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You're perfect... and you could be a little better

It's January! And though any time is the right time to think about your goals and intentions, most of us get a little more motivation from the year's built-in reset, and maybe decide to set some resolutions.

But there’s a paradox here (and, you know, just at the heart of life): Can you make resolutions, and yet not make your happiness contingent on them? Can you have dreams, goals, hopes for the future... and still be joyful today?

In a way, this seems a no-brainer: Of course you can! You know from experience; you've probably let many resolutions slide over the years. But to put it more broadly:

Can you be perfectly content, while still wanting something?

Now maybe it seems trickier, because so often we tie our happiness to getting what we want. Even wanting anything implies some discontent. But I'll answer for you: Of course you can! For every joyful moment you've ever experienced, somewhere in the back of your mind you still wanted something too. And even in the most challenging moments, there were still things to be grateful for.

These feelings aren't even contradictory; desire is an essential component of joy. Like two cards leaning against each other to build a castle, seemingly opposing forces can in fact support each other. A lack of all desire isn't a sign of euphoria, or even contentment; it's a sign that you're depressed.

So appreciate your desire. Not because getting what you want will make you happy (when it does, it does so only briefly), but because desire motivates growth, and life is growth. So much joy in life can come from moving toward a goal that is meaningful to you. To be without desire is to have no reason to move.

Go ahead and set your resolutions if you have them. Use this time of extra motivation to help identify your goals and take steps toward them. Grow. Be grateful that there is always something that you want. And then choose to be grateful for everything you already have, because to want something is not to say that you're somehow deficient.

Joy can come from working toward a goal, yes, but if we turn those goals into yardsticks, then what started as a rewarding pursuit might become just another mental cudgel we use to berate ourselves. And, well, you know... "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

So. Can you want something — to learn, to achieve, to grow and improve — and yet not deem yourself inadequate? Can you motivate yourself without shame?

Because, as Shunryu Suzuki put it, “You’re perfect just as you are! …and you could use a little improvement.”

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