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I have generally not taken the New Year’s Resolution thing too seriously, but I am strategic about it. My New Year’s gift to you consists of some insights I have gleaned over the years about how to succeed in this. First (and this is really the only one that matters, so just ignore the rest of this post), choose wisely. For years I made the typical resolutions, practical but unpleasant things like losing weight (New Year, New Rear!) and I got the usual results, which involved joining a bunch of other suckers at the gym every day for a couple of weeks, then a couple of times a week for the next two, then abandoning the whole thing for a Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino (610 Calories) by February 3rd.

Are your resolutions going bust? Do you feel worthless and weak because you can’t stick with it? Do your teeth itch? It’s not your fault. Really. You just need to choose better resolutions. Here are my favorites, guaranteed* to work for you.

  1. Buck the trend and resolve to gain weight. This requires zero effort and happens automatically unless I actively work to prevent it. Pass the gravy!
  2. Find something that you already do and re-resolve to do that thing. Back before I drank coffee, I resolved several years in a row to quit drinking coffee, and each time I succeeded. Mission accomplished.
  3. Don’t move on too quickly from that last one, as you may not have glimpsed all the possibilities. “What if I already drink coffee?” you may be asking. No problem. I drink coffee now. I’m drinking coffee as I write this. This year I am resolving to continue drinking coffee. If I need a real challenge I may resolve to drink more, but that’s probably too much work. Refill anyone?
  4. Finally, if you don’t smoke, do the obvious thing and resolve to start. This is an easy habit to start and a really tough one to quit, so take the path of least resistance and achieve your goal by goaling(?) the easily achievable. Anyone got a light?

We have already talked about some goals that can make your life happier, so instead of rehashing those let me add a thought or two. The fine folks at nielson, who annoy English teachers worldwide by refusing to capitalize the name of their firm, surveyed Americans in 2015 to find out what they were resolving, and the list includes few surprises. If the coming year is typical, less than 10% of people who make resolutions will manage to achieve them, but goal-setting is beneficial for its own sake, and people who regularly set goals accomplish more, despite the fact that they don’t achieve them all. And most goals that are worth striving for are hard, so if you are hitting all your targets, you may be thinking too small. Anyone can start smoking if they put their lungs to it.

Finally, here are some hints from Elena Nicolaou about small but significant resolutions you can make in 2017 to bring more joy to your life:

  1. Find one thing every day to look forward to. Most of life is a mix of “best of times, worst of times” and it’s easy to focus on the latter. Soon I will attend graduation, which involves donning a heavy black robe and jamming myself into a tight seat among other sweaty, robed faculty as the university conducts the same ceremony I have sat through more than twenty times. It’s like a bi-annual beating, but with lots of picture taking and rowdy relatives. BUT as soon as it ends we will be liberated to a huge air conditioned room filled with snacks, and we will get to meet the excited parents of our graduating students, and it’s one of the most enjoyable things I do all year. So I’ll play Words With Friends during the first part and look forward to the second, and I won’t feel guilty about it because most of the graduating students have been playing on their phones during my classes, so this seems fair to me.
  2. Stay appropriately busy. This is one of the hardest balances to strike, but there is a sweet spot in which you are busy enough to feel challenged, but not overwhelmed or frazzled. In the new year spend some time contemplating where your 1,440 minutes are going every day and consider dropping some things or adding some others. Common time-sucks include TV and social media, but it could be a hobby you need to do less (or more) of. Beginning this writing project was one piece of some rebalancing in my life and it has, ironically, made me more efficient in the other things I do as well.
  3. Resist comparisons. 71.4% of all human unhappiness exists solely because of our unending need to compare ourselves to other people/nations/groups/teams. I totally made that number up, but I am certain that fights, wars, greed, racism, bigotry, jealousy, and a lot of inexcusably bad hair styles are mostly the result of human beings trying to compare themselves to others. Facebook hasn’t helped, as people labor to look better than they really are so they can impress others who are doing the same thing. Without going into much detail I can tell you (not made up) that these constant comparisons are self-defeating and anti-happy, and those who define themselves by who they are better than, tend to be some of the least happy people around. If you can’t become comfortable in your own skin, without any comparisons, you are unlikely to ever find much joy in life.

So, as the new year looms ahead, pick one thing to focus on, and then really focus on it. Put reminders in your calendar, and tell someone else what you are attempting, and give it a shot. Goal-setting tends to lead to happiness, whether you achieve the goal or not.

I hope 2017 is your happiest year yet!

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