New Year’s Resolutions


  I can’t stop humming Death Cab for Cutie’s “So This is the New Year.”

All the magazines that have come for this month promise “This will be your year!” and “Finally follow through with your resolutions!” If there’s truth in advertising, in two weeks I’ll have lost six pounds, cleaned and reorganized my house, and I’ll be motivated, productive, and happy.

If that were true, these folks wouldn’t need an issue next January, would they? Then again, maybe they’re republishing last year’s since it didn’t take.

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It’s interesting to examine people’s attitudes toward any holiday, and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day make exceptional case studies. I watch people make grand plans for parties and barhopping on New Year’s Eve, and many of them have very high expectations. I see people mope, despairing that they have “nowhere to go” and “nothing to do” and feel like they’re missing out on something.

My own take on New Year’s Eve has changed; I remember being horrified that my father expected me home by 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve when I was home for the holidays in my first year of college. I remember the next year when I was with a group of people who kept frantically rushing from one location to the next, in search of the best party at which to count down. I have no idea where we ended up that night, and I wasn’t even drinking. Now I like to stay put at home or at the home of friends with good food, decent bubbly, and a comfortable couch. Sometimes I even wear a party dress and doll up the food. Sometimes I wear my PJs. I’m always happy just to be here and be with people I love

Some folks are intensely depressed at the holidays for a variety of reasons. I see some people look toward the new year with malaise, sad at their lack of accomplishment in the past year. Some people barrel in with the attitude of the January magazines -- this will be the year they make over their whole lives!

But they don’t.

What is it about January 1 that makes us feel like we have to change everything, to become better people? I remember making lists of New Year’s resolutions for many years, only to become discouraged by what an awful person I must be to have so much I needed to work on. I eventually realized that it was much better to make smaller changes, a few at a time, at various times of the year. Anyway, if I really wanted to change, why would I wait for the calendar to flip?

But, that’s a cynical view. It’s more likely that the new year is a clean slate, the fresh notebook of back to school, the new outfit we wear on our first day at a new job. We love a chance to start over, to renew. January first symbolizes a rebirth for so many of us. The new year is about hope, the promise that we can become better. We eat our black eyed peas and collard greens, acknowledging that they didn’t work last time, but maybe this is our year. We Southerners know about realizing our shortcomings and looking to the horizon with hope for a better day, trying to put that foot out there in a new direction. It’s no wonder that Southerners are especially traditional (superstitious?) about New Year’s Day.

The problem? We go into the new year right after the holidays, a time of indulgence, socializing, and for lots of us, time off work. We go back to the day-to-day grind, and that’s often hard enough without the added burden of dieting, exercising, cleaning, patience, and whatever else. Some of us try so hard to be “good” and “better” that we forget to be happy and, above all, our wonderful, imperfect selves.

It’s good to take stock of where we are in our lives, to set goals and evaluate what we’ve achieved. It’s good to change bad habits, adopt good ones, and become motivated. January 1 is as good a day as any to do that.

Harness that hope, but remember -- change doesn’t happen overnight. We’re human. Even if you mark up that slate really badly this week, you can get a fairly clean one at any stroke of midnight.

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