count in my own life. Usually for me it was to finally lose weight and get into shape. I always had the belief that whatever diet de jour I was basing my hope on would change the trajectory of my eating habits and reveal the toned, svelte body I just knew was hiding underneath my muffin top. But mere weeks or more honestly, days into the new regimen, my conviction would falter and by the second or third or fourth week of the year I would be back into my old habits
Hope has in some way been instilled with us since our earliest memories. I hope Santa will bring me that toy I want. I hope I will make some new friends at school. I hope I get that job. I hope I can pay my rent this month. It’s a feeling that sometimes is the one thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. It can leave us buoyant and happy or it can pull us from a very dark hole. Whatever that lovely emotion does, this January I can feel it manifest in many different ways. There is hope again after a period of darkness and it feels as though everyone is ready for that change. It has been uplifting to notice this as I go about my own little world; people smile and greet each other in the grocery store or hold doors open at the library or just say a simple thank you. It feels different. It feels hopeful.
The movie Groundhog Day made me realize what a blessing second chances really are. Or third or fourth chances. Restarting never happens once or twice but many times over a lifetime. That’s really what hope is. That motivation to keep moving forward, to learn from past mistakes, to forgive ourselves for our own missteps and weaknesses, that is the essence of hope. I recall reading an old adage that a windshield is bigger than a rear view mirror because where we are going is more important than where we have been. This is not to negate past experience, no. In fact all of those experiences, both good and bad, have gotten us to this point in time. But we do not need to dwell here. We have the power to change direction and navigate a different path. And that is the promise of the new year. That we do have that chance to reset or correct or change if we choose to make that choice.
Every journey starts with one small step. In Phil’s case it was the ring of the alarm clock at 6 am sharp. In my case it used to be whatever fabulous eating or rather non eating plan was making headlines. But that is no longer my resolution. This January is actually a continuation of the progress I began last January and it feels different. I feel like I am finally succeeding at that goal I started so many times in my lifetime. This January I have new goals to reset. And they do not include a groundhog.