Not One of Our Better Ideas?

These are early 20th Century New Year's Resolutions (now in post cards, via Wickipedia)

Early 20th Century New Year’s Resolutions (now on post cards) via Wickipedia.

 

 

snow on pinecone branch

Two television commentators argued the pros and cons of making New Year’s Resolutions. Finally, one shrugged and said, “The practice of making yearly resolutions wasn’t one of our better ideas.”   Really? Our idea?  We take too much credit.

At the beginning of each year, the Babylonians made promises to their gods to do better, and began by returning borrowed objects and repaying their debts.

The Romans began each year by making promises to the two-faced god Janus. It wasn’t that Janus was fickle; he had the two-faced ability to see the past (the old year) and learn from it to move more clearly into the future (the new year).

And this one—for fans of Camelot—is from the Medieval era. The knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry.

The practice of evaluating our lives at the end of one year as we begin a new year isn’t something modern thinkers can claim. Somewhere along the line, though, the themes of New Year Resolutions have focused more on quitting some habits, creating better ones, and making general plans of things we’ll do day after day…until we forget or decide we need to do something else. Generally speaking, modern lists of resolutions are popular water-cooler topics that have less shelf life than milk.

Many years before her dementia, I asked my mom if she was going to have a New Year’s Resolution. She said it was pretty much the same every year: she resolved to wake up each morning, say a prayer, take a deep breath, and face the day ready to do the best she could do with whatever happened.

As British author and screenwriter David Nicholls said, “This is where it all begins. Everything starts here, today.” I don’t think either my mother or Nicholls was referring to a New Year’s Resolution, but to every day of life.

janus statue

Peacock display, Rolling Hills Zoo, Kansas

Peacock display, Rolling Hills Zoo, Kansas

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51 Comments

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51 responses to “Not One of Our Better Ideas?

  1. juliabarrett

    Oh yes, yes! Your mother and I are soulmates. We share the same philosophy about every single day.
    What an informative post, Marylin! Love historical trivia.
    You’ll let us know if you make a resolution? 😉

    • I love historical trivia, too, Julia. If it isn’t connected to ancient wars, though plagues or diseases, and how people handled them, really grab my attention. 😦
      Usually, I have at least one resolution (I’ve found if I have just one, I can do quite well keeping it.) But this year I also don’t have a “theme” word that friends keep asking about. Do you have a theme word?

      • juliabarrett

        Hmmm. No theme word. Perhaps later in the year. I’m in a holding pattern at the moment.

      • juliabarrett

        To be quite honest, I don’t believe in the effectiveness of resolutions. Every day presents its own set of challenges and joys.

      • Once again, Julia, you confirm that you and my mom really do have so much in common! I also once asked her if she had a theme word, and she shrugged and said that maybe, on some days, but not many.

  2. I love your mother’s approach!!! It works for all of us. A new year is a good time to reflect and evaluate, but so is a new month or new week, a solstice, a change of season, a sunset, a birthday, a…well you get the idea. I did not make resolutions or even agendas this year. I am just going to focus on trying to be a good
    person, to do the right thing, to forgive myself for my
    shortcomings, and maybe write the Great American Novel, ha-ha.

    • As theologians might argue, Claudia, the “writing the great American Novel” part seems to undermine your plan to be a good person, do the right thing, and forgive yourself of shortcomings. 😉 But to me, your total plan sounds genuine, real, and hopeful! You go for the Great American Novel, Claudia! 🙂

  3. calvin

    I cannot recall having made a resolution at year end, and it’s not that am a skeptic either. Though it does seem that a certain measure of time does have a demeanor that comes to life. Maybe it last two months maybe eighteen months, maybe even five years. So it conceivable I make resolutions midstream or when the need arises. But I will raise my glass and wish you a Happy New Year and shtufffs.

  4. Consider my glass raised to wish you a Happy New Year, too, Calvin. Somehow, I sense you do make resolutions midstream or when the need arises, and meet them straight on, though I doubt you call them resolutions.

    • calvin

      Ca-chink.
      No, your correct. More like in-flight course changes to longitude, latitude and speed depending on present and pending turbulence. But don’t we all.

  5. I think all we can do is make an effort to be a better person, more tolerant of the nitpickers in our lives and kinder in general to strangers though I confess this year, for the first time in many years I have made a resolution. It’s to be seen whether I can keep it though.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Sometimes just making the decision to do something is enough to set in motion our determination, David. And just trying, giving it our best to achieve, makes a difference.
      With that brand new beautiful little granddaughter alongside little Reuben, you will have a loving, hopeful time! Best wishes and Massive Hugs back to you!

  6. What a wonderfully sensible resolution. Not an easy one though. My first resolution has already failed but tomorrow is another day. I may get it right then, and if not then, the next day. 🙂

  7. I have enjoyed your historical run-down with a touch of etymology here. Repelling negative thoughts and cultivating the “habit of holy silence” stand out in your postcard image. Your mother’s goals are both sane and wise.

