Closeout of the current year often encourages people to generate a flurry of eleventh hour initiatives and activates our innate desire to start anew. This could be nothing more than a burst of energy from our overeating during the holidays. Regardless, December is historically proven a very productive month for planning and Jan. 1 sets the tone for the upcoming year.
You’d think by now the meaning of New Year’s would be clear, but it isn’t. On this first day of a new year people typically spend time reflecting on last year’s achievements and failures, happy and sad occurrences, and looking ahead to the promise of a fresh new beginning. The typical mindset seems to believe there’s a mysterious universal “reset” button that’s been pressed for them causing everything to start anew. But what if New Year’s has a deeper more complex significance, and if so, what is it?
On this first day many of us review our lives from a somewhat serious perspective, especially as we get older. We reflect, regroup and plan new courses of action to improve our lives for the upcoming year. This is historically replicated in our most popular custom associated with New Year’s: making resolutions. Recent studies once again indicated that on average each American makes 1.8 New Year’s resolutions and the top two choices were reconfirmed as losing weight and exercising more; smoking cessation finished in third place.
Have you ever wondered why so many people use this same day each year to evaluate their lives, devise elaborate plans of action and resolve to make lifestyle changes for the better? Maybe it’s guilt or fear about what their doctor told them the week before. Interestingly, most people accomplish less than 1 percent of their New Year’s resolutions during the next 12 months, and more than 60 percent of people admit they never attempt to implement any of their good intentions.
This leads us to some further exploration of the philosophic meaning of New Year’s resolutions. Is it possible that every resolution we make on New Year’s Day implies that we are, for that moment, totally in control of ourselves as we should be during each day of the year and we have the capacity to make and implement choices that change our lives? But what’s the purpose of establishing such resolutions if the odds are less than 1 percent that any of these acted upon intentions will come to fruition?
On New Year’s, more than any other day in the year, we comfortably embrace the notion that attainment of happiness is readily available for the taking and more possible than ever. Awareness of this meaning about New Year’s Day helps explain the reason it has become psychologically essential and momentous to so many people around the world. Imagine if the majority of people applied this possibility driven attitude of New Year’s Day consistently across the next 365 days of the coming year; wouldn’t they be happier more of the time?
The rituals associated with New Year’s have always amazed me. For instance, in some Spanish-speaking countries New Year’s revelers plunk 12 grapes into their beverage for the midnight toast. The grapes concurrently symbolize each of the old months and new months and are eaten at midnight as quickly as possible while making a wish as each one is swallowed. The Heimlich maneuver must prove beneficial at these gatherings.
In the United States there’s a lot of faith-based food eaten on New Year’s Day because mythology suggests it affects quality of life for the coming year. One of the most popular and practiced New Year’s Day eating rituals involves consuming cornbread, cabbage and black-eyed peas. The cornbread symbolizes gold, the cabbage is green folding money and the peas represent coins or copper money. The most noticeable advantage I’ve experienced from participating in this symbolic meal is a meteoric rise in my need to expel gas on a regular basis for about eight hours afterwards and the suggestion from my wife that I sleep on the living room sofa or in the guest bedroom. Naturally, she’s gastronomically unaffected; at least that’s her story.
My interest in big New Year’s celebrations and making resolutions fell by the wayside years ago because it became such an expensive, commercialized, artificial holiday with its greatest significance being the culmination of year-end overindulgence. I also noticed an immediate lessening of headaches the following morning and reduced pressure during the initial weeks and months of the ensuing year due to a lack of non-memorable credit card charges.
What I’ve done instead is ask of me, “What can I change or improve that might make me happier?” This year I’m slightly modifying my query and planning to ask, “What do I no longer need or want to do and what would I like to know more about and learn to do better?” This offers ample latitude while suggesting that I won’t be sitting around idle, ingesting “new and improved” information just because it was presented in a clever advertisement that will likely prove meaningless to me over the long haul or even contribute to my productive regression.
At this juncture you may have concluded that I’ve blown off New Year’s entirely, please reopen your minds because I haven’t, at least not totally. I can still appreciate the salutary nature of the event that has the potential to outpace the hedonistic ideology most commonly associated with it. It may also remain the clearest day of the year for us to assess, question and assign a meaningful set of possibilities for the coming year.
No matter what you do to acknowledge the New Year, I wish for you a day that is safe, happy, healthy and productive. Drink in life (but don’t do it and drive!) to the fullest of your inclination and realize this is, in fact, all there is and every day has the potential for being as good as it gets.
Let’s once again meet here next year.