A Better New Year’s Resolution

My unscientific sampling says many people make New Year’s resolutions, but few follow through. Net result—unhappiness.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

You could, of course, just try harder, stiffen your resolve, etc. But you’ve been there, tried that.

You could also ditch the whole idea and just stop making resolutions. Avoid goal-failure by eliminating goal-setting. Effective, but at the cost of giving up on aspirations.

I heard another idea: replace the New Year’s Resolution List with a New Year’s Gratitude List. Here’s why it makes sense.

First, most resolutions are about self-improvement—this year I resolve to: quit smoking, lose weight, cut the gossip, drink less, exercise more, and so on. All those resolutions are rooted in a dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs—or with oneself.

In other words: resolutions often have a component of dissatisfaction with self. For many, it isn’t just dissatisfaction—it’s self-hatred. And the stronger the loathing of self, the stronger the resolutions—and the more they hurt when they go unfulfilled. It can be a very vicious circle.

Second, happy people do better. This has some verification in science, and it’s a common point of view in religion and psychology—and in common sense. People who are slightly optimistic do better in life. People who are happy are more attractive to other people. In a very real sense, you empower what you fear—and attract what you put out.

Ergo, replace resolutions with gratitude. The best way to improve oneself is paradoxical—start by being grateful for what you already have. That turns your aspirations from negative (fixing a bad situation) to positive (making a fine situation even better).

Gratitude forces our attention outwards, to others—a common recommendation of almost all spiritual programs.

Finally, gratitude calms us. We worry less. We don’t obsess. We attract others by our calm, which makes our lives connected and meaningful. And before long, we tend to smoke less, drink less, exercise more, gossip less, and so on. Which of course is what we thought we wanted in the first place.

But the real truth is—it wasn’t the resolutions we wanted. It was the peace that comes with gratitude. We had mistaken cause for effect.

Go for an attitude of gratitude. The rest is a positive side-effect.



Postscript: the article in the NYTimes on 7 January titled Happiness 101 suggests that gratitude is the most effective "strategy" of many studied in engendering happiness.

0 replies
  1. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    What a perfect way to start the new year.

    I have used a regular gratitude practice over the past six months and the results are nothing short of remarkable.  My add-on suggestion: be sure to list (or think about) what you are especially grateful for in relation to the things you most want to "fi&xquot; in your life.  For example, if you want more financial prosperity: "I am grateful for my checking account balance of $450.50."  If you are unhappy with your body: "I am grateful for my skinny arms and strong calves." If you are wishing for a new love relationship in your life: "I am grateful for my loving friendships with <fill in names here>."

    What I refer to as "spontaneous appreciation calls" — phone calls out of the blue to people you especially value in your life, sharing with them something specific about how they have impacted your life in a positive way — not only completely boost your own mood (and therefore your ability to attract positive things into your life), but usually make someone else’s day/week/month.  And what could be more important in life than that?

    By the way, your post refers to what quantum physicists have been trying to tell us for years.  🙂

  2. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    Oops – forgot something.  Want to deepen your relationship with clients in a way that very few business advisors do?  Make spontaneous appreciation calls to them. Just be completely sure you’re are 100% genuine and have no agenda other than to tell them what you really appreciate about them.  Feel awkward about it and not sure they’ll beleive your motives are pure? Try starting with a caveat: "I’m sure it’s nearly impossible to believe that a consultant might be calling you without wanting something … "

  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Thanks for this post!

    Andrea Howe says, "What a perfect way to start the new year."


    What a wonderful way to start every day. Upon waking, and staying in bed, I take 10-15 long and deep, deep breathes, sense into my body and move into a gratitude practice…naming persons, pets, places, things, practices, qualities, skills, etc. for which I am truly grateful, thanakful and blessed.

    This practice allows me to move into a place of presence and positivity and not go on automatic pilot into problems of the day, usual or new worries and concerns, frustrations, or immediately fighting new and old battles, etc. This gratitude practice sets my intentionality and the tone and tenor for my day, my work, my relationships…and I move into this practice throughout the day when I feel stressed, upset, frustrated, etc.

    The deal with resolutions is that most of us make them from a place of "lack" and "deficiency" and thus they are difficult to put positive intention and attention on for long, and why we so often quit within weeks, if not days. We are "moving away" from what we don’t want rather than "moving toward" what we want with honesty and intentionality. "Moving away" hardly ever results in goal attainment and true happiness.

    Lastly, intentions work best when they are part of a larger life vision, life purpose…e.g., it’s not losing the weight, it’s my larger life vision to experience a true and real healthy and happy life(style) that I want to experience and losing weight will support me in experiencing this life(style). Ten pounds is ten pounds but without a larger, meaningful context, it won’t usually last, which is why so many move toward recidivism, and the attendant self-hate, self-loathing, and "woe is me" mantra, or blaming someone or something outside one’s self for non-attainment of goals.

    Life purpose and life visions are supportive containers for resolution creating and achievement.

    Happy New Year!




  4. Shaula Evans
    Shaula Evans says:

    Excellent suggestion, Charlie.

    I don’t know if you’ve caught wind if it yet, but the legal blogosphere (or blawgosphere) has been busy all month stirring up a flurry of appreciation along similar conceptual lines to what your outline above.

    The old adage about great minds is clearly true.

  5. Brooks C. Sackett
    Brooks C. Sackett says:

         Appreciation and gratitude are the hallmarks of happy people. From those traits come optimism and the drive for achieving more in a spirit of youthful excitement–not competitive desperation. Most people fear they’ll never have enough and never be enough. Being grateful for what’s in your life today here and now is the starting place for an energetic and healthy future that builds naturally on those characteristics you already value in your life.

         Dan Baker is a psychologist at Canyon Ranch in Arizona who deals with people who are at the end of their rope. His book "What Happy People Know" stresses the beneficial traits of happy people and appreciation and gratitude are right up their at the top of the list.
         Thanks, Charlie, and Happy New Year!

  6. Bill Peper
    Bill Peper says:

    Thank you for the great post. My favorite song, Grateful (written by John Bucchino,  the best composer of pop music in America today in my opinion ) is exactly on this point. A ballad, this is worth a download for those into pop music. Here are the lyrics:


    I’ve got a roof over my head
    I’ve got a warm place to sleep
    Some nights I lie awake counting gifts
    Instead of counting sheep

    I’ve got a heart that can hold love
    I’ve got a mind that can think
    There may be times when I lose the light
    And let my spirits sink
    But I can’t stay depressed
    When I remeber how I’m blessed

    Grateful, grateful
    Truly grateful I am
    Grateful, grateful
    Truly blessed
    And duly grateful

    In a city of strangers
    I’ve got a family of friends
    No matter what rocks and brambles fill the way
    I know that they will stay until the end

    I feel a hand holding my hand
    It’s not a hand you can see
    But on the road to the promised land
    This hand will shepherd me
    Through delight and despair
    Holding tight and always there

    Grateful, grateful
    Truly grateful I am
    Grateful, grateful
    Truly blessed
    And duly grateful

    It’s not that I don’t want a lot
    Or hope for more, or dream of more
    But giving thanks for what I’ve got
    Makes me so much happier than keeping score

    In a world that can bring pain
    I will still take each chance
    For I believe that whatever the terrain
    Our feet can learn to dance
    Whatever stone life may sling
    We can moan or we can sing

    Grateful, grateful
    Truly grateful I am
    Grateful, grateful
    Truly blessed
    And duly grateful

    Lyrics > J > John Bucchino Lyrics > Grateful Song Lyrics


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