45 Weeks

I was driving to work one chilly February morning and the radio talk show host mentioned that there were only 45 weeks left in the year. The number struck me; we had just begun the new year yet 45 weeks seemed so short to me when I heard it.

It’s amazing how mindset changes our perspective on things. If the radio announcer had said there are 315 days left in the year, I would have continued my drive into the office and never given it another thought.

45 weeks! What would I change? How differently would I live my life if I knew I had only 45 weeks left? I like to believe that I would live more freely, more in the moment. I hope I’d be better at focusing on the here and now rather than worrying so much about the future holds for me.

Over this past year COVID-19 has stolen so many moments, stolen our ability to be together, stolen our ability to be close to those we love. So many people are struggling with too many losses, struggling to make decisions, struggling to process so much that has been taken away from us. Through it all we’ve carried on and done what we can to alleviate the suffering. Yet, our resilience has come at a high price. Have we wished an entire year of our lives away? Have we lost 45 weeks? Have we sat impatiently waiting for our happiness to return yet ultimately sacrificing our wellbeing?

Martin Seligman, a leading authority in the field of Positive Psychology, makes an important distinction between happiness and wellbeing. He says that those who live with the ideal of a happiness principle focus just on increasing happiness (satisfaction) while eliminating things that detract from it. He suggests, in a world filled with things we cannot control that may decrease happiness and satisfaction, that it is crucial that we look to our wellbeing. This is about our relationship with our thoughts and feelings.

A sense of wellbeing, he says, is not just about having positive emotion. Rather, he says it is about a life that also includes engagement, relationships, meaning, purpose, and accomplishment. These things will not always be easy or bring us a sense of happiness. There will be moments of devastation and despair. But a strong sense of wellbeing will allow us to sit with those emotions and have confidence that they are not a failure, but a part of life; they are storms we will weather, with faith in our ability to survive.

Did we spend the last year searching for happiness in the midst of despair rather than focusing on our wellbeing despite it? 45 weeks gave me a better perspective on what is really important; engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose. It’s helped me realize that it’s time to focus less on what I should do and focus more on what I really want to do with the time I have. Thinking about death teaches us that life is a gift, a gift we need to give ourselves.

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