Instead of leaping right into my 2012 agenda, I’m focusing today on what I’ve learned in 2011. Here’s my list so far:

  • I really do know how to be happy. Listening to my own internal voice and allowing myself to Be Leigh, works well for me. This includes becoming OK with the parts of me that so often feel less-than-ideal, like my messiness / lack of attention to dress and housekeeping, and my enormous need for oceans of reading and sleeping and quiet-contemplation time (which eat up so many hours and make me less “productive”…well, so be it!)

 

  • Making other people happy doesn’t work, in large part because I’m so often wrong about their state of mind. Just because a person seems gruff or moody doesn’t mean they’re unhappy. And even if they are unhappy, I can’t directly do anything about it. If anything, my efforts to cheer them up tend to backfire and make everyone feel even worse.
  • Instead, I can help others most by being steady, supportive, clear and authentic.
  • People need and appreciate information abut themselves. What Sam Harris says is true: We often avoid telling people important information about their social behaviors because we’re afraid of hurting their feelings. But people need to know facts about how they come across to others and about how the world of people works, so they can adjust their behavior and be more successful in their social interactions. I really see this in action on the days when I sub at a school for kids on the autism spectrum. These kids exhibit a lot of abrasive, inept social behaviors, and it’s easy to get angry and offended. Instead I’ve learned to educate them. I instruct them on how to not ask people personal questions, how to take turns speaking, how to greet people politely, etc. It then occurred to me how we ALL need this sort of instruction.
  • I believe I know more about others than I do. I noticed that I was spending far more time puzzling and pondering and theorizing about other people’s behaviors...Why did she do this?…What’s wrong with him that he could say that?...than I ever spent just asking them. And isn’t that odd? Why on earth would I assume that I can understand any other person better than they might explain themselves? I find that when I open a conversation, my theories and assumptions are ALWAYS wrong, and instead I discover a whole world of fascinating otherness…a world that is kinder, gentler and more real and poignant and human than whatever it was I was suspecting and fearing.
I’ll be working on my list throughout the day.
What have you learned in 2011? Please share! 
[photos of a few more fun holiday sights in Provincetown, MA…the Pilgrim Monument, an especially well-decorated house, and a stack of lobster traps in Christmas-tree form]