New Year’s Resolutions Revisited

New Year’s Resolutions Revisited

You’re going to be seeing a lot of New Year’s resolution lists as 2012 fades into 2013. These lists are all good; doing something helpful is better than doing nothing. Of course, it also depends on an individual’s idea of “helpful.” If you plan to trash your neighbor’s Christmas lights because their brightness has kept the entire neighborhood awake for a month, that might indeed be helpful. But not for you. You will have a date with destiny, and go to meet it handcuffed in the back of a squad car.

Another drawback to these lists is that they are so generic. For example, get a better education. What is better? Is it a diploma that leads to a job higher up in management, where the pay is about the same but the stress is at meltdown? Or is it learning a new skill, like photography, which has been your lifelong ambition, even if the pay (often freelance) sucks for the first decade or so (or until you carve out a reputation)?

I’ve tried not to fall into the generic trap. I’m also mindful of economic and social trends. With all that held up as a yardstick against some valuable suggestions for changing your life, I hope you find at least one of the below resolutions, taken from USA.gov, useful.

1. Drink less alcohol. Of course, if you don’t drink, it’s irrelevant.  Ditto if you feel obliged to drink because the boss buys a case of French-label Pinot Noir every New Year’s eve (and you suspect that failing to imbibe might lose you your job), you will need to move on to the next suggestion; this one is dead in the water. And that imbibing boss, who breaks out the champagne every excuse he/she gets, may be totally tactless, but he/she is still your boss.

2. Eat healthy food. But what is healthy food? Vegans, vegetarians, paleodiet fans and carnivores all have their own interpretation. According to the international Slow Food organization, healthy food is all food that doesn’t come from huge international agricultural biotechnology corporations like Monsanto, DuPont, Cargill, and EU-based Syngenta, whose seeds are genetically modified. An even simpler definition of the term “slow food” is that it is the opposite of “fast” food, and the movement – spurred by the first McDonalds to appear in Spain, is a conscious choice to buy and eat locally grown fruits and vegetables in season. Couple those with natural dairy, eggs and meat, and this “locally grown and harvested” metric means that farmers, growers, shippers (often the farmers themselves) and whole-food grocers make a good profit, leading to a healthy economy.

3. Getting fit, or getting in shape, is another those ambiguous goals. A 35-year-old male benefits from lengthy, rugged exercise. A pregnant female of the same age does not, though regular walks (or a treadmill) and a tai chi class might offer all the fitness a mommy-to-be needs. Also, while the male in this scenario would probably benefit by losing the few pounds he has gained since college, the pregnant woman (or older woman, or elderly male, or individual recovering from cancer) probably would not. Sustained, heavyweight exercise could cause a miscarriage, a stroke or heart attack, or the sudden onset of metastasizing cancer cells triggered by the body’s efforts to metabolize more fat.

4. Managing debt and stress are two more huge but highly ambivalent goals. Some people manage stress by engaging in hobbies or activities that take their mind off work, shaky finances, delinquent children or a marriage that has gotten far too comfortable. Others prefer to confront their demons head-on by consulting a money manager or therapist. Which is better? Better to ask how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

5. Managing debt has a similar profile. Homeowners could take out a second mortgage and consolidate the debt into more manageable bites. Even with the best of intentions, however, 10 years may see the return of the financial problem, but now doubled, because borrowing doesn’t always incentivize financial discretion. Others consult a debt counselor, who gets creditors to accept lower payments. Only a few in financial crisis have the courage to examine their lifestyle privately and determine where drastic spending cuts are needed – a failure clearly shared by government!

6. One very precise goal, to quit smoking, is just what it seems. Too bad it’s also so difficult. For example, did you know that tobacco is as addictive as heroin or crack? Or that those who experience withdrawal may be inclined to some pretty weird behavior, from crying jags to restlessness to the sort of up-and-down mood swings typical of bipolar disorder. If you love a quitter, simply try to be patient with them, make sure the source of their anxiety is not around to tempt, and help them over the really rough spots with a treat (cheesecake, fine wine and impromptu sex come to mind, but then I’m not a therapist).

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