It’s the end of the calendar year, which gym membership fliers and credit card mailers alike will tell you means it’s time to set self-improvement goals for the coming year. Time to start an exercise regimen, go on a strict diet, clip coupons, send homemade birthday cards, master the art of the soufflé, and take up yoga or knitting. New Year’s resolutions are almost always a socially acceptable form of self-flagellation. “I’m not thin enough! I’m not pretty enough! I’m not virtuous enough! I will fix all this! I will be Me, Version 2.0! I will implant a chip in my brain that feeds me whatever information I need at the moment and always knows the location of the nearest Starbucks! I will gain superhuman strength and shed the need for sleep, and thus will I be the best person I can be!” I think you can see where this is going — New Year’s resolutions lead to cyborg armies. So for the good of our collective happiness and the future of America, I suggest we ditch resolutions this year. Instead, let’s think up some New Year’s Celebrations!
Okay, so there are non-cyborg goals that are totally worthy and wonderful, of course. This blog wouldn’t exist without goals, and I wouldn’t be traveling around the world in a couple years either, for that matter. But for all the goals that motivate, there are goals that make it difficult to appreciate who we are right now and the joy we could be experiencing at this moment. Those are the cyborg goals these celebrations go against.
My list of celebrations is made up of things I can do that I know will bring me happiness, so it can be something I’ve done before or something that’s totally new to me. It’s not something to work toward or achieve or feel burdened about completing. It’s just something that will enhance my life in some way. But lest we stray too close to New Age-y “light some scented candles” or positivist “smile on the outside to feel the smile on the inside” malarkey, I think the list of celebrations needs to be made up of concrete, specific things. (Like a paper for English class!) Instead of “laugh more,” it should be “see an iO show” or “hang out with hilarious friend Alf every month.”
Now to implement the best part, which is also the hardest part (you knew there was a catch). With New Year’s resolutions, or most goal-oriented projects, the whole system is set up as cause & effect, rewards & punishments. This makes sense when you are changing something; how else do you measure progress and ensure you stay on the right track? But it can really mess you up psychologically. Diets are an obvious example — “I had a cupcake at lunch so I’ll do an extra 20 minutes on the elliptical” or “I’m eating veggies only for three days straight so I can cheat and have pasta on Valentine’s Day.” But other New Year’s resolutions can be similar — rewarding yourself with new nail polish because you saved on not getting a manicure, or the like. Soon every decision becomes a negotiation, every moment a cost/benefit analysis. It’s mentally exhausting to live in a near-constant state of trade-offs.
Thus, New Year’s Celebrations are totally free of cause and effect. You don’t go see that iO show as a reward for going 30 days smoke-free; you go because you have a free night and $12 and it sounds like fun. These are no-strings-attached things to do. The list is just a reminder of all the ways you love to have fun, a handy reference for whenever you might have cause to use it and celebrate the fact that you are alive.
Here are some things on my list of New Year’s Celebrations for 2010:
- Spend an entire day at the beach
- Spend an entire day reading
- Visit a museum I’ve never been to before, like the DuSable or the NMMA
- Eat a peach (and play a good album)
- Say “yes” to a random invitation when I have plans to do something more dull
- Visit the Garfield Park Conservatory when it’s cold outside, all the better to enjoy the tropical interior
- Drink a beer chosen by the bartender at Quenchers
And so on and so forth. What are some celebratory ideas you have?
Also, if you are looking for a beautifully written piece on the idea of appreciating smaller moments, check out my friend’s blog here.