Something to look forward to: Here comes the sun

something to look forward toSomething to Look forward to

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Since moving to the Sierra foothills after living my whole life in Southern California, I can relate better to the gloomy days of winter, the bitter cold, rain, and ice of harsher weather locales. As I scrape ice off my windshield in the morning, don a hat and gloves just to walk to the mailbox, or wipe up the mud and water brought in by the dogs, I remind myself of the approaching winter solstice. I’m anticipating it as a turning point toward the renewal (and warmer days!) of spring.

The Northern Hemisphere will experience its shortest day this year (2022) on December 21. This date marks the winter solstice, which falls on the 21st or 22nd each year. From this day, sunlight hours start to increase. If the holiday hoopla or inclement weather is getting you down, you have something to look forward to: spring.

Something to look forward to: Anticipation is good for you

We don’t need a study to confirm that we enjoy looking forward to something good, but with today’s sophisticated brain imagery, we can learn the inner workings of why. One study from 2017 examined brain activity when participants thought of a positive, upcoming event. MRI scans showed increased bilateral medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) action, which was associated with increased well-being.

With that knowledge, anyone can make a regular practice of finding something good in their future (something to look forward to). For instance, on a rainy day, I can look out the window and imagine spring. Thinking about the emerging flowers, the birds busy building nests, and the red fox squirrels’ fluffy tails shaking as they squabble over who gets what tree, activates the well-being parts of my mind—and it’s free. Pagan religious beliefs aside, I imagine it was the same for those in ancient cultures who built monuments where sacred stones, blocks, and windows captured and highlighted sunlight at the exact moment of the solstice. They must have been looking forward to spring.

You may know some of these monuments such as Stonehenge and Machu Picchu, but lesser-known ones exist around the world. I’ve included a few links to more information at the end of this article for anyone who’s interested. Even in modern times, people have created structures to highlight the winter and summer solstice. The Getty Library in Los Angeles, California, built in 1997, includes a window to capture the summer solstice and shine upon a plate in the floor.  In Utah, an art project by Nancy Holt called “Sun Tunnels” is arranged to highlight the winter and summer solstice.

A brighter future ahead

Especially during holiday times, when it’s easy to let our minds slip into darker thoughts of who or what we no longer have or enjoy in our lives, it helps to shift focus to something we can better control. For me, that often means studying plants, deciding how I’ll arrange new ones in the garden, or what seeds I might like to try. In that way, considering all the varieties of trailing amaranth, learning how I might start the seeds early indoors or sow them directly into the big planters I’ll fill with colorful canna lilies or some other tall plant, becomes purposeful activity toward a positive outcome or event. And envisioning a “brighter future” creates a stronger sense of personal meaning and purpose in life.  That’s important for everyone, and especially as we age. I talk more specifically about adapting as we age, and finding life meaning is a part of that, in my book, Beyond Done.

Something to look forward to: Your turn

What are you looking forward to? How can you cultivate  meaning in the coming days, weeks, months, or years? Take a few moments to consider what you can look forward to, plan for, and enjoy even now. In that way, your “brighter future” becomes a gift in the present.

Related reading

Winter solstice and sites: National Geographic article

10 Things about the December solstice

Monuments old and new for the solstice

Turning Point for parents of estranged adult children

References

Luo Y, Chen X, Qi S, You X, Huang X. Well-being and anticipation for future positive events: evidences from an fmri study. Front Psychol. 2018;8:2199.

van Tilburg WAP, Igou ER. Dreaming of a brighter future: anticipating happiness instills meaning in life. J Happiness Stud. 2019;20(2):541-559.

 

32 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I decided I will not pine away over a relationship I used to have with my son. I will always love him and still I will not throw my lifetime away over sadness and grief that is created just out of meanness. Perhaps he will wise up someday and perhaps not. Either way I have to live my life. I have much good in my life, many wonderful friends, steady income. So that is what I focus on. I will never understand his shifting gears and throwing me away but I will also not fool myself about it. That is what has been done and I will accept the facts as they are and remain flexible for the changes that may come in the future. No pining away for this Father.

    1. You put it all out there and so succinctly. I am in the exact spot over my oldest daughter. Remembering the crushing blow years ago makes me grateful to live and learn through this experience and not be in the dark days of the past. There’s a new and large increase in self-respect that was missing earlier. Her opportunities with me are gone. Someday she may regret casting me out for some reason that seems trivial to me. Just an excuse. So life goes on happily and now joyfully for Christmas.

    2. Good for you. It has taken me a long while but I am there as well. Life is short. We have to go on and live a happy life. What difference would it make for us to sit around confused, angry and sad? Nothing good comes of it. I am at the point now that I am grateful all the drama is gone. I am focusing on the people who love me and the friends I have. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it once in a while but it doesn’t paralyze me anymore.

