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Why are so many non-religious people still giving things up for Lent?

Many Christian traditions have lost their appeal but Lent remains popular, for good reasons, lifestyle experts say.

IF YOU DIDN’T know it already, today marks the beginning of Lent.

For many Catholics across the country, it means prayer, penance and charity, representing Jesus’ 40 day fast in the desert.

But for other people, it is a time of the year that is more symbolic than faith-based – a time when they can decide to make a change for the better.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, mindfulness expert Josephine Lynch said giving up something can sometimes be “taking care of ourselves”. It can be exactly what we need.

“It seems like it’s not a positive thing but it can be kind of wholesome to restrain ourselves from eating too much and drinking too much.”

Keeping it specific

Psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy, who has appeared as an expert on RTÉ’s Operation Transformation, also said there are “basic good psychological principles around Lent”.

“Because it’s 40 days, that’s a very defined length of time and that’s good for learning new habits,” he explained. “Generally, it’s more specific than other times like New Years, where you might want to get healthier or get fitter, most people say for Lent what they’re giving up, that’s really specific and that’s ideal if you’re looking for a health change”.

He said time periods like this and ‘dry January’ also give people an opportunity to give up alcohol without having to explain themselves.

If you’re saying you’ve given up something for Lent, it’s a type of social camouflage. If you go out drinking in June and you’re saying you’ve given up the beer, people might think “oh he’s a terrible dry sh***”.

Many people will take this opportunity to give up or cut down on their social media interactions and while this can be healthy, Murphy warned that people should do it at a comfortable pace.

“For some people, that can be a big ask – sometimes it can leave people more anxious – so try to make it achievable, like saying you’ll only look at it for half an hour a day,” he suggested.

His advice is to keep it specific and choose something you do actually want to change or give up. ”

“It doesn’t just have to be about giving up, it can be a time for doing something different,” he said. “That’s something I like, that whole notion of stretching boundaries and finding different passions.”

Doing it for your faith

There are, of course, many people who are making sacrifices this Lent for their faith.

A Catholic Communications spokesperson said that while they have no problem with people who want to “piggyback on an original Christian idea in a respectful way”,  the Lenten period is supposed to be about reflecting on faith.

Catholic bishops have launched a Facebook page to help and inspire people over the next 40 days and nights. Christians are invited to pray more often and attend mass more frequently during this time and give to charity.

Trócaire boxes, something we all remember fondly from our childhood, are still as popular as ever and the charity launched its 2015 appeal yesterday, revealing that last year’s Lenten campaign in Ireland raised €7.8 million.

Will you be giving up anything for Lent? And what’s your motivation? Tell us in the comments below… 

Open thread: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done for Lent?>

Read: Irish people can save the most cash by being good during Lent, say statistics>

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