The echoes of new year resolutions are still ringing around the streets, even as the first ‘dry-athalon’ casualties slink back to the pub. True story: A friend of mine, one January years ago, joined a gym to get fit. He only ever went there on his way to McDonalds to buy fags from the bar.
What start out as the best new year intentions for self improvement largely crash and burn. Why? Maybe we’ve got this whole thing wrong …
It’s not news that resolutions made in December rarely last until February. So why do we make them, over and over again, knowing they are probably doomed?
The timing doesn’t help. January is depressing. Yet it is now, precisely when we need all our vices to remain sane in the long, dark hour of the year, that we impose upon ourselves the sort of extreme, active detox that may well be the only thing capable of killing Keith Richards. Humans are predisposed to resist change with every cell. We’re already struggling with a new date and turning a year older, surely it’s too much to introduce a new, miserable, restrictive regime on top of all that?
I fully support everyone who’s decided to overhaul their pizza/lunges ratio. Giving up smoking is always going to get my thumbs up and I’m a huge fan of drinking pulverised fruit and veg so juicing aficionados, I get you. Same with fledgling yoga fans, mint tea drinkers and vegans. It’s refreshing and inspiring to see people being brutally honest about their lifestyles and taking action to turn muffin tops into abs. Much better than listening to people whine about their thigh-rub as they shove in another doughnut.
But we are followers of narrative. Abstract concepts such as ‘lose weight’ or ‘eat less’ don’t mean very much unless they are incorporated into a bigger story. What we do know is that being greedy in life is what leads to making resolutions. Because, as we all know, greed is bad. It causes banks to collapse, people to borrow too much money for houses that bankrupt them and is fuelling the obesity epidemic.
Unhappiness leads to greed and greed makes us unhappy. So it’s the unhappiness that needs addressing in order to sort out the greed. An unhappy soul is just as unhappy in a thin body as a fat one; ask any anorexic. As someone wise once said, “Happiness lies not in having everything you want, but in wanting what you have.” That means taking stock, being grateful, thanking your lucky stars.
Surely we all know this? Yet looking down the list of the 50 most common new years resolutions (The Mirror), it seems we think addressing the consequences of greed with more greed is the answer. We want cosmetic surgery, a body like Beyonce, to spend less and earn more, to join expensive gyms, to get married and have a baby. We claim to hate change, yet seem unbelievably greedy for it. No wonder most resolutions get kicked to the curb before January is out. The stress of figuring out that little paradox makes me want to skip the psyllium husks and tear into the nearest block of cheddar.
Resolutions need a new name. They need to be part of our living narratives and more about respect for ourselves and others, being generous, giving and grateful. They need to be respect-olutions.
Choose a respect-olution that benefits the wider community and you’re already more likely to succeed in your endeavours – run a marathon for charity instead of ‘start running’. Plus, it will make you feel even better about yourself than going for a month without a drink.
Start with gratitude, follow up with generosity and see how much you end up giving – and getting back.
Saying ‘thank you’ and feeling true gratitude for all the good things in our lives is the singular most uplifting thing we can do.
(Somewhere quiet, so the men in white coats don’t hear.)
Compound this thanks with generosity of spirit – it doesn’t have to be a big thing – and see how different your day feels, how much happier you are. Ignore passive aggressive barbs on Facebook, or if you’re a poster of such things, try NOT posting. Leave a nice comment for someone instead; be happy for them, rejoice in your friends small successes and they’ll rejoice in yours.
The grand vista of life is what actually matters. Stubbornness and point scoring sprout from the same place as greed. Don’t think you’re a greedy person? How many times have you refused to talk a problem through with someone? That’s greed for control. By your actions, you’re saying your personal drama is more important than anything or anyone else. Where’s this lack of generosity got you? Is your problem resolved? Are you happy now, or reaching for the biscuits?
The best bit ever …
Talking is the singular best stress reliever, and we need to do more of it. Switch a little bit of social media for actual socialising, resolve to be happy, realise you want for nothing and greed should leave you alone. Imagine a world where staying at home is less healthy than going to the pub. Some researchers believe that time is already upon us with the benefits of socialising far outweighing any negative effects of moderate drinking. So go enjoy the company of friends, talk it out, announce your great intentions and be generous with your support of theirs.
Keep resolutions where they belong; at the end of arguments. And this year, give more, thank more, respect more and next year, you might find you don’t need to make any resolutions at all.