There’s something about a new year that fills me with promise. You could say the same thing about springtime with all those green sprouts emerging from the moist, newly warmed earth and starting to grow, but, double entendres aside, that changeover happens in a very gradual fashion. The transition from December 31st to January 1st is much more rigid. Still, an end followed by a beginning suggests rebirth or renewal, and floats the idea that we can make a fresh start in a variety of ways — which is as valid an explanation as any for the tradition of New Year’s resolutions.
I freely admit to making fun of the concept in the past. That’s primarily because so many well-intended resolutions result in so many failures, possibly making matters even worse. If you can’t stop smoking after swearing on a stack of nicotine patches that this year you would end your addiction, think of how much self-flagellation you might inflict for failing the task. You might even need to light up a cigarette to curb your anxiety. And what of losing those extra 10 pounds by April? When it doesn’t happen, will you turn to comfort food to assuage your disappointment? This resolution thing is a slippery slope.
The only reasonable answer is to make a list of resolutions that are within your grasp — ones that you can be sure to keep. For instance, it’s unrealistic to say you’ll be kinder to your fellow man and woman, regardless of their transgressions. You could resolve not to call the cops on the jerk next door for those regular late-night rehearsals with his death-metal band, but that would be self-defeating. Instead, why not resolve to refrain from slashing his tires as retribution for being the world’s most annoying neighbor? You’d show restraint, and you can’t be sued for property damage if caught on CCTV. Here’s a rule of thumb: Make certain you don’t do anything cruel or destructive — especially if it’s going to put you at risk.
So many resolutions revolve around dieting, and they’re understandable in our health-conscious society. No one wants to jeopardize their well-being by tumbling into obesity, so it’s natural to consider cutting down on carbs a little. No more than one baguette a day, and only enough mashed potatoes to construct one of those spud-model Close Encounters of the Third Kind rock formations on your dinner plate. And it would be cruel and unusual to deprive yourself of sweet desserts for an entire year. A doable alternative? Swear to never eat more than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s a night, and agree to stop huffing cans of Reddi-wip as a chaser.
Alcohol use (or, more to the matter at hand, abuse) seems to be a frequent target of would-be resolution-makers. (These are also prime targets for sacrifice during Lent, if you happen to be a practicing Catholic.) One way to get around complete abstinence would be to promise yourself that you’ll keep blackout drinking to a one-night-a-week minimum. Of course, if you black out, you probably won’t remember that you drank yourself into oblivion. Okay. Belay that one. How about resolving to quit a specific type of booze? Surely, you can refrain from the insidious liqueur Jägermeister, or that Asian libation that smells like old, moldy cheese and unwashed sweat socks, or moonshine (since you never know what the hillbilly who made it may have put in the still). That way, you can continue to pound the occasional beer, sip a martini, or down a shot of tequila, guilt-free.
DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION
Prone to traffic tickets? Do you fear the perilous consequences of auto accidents? Is your car insurance creeping up due to heedlessness behind the wheel? Then, I can understand a New Year’s proclamation that you will no longer ignore speed-limits, run red lights, or roll through stop signs. So what do you do when emergencies strike, like your mate’s water just broke, and the baby is on the way? Maybe you’re running late for that crucial business meeting across town or for your vacation flight to Hawaii. Perhaps the rave is raging, and someone has polished off the last bottle of Jägermeister, and you’ve been tapped to go to BevMo and grab some more, stat — even though you won’t be drinking any yourself, because of your resolution to keep off the foul stuff. Speeding and reckless driving might be necessary to save the party. For a sensible compromise, just resolve to never drive below 5 mph in the freeway passing lane. Think of all the needless honking you’ll avoid by not infuriating the other drivers.
If none of these ideas works as a replacement for any of those usual, tired old resolutions, you can do what I do. Dispense with the entire sham, and simply follow Oprah Winfrey’s catch-all suggestion: Life your best life. Or resolve to simply live another year. As my father used to remind me (and I’d trust him over Oprah), any day above ground is a good day.