Question: It’s January 5. How many times have you heard some variation of this joke from somebody who’s enjoying a cocktail, eating a brownie, or continuing to smoke?
“Well, it looks like I already broke my new year’s resolution! Hee-yuck!”
Las Vegas has set the over/under on this at 8.5.
Like global warming jokes, new year’s resolutions turn every dickhead you meet on the street into Shecky Greene replete with an unfunny one-liner and some self-effacing bon mot you didn’t ask to hear. And because they’re used largely as a punchline by people who are the furthest thing from funny, new year’s resolutions have turned from an innocuous, albeit largely meaningless, cultural nicety, to an irritating clothesline from which people you don’t like hang their labored jokes.
In my seemingly endless and unintentional quest to alienate myself from my boss, I mentioned how I spent my new year’s at the house and skipped the requisite traipsing all over town to watch the clock strike midnight like it does on all of the other 364 days each year, and enjoyed the hell out of it. The truth is, I’d been burning the candle at both ends and could barely keep my eyes open come 7:30. And while I wanted to see my friends, the prospect of braving the already dicey roads, imbibing with cocktails, and risking a DUI (or worse) in my already beleaugered state sounded like a recipe for disaster. So when I mentioned that I’d stayed home, the boss man cuts me off and breaks into story with such enthusiasm, I thought it’d segue into song like some Andrew Lloyd Webber crap musical.
“I went out on New Year’s, drank way too much, had a great dinner, closed down the bar, and had a great time! I can’t imagine staying home on New Year’s Eve… [a pause] But to each his own, I guess.”
Of course he loves New Year’s. Of course he freaking does. Why? Because I have never unintentionally found more ways to consistently disagree with one person in all my years on this earth. And naturally since I think New Year’s is easily the worst holiday – bars choked with amateurs and douche bags, overpriced drinks, increased chance of death on the roadways – he can’t imagine staying home that night. How many times will I fall ass backwards into some petty disagreement with this man without realizing it until I finally wake up and stop setting myself up for it? Likely never. I’m really that stupid.
But hearing him gush all over this stupid holiday made me remember its appeal. One of the hookers in Forrest Gump says, “Don’tcha just love New Year’s? You get to start all over.” And psychically this makes sense. Change doesn’t always come from within, sometimes it has to start from the outside. So, if the arbitrary change on the calendar gives you the extra little kickstart you need to accomplish whatever goal you’ve set for yourself that you’re lagging on, more power to you. And Happy New Year! It’s the same reason most diets start on Monday and most jobs like to start you at the beginning of the month. Fresh page on the calendar = fresh start.
That brings me to the New Year’s Resolution, which, by itself, is a basic, good-natured goal-setting exercise that coincides with the change in calendar. It’s as good a time as any to think about how you’d like the year to unfold, so laying down some broad objectives is totally reasonable. Whether you realize it or not (or perhaps more precisely – whether you say so or not), you’re always setting goals for yourself, and by putting such goals out into the world, the chance for public comeuppance and resultory shame when said goals are not achieved functions as an additional motivator for success.
Everyone laughs and we all die a little inside knowning that failure to achieve these goals, a self-deprecating comment, and a half-hearted chuckle two months from now is inevitable and must be suffered through like just another lame holiday convention of our increasingly fail-happy society. New Year’s Resolutions have become a complete farce. Unless someone makes a joke about falling off the wagon or whatever, no one even remembers these things by April.
I advocate taking them back and making them personal. By keeping them internal, you ignore the cultural discourse that laughs when we all pretend not to care about yet another year of falling short. You spit in the eye of insecurity, and do your own thing irrespective of the culture at-large that only uses New Year’s Resolutions to shat out unfunny rejoinders and sell you stuff like gym memberships and low-fat yogurt. You might argue that you lose some accountability, but since when is anyone who makes a public proclamation accountable for anything anymore? Banks fail egregiously and get bailed out by the government. Politicians betray the public trust and get re-elected year after year. Public accountability is a failed check that you don’t have to worry about anymore.
The only accountability that matters is what you make for yourself. So this year, to hell with making a new year’s resolution. Don’t share it with anyone, and if someone asks what your resolution is, say, “I don’t make resolutions. But I did make toffee! Would you like some?” You’re assertive and you deflect any disappointment from the uncreative automaton who asked you the question with a little light humor.
Hold yourself to your resolution, make it personal, and then be amazed how far keeping a promise to yourself – and only yourself – will take you.
Our culture has failed the resolution and rendered it just another among an increasing multitude of ways to laugh at failure. If you want to change your life, or achieve even something less lofty like learning a new skill - do it. And don’t bother with everyone else because they haven’t got a clue.
The New Year’s Resolution is dead. Long live personal accountability!
05 Jan 2010 E Dagger