A Better New Year’s Resolution

iStock_000014342439XSmallI wrote a good blog post at this time six years ago, and haven’t improved on it yet. Here it is again.

Happy New Year.

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My unscientific sampling says many people make New Years 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 in the first place. It was the peace that comes with gratitude. We mistook cause for effect.

Go for an attitude of gratitude. The rest are positive side-effects.

 

3 replies
  1. Chris Downing
    Chris Downing says:

    That all seems to make perfect sense. Build on what you have and your strengths rather than change and redressing the weaknesses. ( There are a lot of musician who can’t play other instruments – where would we be if they stopped doing whatbthey did well and started learning something new – something they were bad at?

    At Columbia University they have just down some interesting work on whether more money makes you happier – well actually it can – but it all depends on how you spend it. Spending on experiences is way better than buying material posessions. And second on the list – guess what – (see above) – is spending on others will make you far happier than spending on yourself.

    I’m going to implement the blog. And – Well done Charlie – you’re really good at this aren’t you! I’m really glad I read that.

    Reply

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