The sun has set on another year — and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
It seems as though I feel this way every year. At least for the last decade or so. I start each year with unreasonable hope that this year will be different. I keep hoping this year will be the one when some of the things I need start to come true.
A few years ago, I heard an interview with Harvard University psychologist Dan Gilbert in which he explained that people are terrible at predicting their own futures. In the abstract, people will tell you they know bad things can happen just as easily as good things.
But Gilbert said a consistent pattern shows up when you ask people to predict things in their own futures. If you take all their predictions and group them into a positive pile and a negative pile, the positives they predict for themselves far outweigh the negatives. They simply can’t see that bad things are going to happen.
That seems to be a blind spot we all share. And maybe it’s another one of those things we need in order to allow us to face each new year with a desire to go on.
Do you ever predict the bad things in your life before they become obvious?
• Did you predict you’re going to have the medical issue you’ve been dealing with?
• Did you predict your marriage would disappoint you and leave you lonely?
• Did you predict you would lose your job and be facing an unplanned career change?
• Did you predict this was going to be the year an accident would kill your mother?
If we made such predictions, people would call us negative people. If I had predicted 10 years ago that I’d soon have to deal with breast cancer, most people would have said, “That’s silly; you’re a man.” If I had predicted earlier this year that I’d be in an emergency room this past week debating whether to have my gallbladder removed, people would have told me not to be negative. If I’d predicted 15 years ago that it was going to be so painfully difficult for me to financially recover from getting out of politics, others would have reassured me that I had nothing to worry about.
The things we predict for ourselves tend to be a wish list.
When I look at 2018, I see love and success and health. I see myself solving problems and moving forward to achieve the things that matter to me. I realize that what I see is fiction, but it’s the only way I know to face the future.
The truth is that good things and bad things are equally likely. I have control of some of those things and fate is in control of others. (And other people are in control of yet more things.)
It’s an illusion that we are in control of our lives. It’s an illusion that the plans we have are much more than hopeful wishes held up to fate.
But we like those illusions. I suspect we need the illusions in order to go on.
As an arbitrary calendar flips another day — and starts a new year which could be marked on any other date just as well — I wish good things for myself. And I wish good things for you.
There’s so much in this human life which is beautiful and amazing and delightful that I hope both of us can find some of that. I just hope that our frequent fixation on illusions doesn’t make us wait too long to accept the best of what’s offered to us.
Happy new year. Let’s do what we can to fill it with beauty and joy and creation — and with love for each other.