Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Have you noticed how most New Year's resolutions are very punishing in nature? "I will lose weight, I will work more, I will be more productive, I will go to the gym at least once a week, I will quit smoking, I will eat healthy foods, I will stop procrastinating," and so on, and so forth. Obviously, none of these things are enjoyable for the author of the resolutions because if they were, s/he would be doing them already. I don't have to resolve to read books, for example, because I already do. Those who love eating healthy foods or working out, don't need to make a special resolution to do so. Of course, none of these resolutions survive the first week of January because there is enough struggle, pain and suffering in our lives already. Who needs more self-inflicted unpleasantness?

So why do people see the start of a new year as an inducement to make yet another doomed attempt to live up to some unrealistic version of themselves? I have been scrolling down my blogroll, reading the first lines of everybody's "My New Year's Resolutions" posts, and, to be honest, it sounded like a chorus of masochists coming up with extremely sophisticated methods of self-torture. These lists of self-improvement plans are also very unimaginative. They hint at the existence of some profoundly boring "good" individual who diets, works, exercises, volunteers, and eradicates every vestige of enjoyment from his or her life in an obsessive manner. It feels like a person sits down to make the list with one question in mind: "What should I do to make my life as intolerable as possible?" Whatever comes to mind, goes on the list.

The arrival of a new year reminds us of the passage of time as much as our birthdays do. It would make more sense to react to the realization that yet another year in our lives is over with a resolution to have more fun, enjoy existence more, try to get more pleasure out of living. How about a resolution to watch more reality TV shows, sleep more, go out drinking with your friends every week, spend money on completely useless stuff, and procrastinate for days just because this is what makes you happy? And if you do that already, what more proof do you need that this is something you enjoy and should resolve to do even more often?


Lindsay said...

I like your idea.

We Americans really don't value pleasure enough, I think.

(I love to exercise, and to get stronger, and for me one of the most exhilarating things that can happen when you're exercising is that you outdo yourself. That's fun, but you can't really predict when it will happen, so I never set fitness goals more specific than "do [x] with more weight" or "be able to do [y] for more than [z] minutes" --- and never with a time limit. Being too specific is a recipe for overtraining or disappointment).

sarcozona said...

Not all of us have painful New Year's resolutions - I think mine is quite pleasant!

Christy said...

Though some of my resolutions made your list of "undesirables," I don't look at them that way. I like my work, and I don't like how I feel when I procrastinate too much, so therefore I am making a resolution to be more productive. I like to feel healthy, and I don't want to be very sick when I am older, so I am making a resolution to be healthier (exercise more regularly and eat better foods).

I think it really depends on your mindset going into it. I know that it will be a little challenging getting these things to be habit, but once they are they will be rote and part of my routine!

So, here's to a healthier, more productive 2011!

Clarissa said...

That's precisely what interests me, Christy: why are there such feelings of guilt of discomfort attached to procrastinating "too much"? Who decides what is too much? Who decides procrastination is suddenly not productive while drudgery is?

And as for health, I believe that a happy, joyous existence that's free of guilt and that's dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure is a guarantee of psychological health. Which, in turn, is a guarantee of any other kind of health.

eric said...

Here in America, self-improvement is almost a religion. I could go on about the conflict between our Puritan heritage and the demands of consumer culture, but I'll refer you to Max Weber.

eric said...

Oddly enough, when I was in the Marines, the jargon for procrastination was "skating", so that to be "skate" was to be in a state of ease or comfort--a state to which all Marines aspired, to the point where those of us who "skated" or were assigned to a "skate" duty station were recipients of awe and admiration. After leaving the service, I resolved to continue adhering the "skate" credo; ironically, however, I somehow managed to get a lot done. Nobody's perfect!