I originally started to write a post offering tons of different New Year’s resolutions and tips to stick to them to create lasting change. Then I realized that didn’t feel authentic to me.
I don’t actually believe New Year’s Day is any different than any other day. I don’t believe a random point in the time measurement system we’ve created requires us to make a laundry list of things we need to change or improve. New Year’s Eve/Day, in fact, just another day.
I don’t mean to minimize the excitement of the New Year, or any of the days we’ve chosen to celebrate for religious or honorary reasons. I love a big event as much as the next person; in fact, I sometimes bust out the champagne for parallel parking well or using a really big word in a sentence.
What I’m saying is that New Year’s resolutions often fail for a reason, and it’s only slightly related to intention or discipline.
Resolutions fail because they don’t emerge from true breakthroughs. They’re calendar-driven obligations. and they often address the symptoms, not the cause of our unhappiness.
Some resolutions are smart for our physical and emotional health and well-being. Quitting smoking, losing weight, managing stress better—these are all healthy things.
But if we don’t address what underlies our needs to light up, order double bacon cheeseburgers, and worry ourselves into frenzies, will it really help to vow on one arbitrary day to give up everything that helps us pretend we’re fine?
It’s almost like we set ourselves up for failure to avoid addressing the messy stuff.
Why We’re Really Unhappy
I can’t say this is true for everyone, but my experience has shown me that my unhappiness—and my need for coping mechanisms—come from several different places:
- I’m dwelling on the past or obsessing about the future.
- I’m comparing myself to everyone else—their accomplishments, the respect and the attention they garner, and their apparently perfect lives.
- I’m feeling dissatisfied with how I’m spending my time and the impact I’m making on the world.
- I’m expecting and finding the worst in people.
- I’m turning myself into a victim or a martyr, blaming everyone else.
- I’m spiraling into negative thinking, seeing everything as a sign of doom and hopelessness
- I’m assuming there should be a point in time when none of the above happens anymore.
We’ll do these things from time to time, and they’ll hurt. In the aftermath, we’ll want to do all those different things that every year we promise to give up.
We’ll want to eat, drink, or smoke away our feelings. Or we’ll want to work away our nagging sense of inadequacy. Or we’ll judge whether or not we’re really enjoying life enough, and in the very act of judging detract from that enjoyment.
So, perhaps the best resolution has nothing to do with giving up all those not-so-healthy things and everything to do with adopting a new mindset that will make it less tempting to turn to them.
An Alternative to Resolutions
Maybe instead of trying to trim away all the symptoms of our dissatisfaction, we can accept that what we really want is happiness—and that true happiness comes and goes. We can never trap it like a butterfly in a jar.
No amount of medication or meditation can change the fact that we will sometimes get caught up in thoughts and emotions.
What we can do is work to improve the ratio of happy-to-unhappy moments. We can learn to identify when we’re spiraling and pull ourselves back with the things we enjoy and want to do in this world.
Instead of scolding ourselves for all the things we’re doing wrong and making long to-do lists to stop doing them, we can focus on doing the things that feel right to us.
I’m no posi-psy expert, and to my knowledge no one is since the industry is unregulated. But it doesn’t take an expert to know it feels a lot better to choose to nurture positive moments than it does to berate myself for things I’ve done that might seem negative—all while plotting to give them all up when the clock strikes.
It’s not about perfection or a complete release from all the causes of unhappiness. It’s about accepting that being human involves a little unhappiness—but how often it consumes us is up to us.
Resolve what you will this year, but know that happiness is the ultimate goal. It starts in daily choices, not lofty resolutions—on any day you decide to start. Wishing you and yours the very best in 2018.