Nothing New About New Year Resolutions

At thirty, man suspects himself a fool;
Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan;
At fifty chides his infamous delay,
Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve;
In all the magnanimity of thought
Resolves, and re-resolves; then dies the same

Edward Young (1683-1765) Night Thoughts

More than 300 years ago a wise poet wrote these salutary words about the folly of making resolutions; we make resolutions – sincere, heartfelt, determined, and now, as more than 300 years before, and since, we ignore them, excuse them, rationalize them away, and … then we die. So why are we so drawn to making New Year resolutions, and so equally adroit at letting them slide?

For one thing, it’s nothing new. For another, neither the making nor the ignoring have helped or harmed the world. It seems to be in our nature to make and ignore resolutions, but what part of our nature?

I would venture that it is the part of us that wants to be better for others, the part that wants others to notice, recognize, and value us; it is our narcissistic side that pushes us to make them to shore up our self-worth; and it is our rational side that glimpses the truth that regardless of what we weigh, how little or how much our bellies drip over our belts, how often or seldom we exercise, curb our temper or other such things, no-one really cares, since everyone else is too busy worrying about how much we notice them. So we are able to set aside our well-intentioned auto-promises and get on with the business of living as best we know how.

Does this mean that we should not make resolutions in case we don’t keep them, or that we should only make them if we intend to keep them, or that we should make them and ensure we keep them? or that we shouldn’t take ourselves or our resolutions too seriously? Here’s a thought: how about taking seriously only your resolutions to have a positive impact on others?

What do you think?

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