    This year Cliff and I wrote out (amended actually) our goals for 2016. They are pretty ambitious, but even if some have to be rolled over into the following year, we have stretched ourselves to “reach for the stars” (Well, sort of!) Do have a happy, healthy, prosperous new year, Marylin. Thank you for inspiring your readers once again.

    • At this point, Marian, Jim and I have a focused, necessary and ambitious resolution, and that is to learn along with our new puppy, Scout, until we all are “trained” together. Not a grand resolution, but a sane one. 😉 And since it is punctuated with moments of laughter and joy, a good one, too.
      We feel like parents of an infant. ❤ Tired, confused, just doing the best we can, but happy. We start puppy/parent training together tomorrow.

      Those post cards are wonderful, aren't they? I was moved and inspired by the genuine efforts of those who went before us, sometimes just struggling to survive, yet making personal, spiritual efforts.

  8. A great post on the history of this habit. I am goal oriented so making a list of goals every new year is important to me. Just writing them down seems to help make them more attainable. I also mentioned Janus in my blog this year. I guess great minds do think alike. Happy New Year to you and yours!!

    • Janus is one of my favorites, Darlene, the looking back and reviewing, then looking ahead to the new opportunities.

      I like the way you writing the goals down to keep them in mind and more attainable. In the past, that worked for me, but only if I wrote down and focused on just one goal and then stayed with it until it was accomplished. To write down more than one distracted me.

      A very Happy New Year to you, too, Darlene!

  9. I love your mother’s approach to a new year, Marylin. I’ve never been a fan of resolutions and I can’t remember the last time I made one or more.
    Your mother had it all figured out. Happy New Year to you, your family, and especially your sweet mother.

  10. A wonderful post to welcome the New Year, Marylin! Your mother’s philosophy is one I strive for. If we can face each morning with a thankful, joyful heart we will be able to have a wonderful year. I wish you a year of blessings, much happiness, peace, health and love. XO

  11. Well I think this was one if your better ideas – and that’s no mean feat!
    Very informative and intelligent post

    Your Mother must have had high IQ and high emotional intelligence.

    I’ve never felt the urge to make a new year’s resolution, so this year I resolve
    to continue that way. Oh, bother, I’ve gone and broken it. I won’t do that again. Oh, oh is that another?

  12. Happy new year Marylin.
    I also gave up on making new year resolutions

  13. Once again your mom imparts solid wisdom to us, Marylin. Facing the day is not always easy and doing our best is often tough but its better to do so than to give up and wallow in self-pity. Every day is a new day and the turn of the year is merely symbolic.

    • Absolutely, Andrew. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I often constructed detailed lists and plans for the New Year. Now I’m older and I hope wiser; every day is a new day, and you’re so right, the turn of the year is merely symbolic.

  14. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Good thoughts, Marylin. Happy New Year!

  15. I do tend to reflect in the New Year, so I can see how far I have come, and also make plans for the future. However, I also tend to do the on my birthday (which is February 01) and in each new financial year (which is July 01) so I get a couple of goes at getting it right or picking up on any ‘slackness’. Wishing you all the best for 2016.

  16. Marylin, I’m with your mother when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions. I’m just grateful to be alive each day and to try and do the things God’s expects me to do…help others…be kind to myself and others, etc. Happy New Year to you and your family, Marylin. 🙂

  17. Your mother had the best New Years resolution, we all should try doing the with what we have. I like that.
    Marilyn, a happy and healthy New Year to you and your family.

  18. Oh my – “less shelf life than milk” is too apt a summary for our good intentions! Here’s to hope that our good intentions have the longevity of powdered milk without actually having to drink that nasty concoction! Happy New Year, Marylin!

  19. Happy New Year Marylin! Thank you for this lovely post. I didn’t realize there was so much “resoluting” going on in the world at historical points. 🙂
    I am not one much for new year’s goals. I like that the new year can be a fresh start. And you know me- I love my word of the year.
    So here’s to a good one- 2016.
    God Bless you.
    Joanne

    • I know, Joanne, and after reading your post, I was inspired to discover my word of the year after all. I have it narrowed down to three now. 😉
      Here’s to a good year for both of us!

  20. What a great post. Who knew resolutions were once given their own cards? I’ve been struggling with mine but think I have it now. Happy New Year.

  21. I’m with your dear Mom and David Nicholls…every day is reason enough to get up, say a prayer, and live for today. I didn’t know about the history of NY resolutions though, fascinating. And cards too? Great post dear Marylin. And resolutions or not, I do wish you nothing but the very best, you and and your beautiful family, for 2016. May each day bring abundant blessings, joy, peace and lots of laughter 🙂 Big hugs ❤

  22. I think it’s natural to approach a New Year with a New Attitude. We don’t have to wait until January 1st to make improvements, but it’s a start.

    Thank you for enlightening me on the origins of these promises. I never knew. 😉

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