On New Year’s Resolutions

Proximity to New Years Day somewhat obliges me to address that favorite of year renewing traditions: resolutions. It almost pains to me to write about this; gives me the illusion that I’m a hack with nothing better to write about. But having said that, all topics in good time. The grander social schemes can wait for either the moments when they’re more topical, or when other topics are less topical.

There has only been one year that I recall actually making a New Years resolution and having stuck to it. Even then, I don’t think it counts, because I was in my late teens and did odd things that are generally natural for late teens to do – I resolved to not wear underwear for a month. I can safely say that I stuck to my commitment, though looking back, such an accomplishment could’ve been more noble.

So why do so many of us choose to take on resolutions at the start of each year, especially since not maintaining them has become a cultural punchline? It’s a question I’ve asked myself most years, usually along with some sort of snide or cynical attitude that suggested I was either above this tradition or I otherwise saw it as a waste of time that our self-obsessed culture couldn’t do without, such as it were. Though I can’t remember specifically, this is likely why I did the whole no-underwear stunt; it was a piece of performance art to demonstrate the futility of making promises to yourself simply because you felt obligated to do so. And really, when phrased that way, maybe I wasn’t wrong.

Over the years, I’ve adopted a more nuanced (dare I say, charitable) view on the whole New Years resolution situation. Though more or less an arbitrary day, the 24-hours that we call January 1 takes on a special significance in our culture by being the official rebirth of our calendar year. Like most cultures throughout human history, we view occasions of rebirth with high regard, and we’ve decided that the year shouldn’t be the only one to get this privilege. We all, if we want, should get the opportunity to redefine ourselves. And by doing it all on the same day, we know that we’re not doing it alone. And that is what we call solidarity. We wouldn’t have made it this far culturally if not for our ability to have each other’s backs in times of need. So when we deride someone for deciding to better themselves on the first of the year, not to be melodramatic about it, but we’re ultimately doing ourselves the disservice for breaking the social contract that has taken us out of our original home of the African plains, simply because we don’t have the personal strength to lose 10 pounds or quit smoking. Good luck getting support from that person when you do feel you have the strength to do so.

You may be wondering at this point, what resolution have I made this year? Even though I never actually phrased it as a resolution, I have decided to eat better and get more exercise. Specifically, I’m weaning meat out of my diet (I’m not becoming a vegetarian, per se, though I’m planning on having more of a vegetarian’s diet. I think there’s a difference). With luck, hopefully I’ll get a little help and moral support from others in my community as I try to become a healthier version of myself.

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