Dr. Deah’s Calmanac: January Perspectives
I have to make a confession.
I am not a big fan of New Year’s Eve.
In fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, I hate New Year’s Eve.
I hate it hate it hate it!!!!!
When I was little, I hated New Year’s Eve because the grownups were clearly waiting for the kids to go to sleep so they could do something special. They put on their fancy clothes, set out special cocktail napkins, and, as the doorbell began to ring, the kids were sent to bed. I felt excluded and disappointed.
By the time I was allowed to stay up until midnight, the thrill had mysteriously faded for my parents. They weren’t dressing up in their fancy clothes, there were no cocktail napkins laid out, and I could tell they were counting the minutes until the clock struck 12:00 so they could go to sleep. I remember one year in particular when they actually went to bed before the ball dropped. Still searching for the magic of the New Year’s Eve moment, I went into the basement with my cat and at the strike of 12:00 I blew a horn and threw confetti up in the air. As I swept up the confetti before I went to bed, I felt excluded and disappointed.
As a young adult, New Year’s Eve took on a whole new significance as it became all about the midnight kiss. We gathered at a friend’s house whose parents had gone out for the night. Dressed up in my fancy clothes, I furtively sipped champagne and hoped that a boy would be in close proximity as the ball dropped and he would kiss me as I entered the New Year. It was all about being chosen. No one kissed me. I felt excluded and disappointed.
Now, as an adult, firmly planted in my 50s, I watch others revel and drunkenly clink glasses while waiting for the ball to drop. I listen to the chorus of “Happy New Year” and am surprised to find the old feelings of disappointment and alienation filling my belly. Why do I feel this way? I am no longer excluded from the festivities, I am of legal drinking age, and I have a wonderful someone to kiss me at the stroke of midnight.
I think part of it is the hypocrisy that is associated with New Year’s Eve. I hate that everyone says “Happy New Year,” when in reality most everyone is focused on what is NOT happy about their lives, hence the self-flagellating tradition of New Year’s resolutions.
Happy New Year!
As the ball drops, people take comfort in knowing they are part of a community of people who have made New Year’s resolutions. There is hope and a sense of inclusion – and yet, more often than not, the resolutions are unrealistic. It won’t be long before they drop the ball of implementing those impossible promises and are, perhaps, left feeling… excluded and disappointed.
Where is the “happy” in focusing on our failures and weaknesses? Where is the “happy” in a collective consciousness of “I am a loser”? Where is the “happy” in only acknowledging what didn’t work last year and setting unattainable goals for what will make the next year happier than last year was? And where is the “new” or the “happy” about people selling products that capitalize on our despondency or desperate annual pursuit of perfection?
Please don’t misinterpret me. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to have goals or objectives for changing our lives for the better. Nor am I saying there is no room for self-improvement; most of us can find ways to take better care of ourselves. I need to floss more. I know it, my dentist knows it, and now you know it.
But what I am objecting to is the oppressive and negative nature of the New Year’s resolution mindset.
I understand the temptation to use the calendar to define new beginnings and endings. It’s part of our culture, after all, to use birthdays and anniversaries as structural tools. So it makes sense to use a momentous date like the first day of the New Year to put a new foot forward, so to speak. But what if we started from a more positive place and focused on what worked well during the previous year and identified things we want to continue to do or expand upon because they worked?
What if we chose resolutions that were less punitive and more attainable; or got really crazy and resolved to do a few things to make another person’s life better? My hunch is that, with a few of those types of adjustments to the resolution ritual, there would be less money lining the pockets of the Jenny Craigs of the world and fewer depressed people in March when the hopefulness surrounding the unattainable resolution has predictably waned. I think the current system is broken and wouldn’t be that difficult to resolve.
If you do feel compelled to make a resolution, here are a few tips (feel free to add your own suggestions!):
- Steer clear of all-or-nothing goals. Remember that there is a middle ground in making behavioral and attitudinal changes.
- Start small. You can always increase your goal later on… No, you don’t have to wait until next December 31st to set a new goal.
- Choose measurable goals and objectives with positive reinforcements along the way.
- Create resolutions that are health-focused and not weight-focused.
- Co-resolute (I just made up that word) with a friend or a group. This lessens the chance of feeling disappointed or excluded (okay, maybe I’m projecting my own personal issues in this one).
- Remember what is wonderful and amazing about you and resolve to acknowledge and appreciate yourself!
- Floss! 😉