New Year used to be a time for resolutions. We were invited to sit down with a pencil and pad and write a list of all the good behaviours we were going to embrace in the coming year, the things we knew we ought to do but somehow never quite managed to do. We would give up smoking, lose weight, be more patient, tidy up after ourselves, remember people’s birthdays, and so on and so on.
Nowadays, you are more likely to hear people dismiss the idea of New Year Resolutions as nonsense, a pointless conceit, a childish game. The mantra has become “I resolve not to resolve”.
On the face of it, this is reasonable. After all, how many New Year Resolutions, made in a moment of weakness induced by sentimentality or hangover, were ever actually adhered to? How many diets begun courageously on January 2nd (well, New Year Day has to be an exception, doesn’t it?) languished by January 3rd? How many never-agains were forgotten the following Friday night? How many renunciations of smoking collapsed before a proffered cigarette? If you really want to do something, says the rationalist, you will do it; and if your heart is not in it, then no amount of resolutions, vows and solemn affirmations will help you.
In any case, our rationalist is likely to continue, the New Year is at best an imaginary fresh start, a calendrical convention, not a new beginning in any real sense.
Maybe. Then again, maybe not. After all, our relationship with what we are pleased to call the Real World is complex, to say the least. As any philosopher will tell you, we do not really know the world at all, only the brain’s interpretation of the reactions of our nervous system to that world. Things are what we think they are rather than being some absolute objective real things, their true nature for ever beyond our ken. Whether or not the planet and the sun think January 1st marks a new beginning, it is one for us if we believe it is and encourage one another to believe it.
Self-improvement is one of the more difficult arts. Fighting oneself is a battle we more often lose than win. We need all the help we can get. If we can convince ourselves, with a little help from our friends, that the New Year really is a new beginning, that resolutions made then are especially important and binding, then this is perhaps a good thing. Seen in this light, New Year Resolutions might not be such a silly idea after all.
Well, at least for some people, anyway. Not for me. I don’t need these childish games. If I want to do something I do it. Or not, as the case may be. Not that I’m afraid of making resolutions and failing to keep them. No, not at all: that’s how losers behave and I’m not a loser. But you knew that so I needn’t go on about it. So altogether, yes, I think New Year Resolutions are a jolly good thing.
You know – for other people…