    3. My son has not responded to any of my communications (texts, phone calls). He moved and has not communicated his address. That has been disturbing to say the least.
      What a positive response Richard W. has shared. Thank you. Your insight is inspirational and appreciated.

    4. This mother agrees with you!!!! Thank you for putting into lovely words what I couldn’t on this cold Christmas morning!!

  2. You have to arrive at this place of moving forward all by yourself and when you do it’s amazing how many outside forces seem to connect you with positivity to help you on your journey. I’m feeling your new book will help me navigate my new journey of release and self discovery of the person I had lost from the terrible grief of estrangement. Your book arrives next Tuesday.

  3. I look forward to a whole new year. I have always loved new things, people, places, hobbies, new ways of doing things and the passion for new things saved my sanity the first 1,5 years of the Estrangement. It still does.
    For the time being I am making plans for the new year. Plans that I can go forward with if I like or other plans/activities that come along the way. Or perhaps I want a year with no plans. I have one goal and that is to make a childrens book. For myself. Perhaps to be published or printed for my bonus grandchild.
    I will live and love in 2023. Appreciate my husband, his family, my friends, my health and all the meaningful small things in daily life. The sun, the nice coffee at the morning café, a walk, a strangers smile. ….
    Lets be together in making 2023 a lovely year despite our loss and pain.
    Thank you Sheri for this lovely, inspiring article. For ever grateful.

  4. Thank you, Sheri, for always providing us with uplifting suggestions to keep us going on this long and winding road of sadness, bitterness and unfulfilled dreams. I have been partially successful, since the beginning of 2022, in trying to move forward with my life by not contacting my daughter who lives a mere 3-hour drive from me in Texas and not sending clothes or toys to my grandchildren, 6 and 4, as sometimes these boxed items aren’t opened for weeks and some, probably never. I send no texts or e-mails and I leave no phone messages. It’s time to move on. Periodically my daughter, age 44, will send a very brief text, several words or sometimes just emojis and I respond to that with my own brief words. Frankly, I think my daughter has mental issues but I can’t do anything about that. If her husband can’t see the issues and seek medical help for her, then I can’t. My husband and I were told 6 years ago when our grandson was born, that Christmas was just for them and grandparents weren’t included so don’t expect any invitation. We only spent Thanksgiving together with her and her family in 2016. Never since. This year she didn’t even call or text us on Thanksgiving Day so I chose not to contact her. I welcome 2023 as I will continue my journey toward peace and happiness. It’s always a struggle. How I want to hug my beautiful grandchildren though and wish I could enjoy their excitement as they run to the Christmas tree to see what Santa has left. Always look forward to what you have to offer, Sheri. Everything you say makes sense to me and it helps my heart. Merry Christmas to you and your readers as you all deal with your own struggles this Christmas season.

  5. I appreciate you emails they make me feel – not the only one going through this nightmare and it helps to get through the fog of it all.
    After 3.5 yrs I have finally rowed my boat to the shore.
    I don’t want a son who is disrespectful. 🙏 thank you Sheri

  6. I just try to enjoy all the “little things” in life that bring me comfort and joy. Right now, we are having a major snow storm here in IL. I had to go out in it to an appointment. How happy I was to come back home (safely) and put on warm, comfy clothes. Now, I have no where to be for several days. I’m one of the few people that actually enjoys the beauty and coziness of winter. I wear my comfy clothes, read a lot, journal, and eat good food. I’m really looking forward to the New Year. I do have my holiday decorations up, just for me. I am estranged from my daughter, her husband and my three young adult grandkids. Yes, I wish to be with them, but my life must go on. They know how to reach me when or if they are ever ready. I do talk to my son so will enjoy a phone conversation with him on Christmas. Life is way too short to pine away for any relationship. I am responsible for my own happiness. I am blessed with good friends and neighbors that I do spend time with. I am only with people that want to be with me. I look forward to all good things for all of us during 2023. Enjoy all the little, happy moments in your life too. Happy Holidays!

  7. I am now over four years into my estrangement from my son and my only grandchild. It had been coming for a long time. He was difficult from birth. I believe mental illness, ADHD, and narcissistic personality disorder were to blame. It was very painful at first but as time has gone by I am relieved to be without the pain he always caused and after loosing my husband nine years ago and grieving that loss, now enjoy being alone and at peace.
    Holidays are sad however as they are usually spent with family. It’s only a day and I’ll get
    through it as I always do!
    Thanks Sheri for all you do to help us keep on getting on!

  8. I’m going to Japan in spring, and Borneo Orangutan centre in autumn next year, because I’m almost retired and life’s too short not to live it.
    I’ve nobody of my own to leave the money to, so I’ll use it up and any proceeds from my house will go to charity and that’ll be my true legacy.

