The custom of making New Year's resolutions, when you think about it, is quite odd. It's the only time of the year when we make such promises to ourselves, and usually we don't even keep them. On other days of the year, admitting that you've messed up so badly that only a step-by-step goal-oriented program can help, is not something you brag about.
Yet on New Year's, it's not only acceptable to say, 'This is the horrible personality trait/habit I'd like to acknowledge and stop,' it's actively encouraged. If you went around asking people, 'What feature or personal habits are you planning to change?' in the middle of May, you'd probably get a few strange looks and/or challenges to 'take this outside.' But at New Year's, you'll learn they plan to lose a dress size or to stop lending money to deadbeats. (I'm looking at you, federal government.)
Why are New Year's resolutions so popular? Generally, we dislike it when our friends or enemies radically change without prior notice. Familiarity is like the snooze button of life, allowing us to sleep with our eyes open instead of processing new information.
For example, think about the last time you got your haircut. No doubt you heard 'You got a haircut' about once a minute for the next three days (depending on how much people actually look at you).
They usually make this comment in the same tone of voice they'd use to say: 'You spent HOW much on that 'Nickleback Forever' tattoo?' It's not that they're angry, just incredulous that you'd alter your appearance without informing them in triplicate beforehand. So, based on one piece of anecdotal evidence, I think it's safe to say that change (at least non-Obama related changed) frightens us.
And it's not just other people changing their hairstyles/religions/tenses that gives us the heebie jeebies. It's the prospect of us changing too. We (okay, I) like to think of ourselves as static. We are either very emotional or not very emotional, but at least we are consistent. We don't change based on fads, or what Oprah's new favorite things are. Even if we think of ourselves as crazy with a K, all that really means is that we're predictably unpredictable.
And yet, despite all my little disclaimers and detractions about change, we love New Year's resolutions. We make them every year, even if they're always the same. (Lose weight, balance federal budget, dump K-Fed, find last decimal of pi.)
Maybe the allure of New Year's resolutions comes from the uncertainty of the future. We never really know what's going to happen, and even if we have a suspicion that our prophesized new beginning may transform back into the same old jive, well, we don't know that for sure. Having a resolution gives us the illusion of control, even if just for a few moments.
Now I know what you've all been dying to hear throughout this entire article. What's my New Year's resolution? Well, I'd like to make another joke here, maybe something along the lines of 'fewer hanging participles and misplaced modifiers,' but the actual truth is considerably less snappy. (And that's what they used to put in newspapers isn't it? The truth?) So here it is: I want to be a kinder person.
I usually like to hide behind the idea that being a cynic is a full-time job - not a glorious job, but an essential one. Like an anchor - it doesn't get appreciated much, but being cynical can keep the rest of the crew from drifting into the Straits of Fantasyland.
But that was old me. From now on, (err, from New Year's on), I want to be a nicer person. Someone who wakes up in the morning feeling, that all in all, people are good at heart - instead of just people to cut in front of in the lunch line to prevent them from cutting in front of me.
I don't imagine it'll be easy to change; so much of my identity is wrapped up in being seen as an aloof cynic above it all. But maybe, just maybe, if I expect people to be generally good, I will see it that way. Who knows, maybe we can all change.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some resolutions to break.