This time of year, when our nights are long and we spend more time quietly alone and inside, we take time to reflect on our lives. In a culture descended from the Puritans, we necessarily find ourselves wanting. But just when the dark lasts longest, the sun begins to return, and we become hopeful again. This mix of criticism followed by hope leads to New Year’s resolutions. And despite years of broken resolutions, we still believe we can be better. Thus we resolve to be.
A big bunch of us head off to the gym. January is always a boom month for new gym memberships, and consequently, for limping to work, sleeping like rocks, and feeling our age. Whether we’ve started too ambitiously to keep up our shiny new behavior, whether the time and energy we devote to our new resolve is eventually reclaimed by our activities for daily living, whether we will disappoint ourselves and quit yet again is not important in early January. Right now, we’re setting goals and heading out to make them real, imagining ourselves this upcoming summer looking remarkably similar to the way we did when were 19, and feeling as energetic, as free, and as confident as we did then, too.
We’re eating smarter, too - convincing ourselves that lettuce tastes good without oily dressing and that tofu is a wonder food, as versatile as it is cheap. We’re persuaded that our skin is getting softer because we’re eating more vegetables. We’re ignoring our growing cravings for chocolate and for alcohol - and the mounting piles of laundry we have no time to do because we’re exercising. We’re building new and better habits through sacrifice; we’re persevering though the pain.
And we’re not content just making ourselves better. We’re making a better world. We’re resolving to create better family life, to holding our tongues when the teenagers propose piercing skin we didn‘t appreciate at that age either, to calling the far flung cousins we once knew as well as ourselves, to being patient with our aging parents. We’re going to improve our attitude at work, volunteer, and return our library books on time. We’re decreasing our carbon footprint by buying local, hanging up the laundry to dry, and carpooling. We’re giving to worthy causes.
Later on, we may slip, fall off the wagon, revert to the lesser selves we perceived ourselves to be as the old year ended. For now though, we’re hopeful, disciplined, and strong. In the crisp, clean air of January, we can see clearly what we need to do. And we’re doing it. We’re building momentum. We’re reclaiming the youth that the daily grind stole from us before we knew we could get old. We are doing all that now - and now is all that matters.