  9. It’s been 32 years and I still think about my daughter daily. The tears stopped long ago, but that deep ache in my soul remains.
    The estrangement happened slowly in a hundred little ways, leaving me with an uncomfortable feeling as we parted after a strained visit which became less and less over time.
    Sometimes I get a generic card for my birthday and holidays sometimes nothing. For me not hearing from her on Mother’s day is the hardest.
    This estrangement has been hard on other family members we’re careful to avoid talking about her. It’s awkward. For 32 years I felt I was among a small number of people whose adult children reject them for some unknown reason, knowing there are others makes me feel I’m not so alone.

    1. Yes, Frieda there are many more like us that are estranged from our adult kids. Plus two in my apartment building here have the same issues. We do talk about them together and I bought Sheri’s second book for one of them. She bought the first one after I mentioned it. Sheri’s books are so helpful and she certainly knows what we are going thru because she has too! Some write books or articles and almost seem to blame the parents. But not Sheri, for she knows first hand what all this is like. Many more are going thru this and we are lucky to have this forum to read about others and how they are coping. What a God send this is. I look forward to these so much. Have a lovely Christmas in your own way.

    2. So, so sorry Frieda…for me 2 sons, one 4.5 years estranged, but the other contacted me via text a little over a year ago…the contact is very tenuous through near daily texts but it is 10,000x better than before…and it may be only for money…he didn’t ask for money but he is going through some intense schooling and I want to help him some financially as his ambition to better himself and ‘get ahead’ is very strong and I want to support him in that effort…he is my ‘son’ and I am his biological father at least…maybe our relationship can improve, maybe, but I know I have to temper my expectations…

  10. My son & I have been estranged for 5 years. I have tried so many times to reach out. Not thinking it would cause more damage. After finally coming to the conclusion there is nothing more I can do I have chosen to move on. I have not tried calling, texting, or emailing him since July 2022. Call me harsh but I couldn’t handle looking at his pictures hung up all over my home reminding me of the close relationship I thought we once had. I took all his pictures down and put them away in a closet. It really helped me move on. He’s my only child or should I say adult child since he is 25 years old so this estrangement really broke me down mentally. I am finally doing okay and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. I’m sorry for all the parents/parent going through this but, in time it definitely gets better! Happy holidays everyone and definitely Happy New Year 2023! Wishing you all the very best!!!

  11. I’ve come here once again for solace amongst my sisters and brothers who are on the path that I suddenly found myself on. Since the estrangement with my mid-twenty’s daughter earlier this year, she has given birth to the baby that she once let me feel kick in her tummy. Like so many others, the definitive moment was so very minor, yet she found it in her heart to cut me out of her life and her unborn baby’s life. She didn’t let me know when the baby was born. She hasn’t let me see my new grandchild even once, though she moved less than two miles from me. The baby just turned 4 months old on the day I went for a frightening biopsy. How I wished for the daughter who I raised that used to be so sweet and caring. What I have now is a cold-hearted, uncaring, toxic, and extremely manipulative person that I don’t know or understand. Yes, she has volleyed back and forth between those two personalities for years now. I recently read a quote that says “When toxic people can no longer manipulate you, they try to change how other’s see you …” This is the case with my daughter. She’s attempted to turn every one of her friends against me. I was not invited to her baby showers (two), though all her friends who used to spend days at my house, calling me Momma were there. I’ve cried so hard, so many times. I don’t know how I have any tears left. I’ve read both of your books Sheri and they have gotten me through some dark times and deep heartache. Finally, I’m learning to pull myself up and make a conscious effort to put some joy back into my life. When my brother asked what I wanted for Christmas this year, I said flower seeds and bulbs! I want to look forward to Spring and to having flowers blooming in every color in my back yard. I want to look forward to warm sunshine on my face and the sound of birds singing. There is life after this. We may as well plan things in our days that still can bring us joy. I send my love to everyone of you who have been hurt by estrangement. I hope you too will seek out new interests, new achievements, new friendships (new flowers) or whatever it takes to shine a warm and loving light into your soul. You deserve it. Sheri, thank you! I know it’s been many years since you first found yourself swimming in the muddled waters of estrangement, but you have continued to inspire us, to share your insight, to educate and to gently guide us a healthier existence. God bless you for your servant’s heart. Words cannot describe my gratitude for having a place to come, to meet with you and others who understand. Many blessings, Patti

  12. This time round it’s been since October 2021 that there has been no contact from my Estranged Daughter (24) and Estranged Son (22) – it’s been a bumpy 10 years with my daughter in particular.

    I keep moving forwards slowly, but the hurt and betrayal catch me out most days, regardless of whether it’s Christmas.

    I’ve got a great job and my own home and car – I’ve picked up a couple of hobbies that I’d let go of and plan to pick up a few more, and I know a lot of people but don’t make friends easily – I practice gratitude that I no longer am involved in any drama or toxic situations, however, I miss them both terribly.

