A Different Kind of Resolution

Monday, January 28, 2013

There is one good way to never break a resolution, and that is to never make any. It's not so much that I'm overly satisfied with myself (quite the contrary in fact) as much as it is a comfortable realization that I'm probably not likely to put forth the kind of effort that would be required to sustantially remake myself at this late date.

I'm always amazed at the number of people who make New Year's resolutions - as if a number on a calendar were some magical push-button to reinvention. Look at all the self-help books and infomercials and quasi-psychologists on talk shows peddling ways to make you a new man or new woman. You have to wonder if anyone in this country is actually the least bit happy with who they are.

The very concept of resolution intrigues me. I checked with the FranklinCovey people, the firm that does polling every year to see what the most popular resolutions for 2013 are.

The runaway number one resolution, both this year and last, is "to become more physically fit." Checking in at number three is to improve health, and number four, to lose weight, all unchanged from last year.

That's three out of the top four that involve body improvements. And it's interesting to note that "fitness" rates way ahead of actual "health" - or as Billy Crystal's character on Saturday Night Live used to say, "It's better to look good than to feel good."

Perhaps fitness manages to stay atop the resolution list year after year because we rarely manage to achieve it. A couple of days of dieting and long walks, maybe, then you get busy, or tired, or you think maybe you are coming down with something, or there's something really good on TV, or it's pizza buffett night, and the best laid plans begin to crumble.

At least we RECOGNIZE that we're fat and out of shape, which is a start. And even if we all did successfully render ourselves sleek and perfect and beautiful, then what the heck would we have left to be resolute about come NEXT January?

Checking in at the number two most popular resolution for 2013, as it was for 2012, was "improve financial condition." Because what good does it do to do all those situps if we can't afford a new wardrobe to show off those bulging biceps and washboard abs?

This one is a toughie - you can't necessarily walk in to work and demand a fat raise. And in the recent economy, any luxuries may already have been jettisoned. My advice - cut up your credit cards. A quick resolution that might actually do you some good.

At number five last year was to "read more." This year it morphed into "become more educated."

People don't read anymore - books are more a matter of decor. Oh we tweet and Facebook post and text and watch the movie versions of books on Hulu and buy Nooks to place on coffee tables to make it look as if we might read something someday, but really reading - not so much. It's becoming a University of Phoenix world, and while education of most any kind is a laudable goal, we may need to define what education actually is. (A degree to hang on the wall isn't education. Education requires only curiosity and motivation. It need never end, but be warned - a computer gadget will NOT do it for you.)

So that's your top five - get skinny, get rich, graze on a salad, pick up a paperback at the mall, and you've got it covered. The perfect life.

It's interesting to me that what never makes such a list is, "be a better person."

Where's "treat people better," "give of my time and talents to help others," "put some effort into my relationships," "have a more positive attitude," "get involved," "reach out" or "have ideas?"

Isn't this really what we need?

What good is it to have thin, healthy, wealthy, educated people if they are self-centered creeps who do nothing to improve the world around them?

I wonder about our priorities sometimes. We are so caught up in ourselves - how we look and how smart people think we are and how many possessions we are able to amass and how impressive a job title we are able to land, that we forget to consider that perhaps it also matters how we actually live our lives.

We won't all be able to realize our resolutions to be svelte, high IQ cash cows. But we COULD hammer a few nails in a Habitat for Humanity house, mentor a child one afternoon a week, cart a bag of groceries to the food pantry to help out somebody in need.

It doesn't take much - help someone reach something on a top shelf, check on an older neighbor, hold a door for a mother wrestling with a child seat, complement someone, get your face up out of your cell phone long enough to smile more. Once you start, it's easy.

To quote the great philosopher Francis Xavier Cross (Bill Murray in "Scrooged"): "You have to do something. You have to take a chance, you do have to get involved. There are people having trouble trying to make their miracle happen. There are people that don't have enough to eat and people that are cold. You can go out and say hello to these people. Take an old blanket out of the closet, you can make them a sandwich and tell them, "Oh by the way, here... You've just got to want that feeling! And if you like it and you want it, you get greedy for it. You'll want it every day of your life!"

It's not as sexy as being skinny or rich, to be sure. But it's not only achievable - for once something fully in your own control! - it feels better than skinny looks.