I wouldn’t call myself a zestful person by any means. I like to be in bed by 10, I stay away from anything that can pollute my body or make me high, and my idea of a night out is kayaking alone in the dark and still waters of the sea. You could call me boring.My lifestyle certainly does not serve me well during the holiday season. In fact, the late night parties and overstimulation somehow suck me out of my element and leave me feeling out of sorts. A few weeks of this, and I enter the New Year crawling on my knees.
The physical ‘morning after’ effects of late nights make me feel as if I have weights hanging off my body and a log lodged in my head. Alas for the long-gone resilience of youth. Steinberg refers to evolutionary programming as he describes the adolescent urge to sniff out every party in town. Then their circadian rhythms ensure that they get their fill of sleep the next day. For me now, otherwise healthy habits rob me of extra sleep. My internal clock wakes me up at dawn even though my mind stays tuned out for the rest of the day.
This leads to a major decline in productivity. Ideas refuse to flow, motivation seems to be on strike, and I find myself stuck with a single idea without any prospects of progress. The lack of creativity eventually affects my well-being. I end up feeling both empty and frustrated at the same time.It seems that as we age, the dopaminergic pathways that feed off stimulation are much weaker than they once were. I no longer look to experiment my way through life the way I once did. My personality is more clearly expressed: as a true introvert, I find that my reward systems are activated in moments of stillness when I can assimilate stories that I’ve been collecting over several decades and make them my own. This makes me a total misfit in the holiday season. As a “closet bore,” I struggle my way through, desperately awaiting the New Year to recuperate. However, the increasing inner disconnect makes me realize that this approach needs changing.
So I have a New Year’s resolution. I’m going to recycle my negative energies into positive ones. It’s a page I’ve taken from nature’s handbook where everything that dies is recycled to breathe life into other organisms. This means that for starters, I will embrace being boring and the frustrations that come with it. It is not something I need to lock in the basement of my soul, for it is a part of who I am.Then I will recognize that the meaning I desire does not emerge in a vacuum. We are social animals, wired to make sense of ourselves through the people and places in our lives. My moments of quiet may allow me to search for meaning. But Steger’s research on meaning shows that finding meaning is a different experience altogether. I am seeing that finding meaning comes from the openness to experience and compassionate interaction that I continue to avoid.
“Those who prefer their principles over their happiness,” wrote Albert Camus “they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.” Hardened habits contract my capacity for happiness and make me absent from the very life I wish to understand.
I resolve to transform the energy from my frustrations into energy for new experiences and deeper interactions through strengths such as compassion and gratitude and curiosity. These too are part of who I am, perhaps left idle for too long. In embracing every part of my being and in integrating all the contradictions of my personality, I can drift between its different aspects “either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show” as Csikszentmihalyi writes of artistic people.
Perhaps meaning lies on the other side of this Rubicon.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.. New York: Harper Perennial.
Palmer, P. J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
Steger, M., Kashdan, T., Sullivan, B. & Lorentz, D. (2008). Understanding the search for meaning in life: Personality, cognitive style, and the dynamic between seeking and experiencing meaning. Journal of Personality. 76(2): 199-228. Abstract.
Steinberg, L. (2014). Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence. New York: Harcourt Publishing.