Like the majority of the population, it seems, I pay lip service to the New Year’s resolution. I’ve never vowed to lose weight, exercise more or eat healthier; those are informal resolutions I harangue myself with on a weekly basis, but I usually write down, or at least hold in my mind, a few areas on which I should concentrate in the coming year. The problem is, I’m a changeable sort of person, and my commitment on December 31 to organize all closets and storage space in the coming year may get usurped a week later by my conviction to learn the Latin names of all my flowers, or Russian so I can translate Russian poetry. The point is, who’s to say what’s more edifying: clean closets or a command of the Cyrillic alphabet. And it’s dawning on me, bit by bit, as I get older, that I just can’t commit myself to something unless my heart’s in it, actually unless I’m completely on fire obsessed with it. To whit: I’m a dabbler, or a renaissance woman, depending on your point of view. I’m in sculptor Henry Moore’s camp: “I think in term’s of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s”.
Some historians say the practice of making New Year’s resolutions began with the Babylonians, others say it’s only in countries with a protestant influence that resolutions for the new year have become popular. All agree that resolutions from years past have a more spiritual bent than contemporary lists.
1947 Gallop Poll Resolutions
- Improve my disposition, be more understanding, control my temper
- Improve my character, live a better life
- Stop smoking, smoke less
- Save more money
- Stop drinking, drink less
- Be more religious, go to church oftener
- Be more efficient, do a better job
- Take better care of my health
- Take greater part in home life
- Lose (or gain) weight
- Lose Weight and Get Fit
- Quit Smoking
- Learn Something New
- Eat Healthier and Diet
- Get Out of Debt and Save Money
- Spend More Time with Family
- Travel to New Places
- Be Less Stressed
- Drink less
The biggest difference between these two lists seems to be in 1,2,6 and 7 of the 1947 list. Our 1947 counterparts were also smoking and drinking too much and not spending enough time with their families. Notice the ‘be more efficient, do a better job’ of 1947 has morphed into ‘be less stressed’, or perhaps one led to the other. In an NPR piece on sleep studies it was reported that most Americans believe they are sleep deprived in comparison to sleep habits of 40, 50 and 60 years ago. Even researchers pay lip service to the unsubstantiated fact. There is no evidence that the average American gets less sleep than her mother or grandmother. So I’m betting we’re also not anymore stressed than the WWII generation.
I’ll leave you with some resolutions and resolution-y thoughts from artists, writers, actors, thinkers. Maybe one or two will be helpful, or convince you to give up resolutions altogether and just have another cigarette and glass of champagne sans remorse; because even Marilyn Monroe resolved to exercise more.
“I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much — as an escape from writing.)” Susan Sontag
“Keep looking around me – only much more so – observing – but not only myself but others and everything – take things (it) for what they (it’s) are worth. Take care of my instrument – personally & bodily (exercise). If possible – take at least one class at university – in literature –” Marilyn Monroe
“I’ve decided to stop trying to put on weight. No matter how I saturate myself with milk and butter and eggs, I still stay thin as a string bean. So now I’m going to forget it, and eat what I like. And it won’t be milk and butter and eggs!” Jimmy Stewart
“I shall stick to my resolution of writing always what I think no matter whom it offends.” Julia Ward Howe
“Never to make a resolution which won’t be as important on the eighth of April or the 10th of July as it is on the first of January.” Cary Grant
“Be always at War with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you, a better person.” Benjamin Franklin
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” T.S. Eliot
“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” Anaïs Nin
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Lao Tzu