September 10, 2020


Calendars (page-a-day for 2021): Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff; Life’s Little Instruction Calendar. Andrews McMeel. $15.99 each.

     An old story has children being told to help on a farm by mucking out a particularly messy and smelly barn. All of them poke listlessly at the task, except one, who goes at it with enthusiasm. Asked why, the child replies, “With all this crap all over the place, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!” It is in the spirit of that child that so many of us will surely be looking toward 2021 with more than the usual degree of hope for a better new year – a hope that can be reinforced, day after day, by desktop/tabletop/countertop calendars whose pages offer a daily dose of positivity and are torn off to reveal, underneath, another dose of the same. We can definitely use a full year of positive thinking right now. The Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff calendar has been presenting it for quite some time: it derives from a 1997 book of the same title by Richard Carlson, with the calendar put together by his widow, Kristine, using material from the original book and its multiple followups. This is straightforward self-help and self-teaching material, serious and even earnest in tone, which may be just what many of us need now to counteract the state of advanced hysteria in which lots of us are living our daily lives. The comments here are frequently in multiple paragraphs, carrying over from one date to the next, sometimes several “nexts,” instead of trying to be pithy and epigrammatic. But the underlying messages always come through. “Rather than waiting for other people to provide the love we desire, we must be a vision and a source of love.” “As you practice living in appreciation, it will become as natural to you as breathing.” “When in doubt about whose turn it is to take out the trash, go ahead and take it out.” “The trick is to be grateful when your mood is high and graceful when it is low.” That last notion is the sort that seems especially apt in a time of super-high stress, social and political turmoil, severe worldwide health and financial problems, and constant negative input from the Internet and other mass media – all matters with which we have been living at a super-intense level for less than a year, but which feel as if they have been ever-present. Although Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff can be somewhat on the obvious or treacly side for some tastes, many of us will find its brand of straightforward advocacy of calm, gratitude and a sense of humor to be exactly what we need to counteract the continued difficulties that will likely carry into 2021 – plus any new ones that the new year may bring (although hopefully none!).

     Similar hope and hopefulness from a somewhat different angle are available in the 2021 version of the Life’s Little Instruction Book calendar. Here the ideas are self-contained on each day and designed to be quick to read and absorb: the original concept comes from a 1991 book in which H. Jackson Brown, Jr., presented advice for his son, who was about to start college. The individual pages here are often a bit like motivational posters: “Remember that you manage things, but you lead people.” “Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.” “To be taken seriously, dress the part.” “Forgive your parents and ask them to forgive you.” “Glamour fades. Character remains.” “Sometimes a good night’s sleep is the best decision.” “People will treat you the way you allow them to treat you.” “Waste time with someone you love.” The suggestions may seem old-fashioned to some – charmingly so if you like them, unrealistically so if you do not. But a little reflection will show how applicable they remain to the year 2021, even if they originated 30 years ago. The notion of getting a good night’s sleep, for example, may sound naïve, but it is right in line with current thinking on the importance of proper rest for stress reduction and effective performance at work – or simply in everyday life during a time of major life difficulties affecting pretty much everyone. And just being with someone you love, taking it easy with that person, scarcely seems like “wasting” time at all – especially under current circumstances, it can be the least-wasteful thing you do in a day. So whether you favor the longer and more-detailed, multi-day discussions of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (which notes, as a subtitle or aside that is as meaningful as the title itself, “and It’s All Small Stuff”) or the to-the-point daily approach of Life’s Little Instruction Book, you can find a calendar that brings you something to look forward to every day of the coming year and hopefully makes stressors, both the continuing ones and any new ones that show up, a little bit less stressful.

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