Each morning, my younger cat runs ahead of me to the kitchen and sits with anticipation in front of his bowl. He expects good things—namely, treats. Capaldi (or “Cap” for short) has no trouble expecting good things from me, because he always gets good things from me. He knows the little red and black bowls are “his,” and he can find an assortment of tuna, soft cat food, or cut-up sandwich meat at mealtimes. He becomes very friendly while he waits, rubbing on my leg and purring to let me know how much he appreciates his beloved slave giving him such lovely things.
I am blessed to know a few people like Cap. They get up each day and look for the best rather than the worst. They expect good things to happen and when they don’t, they still get up the next day with an optimistic attitude. They want to think people are kind and good, and that the universe will treat them right… and even when things are hard, they look for ways to stay happy and optimistic. I very much admire them.
Then, I know people who are the opposite. They look for the raindrops that go with every silver cloud. They distrust people and are pessimists. They expect the worst and, sure enough, can find something to complain about. The future, for them, is a woeful, scary place full of unseen threats and perils. These people suck the life out of me. I can feel them draining all of my optimism and hopefulness away.
I tend most days to be somewhere in-between. I have a realistic and cautious view of the world, but also want to believe in goodness and look for happiness. There’s a little bit of contrarian in me, since I feel duty-bound to be the opposite of whatever the group consensus is, so if everyone is a bit too idealistic, I’ll point out the rational problems, and if everyone is convinced the world is about to end, I’ll be the optimist.
Cap and I have a lot in common, in that regard. We both expect good things from our bowl, but like to give the other cats a good smack now and again. I like to have a feeling of anticipation from life. I am happiest when I have things to look forward to, something around the bend. It keeps me focused on the task at hand, and thinking about positive future experiences. I like to pick out things to anticipate year around and make sure each month has several to look forward to. Sometimes I’m the “instigator of the fun”—I host a tea, invite people to lunch, or schedule a movie day. Other times, the world supplies me with things to do or look forward to—the release of a movie I want to see, a local event, a craft fair. The secret is to have enough of them to feel the joy of anticipation, but not so many I drain my emotional reserves.
I like my alone time. I like to be at home with my cats, writing novels. I like having enough “down time” to curl up on the couch with a book or write a long letter to a friend. This is part of my “self-care” mentality. I have learned to say no to events I know will stress me in some way or not provide enough pleasure to offset feeling drained by all the noise and confusion. And, I am learning to limit myself in terms of “relational output.”
Think of it this way. Each day you start out with a full tank. Things you encounter, conversations you have, places you go, and the requirements of daily life all either put more or less gas into your tank. You also need a full night’s sleep to refill your tank. Extroverts can refill their tanks by being around people and doing things; introverts need alone time with their thoughts to refill themselves. Other people are either filling up your tank or depleting it. How you know the difference lies in how you feel after an encounter with them—if you are tired, angry, annoyed, frustrated, etc., they are depleting your tank. If you are optimistic, happy, or energized, they are filling it.
You can’t expect a friend to fill your tank every time—life comes with difficulties, and we all have “down days,” but if 7 out of 10 encounters with a person leaves you with a positive feeling, it’s a good relationship. Psychologist Jordan Peterson says that’s the best ratio of a relationship —any less, and you are incompatible, any more and the relationship is “too agreeable,” which means neither person is being stretched to become a better person. He says every relationship needs a little bit of push-and-pull to avoid apathy. (He would not be who he is, if his wife did not call him out on his “nonsense” from time to time.)
Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love how the air smells, how pretty the leaves are, and the crisp mornings. I like long sweaters and hot cocoa and curling up on the couch with a blanket and a cat. I love harvest festivals and pumpkins and throwing a costume party. I need and want things to look forward to, to fill up my tank.
Just not too many things.
As you decide how best to keep yourself in a good place emotionally, physically, and spiritually this holiday season, I suggest applying a de-cluttering method to your life. Prioritize the things you want to do the most, look forward to them, and leave yourself a lot of free time to be flexible and just enjoy the season. It does not last long. So, like Cap, I intend to expect good things from it.