    I keep hoping that [because there’s no contact] maybe I’m been protected from something – it’s their choice to be absent from my life and not include me in anything – ouch.

    I was a really good single mom (although I’m not perfect) and the 3 of us were really close (or so I thought) – happy safe home, clothes, holidays, toys and games, sleepovers and birthday parties (through gritted teeth), after school clubs and activities – all really expensive, but I protected them and gave them the happy childhood I never had – I got out of the unhappy and neglectful relationship with their controlling, bullying, narcissistic dad over 20 years ago (thankfully and good riddance).

    And yet, here I am – no family (because they are toxic, dysfunctional and unhealthy for me to be around), and no close friends.

    I let them both know when I changed my telephone number – Estranged Daughter ignored me (and deleted me from her ‘contacts’ I think) – Estranged Son replied with nothing significant to say, and nothing since.

    I too have taken down their photo’s – hurts too much to see them, though it doesn’t take much for my heart to hurt again (e.g. hearing certain songs stirs up memories of when we were close, and Christmas is a killer).

    I’ve read both of Sheri’s books and am always reading anything that will smooth and help to heal my broken heart – I’ve been reading this website/forum since 2018.

    I live in beautiful England and am thinking about relocating to beautiful Scotland in 2023! I like to go to new places and meet new people and experience new and different things – I can do all of these things with nothing holding me down.

    I’m grateful for my freedom, and truly grateful to you all for your honesty and understanding.

  13. Thank you, Sheri, for always being there for us when the waves go crashing you are like a beacon guiding us to a safe place.
    This journey has been tough! Tonight, I watched an old movie, and it reminded me of her. We used to share this movie. I have to watch little things like that.
    A neighbor shared an insight with me. She said ‘Would you treat anyone the way she’s treated you? If I acted like her, would you tolerate it from ME?’ Wow. That hit home.
    I know I am a valued member of this community. I know I am worth far more than the shell
    I was last year. I say to all us parents that have been abandoned, RISE UP. You are worth far
    more than you know!
    God Bless and have a wonderful Christmas.

    1. Sharon,

      Your wonderful neighbor is now a wonderful neighbor to those who read this! It’s absolutely a great insight.

      Thank you for your kindness and generosity with this post. BIG hugs to you as you rise and get on out in the community in which you are valued.
      🙂
      HUGS,
      Sheri McGregor

  14. I’ve learned to accept and embrace interweaving mixed emotions. I can be enjoying a beautiful walk when something spontaneously triggers a memory and I suddenly feel tears in my eyes and a rip in my heart. I let that moment happen and don’t fight it. “Estrangement IS brutal and hurts”, I remind myself gently, “and it’s natural for a parent to feel that hurt”. The less I resist, the more easily that moment passes and I feel better for acknowledging this part of my life that will always be there, letting it be there, and then letting it go as I carry on with my walk or other activity. It’s like giving myself a hug, as a good friend might, and saying simply “It’s okay to cry. You’re going to be okay.” I’ve started new traditions and rituals for every “memory” occasion. On my birthday I take myself to my favourite place- a bookstore- and browse as long as my heart desires, then finish that with a hot chocolate- a hug in a mug. This fills my need to be around people without the stress of putting on a happy face on a challenging day. For Christmas I put up decorations all over the house, listen to Christmas music all season long, but skip the tree because that’s a big trigger. My new ritual for Christmas day is trying one new recipe and making one comfort food from my childhood. This year it’s Creamy Chicken Vegetable Soup and Maple Gingerbread Cake. I’ve given myself the gift of declining invitations from well-meaning friends to join their family celebrations. This brings up too much grief for the entire family I’ve lost. (Toxic estrangement can be contagious in some families.) Instead I’ve found peace in daily routines, walking my dog every single day no matter the weather (it feels awful to go out in the cold but I dress warm and it feels SO wonderful to come back into a cozy house!), always having one productive project on the go, and intentionally focussing on positive and inspirational movies, news, books, music, videos, etc. It takes intention and effort to move past estrangement and to let it be part of my life’s quilt, but having more joyful moments than sorrowful ones has made life good again. I deserve that.

    1. Sharon, thank you so much for this encouraging and uplifting comment. I love what you said about coming in from the cold and the house feeling so cozy. That IS wonderful, and it’s something to look forward to on those dog jaunts outside in the cold.
      🙂
      HUGS to you dear Sharon.

      Sheri McGregor

  15. I live in Adelaide, South Australia. I have one friend in a similar situation to myself – estranged from children for over a decade. It is comforting to mix with people who share your grief, and I just want to know whether other Adelaide affected people would be interested in forming a group to empathise and comfort each other. Most of the potential affected people seem to live in America – a bit too far!

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