Column: New Year’s resolutions have a tragic history
If your New Year’s resolutions crash and burn, don’t despair.
According to an article in “Forbes” magazine, only eight percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals of losing weight, de-cluttering the house, learning a new language or whatever. Coincidentally, Green Party candidate Jill Stein has demanded a recount of the survey. (“Did you in fact forget all your friends’ birthdays last year, or were you instead terrified that Donald Trump would track them down and deport them all back to Switzerland?”)
Pledges come to naught because of factors such as inadequate planning, unreasonable goals, bad influences, “you meddling kids,” etc.
But I think the biggest factor is that notable figures down through history have failed spectacularly and left our confidence shaken, prompting half-hearted vows.
What about Humpty Dumpty? After his pledge of “This year, I’m being less introverted and coming out of my shell,” the irony has echoed down through the ages.
Some of the cases have been just sad, like Alexander Graham Bell’s resolution of “This is 1876 and I intend to do something to stop that confounded ringing in my ears!”
And let’s not forget explorer Marco Polo’s optimistic plan, “Maybe this is the year I’ll find a public swimming pool where no one knows my name!”
Oh, and let’s not overlook the king of Troy, who declared, “No, I’ve decided to swear off re-gifting.”
Some resolutions are just ahead of their time, like Confucius announcing, “Forget fortune cookies! I’m getting my sayings distributed in pinatas!”
Some long-ago resolutions remind us of modern anxieties, such as Thomas Jefferson freaking out and saying, “I’m not making any more Louisiana purchases until someone can protect me from identity theft.”
Sometimes human nature gets in the way of resolutions. Take for instance Russian tsar Peter the Great. (“I really want to be more humble this year, but I already have those rubles invested in business cards...”)
Sometimes one door closes but another opens. Take Charles Dickens, who boasted, “This is the year I write a classic that forever links my name with the holiday of ...ARBOR DAY.”
The first drafts of some resolutions were a little rough around the edges because the speakers got carried away. Yes, you nailed it. I’m talking about Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. After watching one mixed martial arts contest too many, he threatened, “First, we gonna do some HARM. Bring it on.”)
Thank goodness some of the resolutions didn’t work out, or we would be living in quite a different world. Teddy Roosevelt musing, “I’ve found a megaphone. Now I just need a teeny, tiny stick. Look out, world”? I don’t think so.
We really dodged a bullet with Winston Churchill. In the 1930s he toyed with a commitment to stop talking about icky things in mixed company. (“Dash it all, who needs to hear about things like blood, toil, tears and sweat?”)
We’d all be poorer if Sigmund Freud had acted on his first impulses. (“There! I’ve gotten all the loose change out of the couch. Time to call the garbage collector. What other use could I have for a couch?”)
Make resolutions, don’t make resolutions. It’s a free country. I’m just going to live vicariously through the fact that Frank Sinatra eventually decided not to croon, “Let the record show, I took the blows and did it the focus group’s way...”