Go beyond “new year, new you”

This year, instead of changing yourself, let positive interactions in the community change you

Fenton advises reaching out to others
Image supplied by: Supplied by Rhoda Baer
Fenton advises reaching out to others

How many of you made a New Year’s resolution this year? 

Likely, many of us did. And like most things in Western society, they likely revolve around ourselves, our physical appearance or the image we project to others. 

This self-obsession is an extreme deviation from the original intent of New Year’s resolutions, which was to rededicate oneself to community. It’s time we returned to that.

Resolutions are a cultural phenomenon that millions of North Americans engage in each year and one with vague origins. The Babylonians were known to make promises to their gods at the beginning of each year. The Romans began each year by making promises to Janus, the god after whom January is named. During the Medieval era, New Year’s was an event during which knights reaffirmed chivalric vows. 

That’s a pretty heady history leading to our contemporary tendency to hope that this will be the year that we manage to get that perfect booty.

The numbers are varied, but a study by the University of Scranton put the number of resolutions that are related to weight and physical attractiveness at 38 per cent of all resolutions. 

Resolving to lose weight is the most common New Year’s resolution of all. Those who’ve experienced January at the ARC won’t be surprised by the following statistic: the average gym experiences a 30 per cent swell in membership during the month of January. 

Yet, the vast majority of us fail to achieve our resolutions, to actually make it the full year (sorry to burst the bubble of anyone who answered ‘yes’ to my original question). A 2007 study undertaken by the University of Bristol found that 88 per cent of New Year’s resolutions fail. The University of Scranton’s study suggests that less than 50 per cent even make it past six months.

The number of bloggers, journalists and health care professionals who are eager to elucidate the reasons why resolutions fail is innumerable. 

Many talk about resolutions being too lofty, too vague (i.e. “I resolve to lose weight,” versus the more quantifiable, “I resolve to lose five pounds in the next two months”) or point fingers at a lack of confidence or time management. 

To me though, the problem isn’t the “how” of our resolutions, but rather the “why.” Why is losing weight the number one valued resolution each year? That fact alone says some scary things about the values of the Western world. 

We think about ourselves the vast majority of every hour of every day for most days of the year — so shouldn’t New Year’s be an opportunity to look beyond ourselves, even just for a bit?

Somewhere along the way, sacred promises to gods to treat others with increased respect and kindness morphed into a health and fitness industry field day that preys on negative body image. And that’s not okay.

I’m not saying that getting regular exercise and fuelling your body with healthy food aren’t extremely important habits. 

However, I am saying that obsessing over becoming your “best” self is a practice that’s fraught with negative consequences. It’s a resolution that, most of the time, leaves people feeling worse about themselves than they did previously. 

Kindness, gratitude towards others and outreach to those in need are intentions that will never leave you feeling worse about yourself. 

So maybe this year, resolve to donate $5 a month (that’s only the equivalent to two coffees!) to your favourite local charity. Resolve to properly recycle your waste. Resolve to become a better listener. Resolve to spend time doing activities you love simply because they make you happy, rather than because you feel like you need to be “better.” 

Caela Fenton is a fourth-year English major.


charity, community, New year's resolutions

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