Keep those New Year’s resolutions
Even without the statistics, we can imagine that every New Year, sales from fast food, junk food, cigarettes, alcohol, or instant noodles drop slightly.
At the same time, there is a noticeable increase of people running in the park or enrolling at a gym. Many buy a new book. Churches are a little more crowded.
For those who bought a planner, there is a deliberate attempt to write in a much nicer handwriting. Many journals are started on this day, too.
Quite a lot of people also seem to be a little nicer, more patient or more grateful.
The need to renew one’s self during the turn of the year is nothing new. Our earliest accounts tell of ancient rituals and vow-making akin to modern-day New Year’s resolutions, thoughtfully coinciding with natural events such as the heralding of spring, the reappearance of a star, or the return of migratory birds or beasts—and with it, nourishment and life.
With the renewal of resources comes the renewal of familial and communal bonds. Renewal is not just a cultural or religious practice; it is encoded in our very DNA and is necessary for our survival, having evolved in a world that itself continues to go through cycles of renewal.
But as modern life progressively divorces itself from nature, it is now a common observation how far we have estranged ourselves from the concept, as many now find the idea of setting New Year goals as an almost childish or naive undertaking. In practice, we have become quite bad at it.
For most, after the first few weeks (or days) after New Year, eating habits return to normal. In the park and at the gym, only the regulars remain. In many new books, a bookmark gets stuck on a page.
People slip back into their previous personalities. Many planners and journals become destined to stay in mint condition, and life becomes more or less what it was the year before.
The problem is that change, especially self-change, is vastly difficult in a consumer culture that aggressively markets the idea that it is the world that should change for people instead.
While our ancestors had to make do with what the seasons and circumstances could provide and had to adapt accordingly (or die), we now insist living an on-demand lifestyle where not just our needs are gratified, but also our pettiest whims and wishes—around the clock, all year round.
After all, when everything is so amazingly convenient, when anything can be acquired from a tiny screen in the palm of your hand, what practical use is there in trying to become a better, stronger person?
When the environment no longer demands that one be in healthy physical shape to become a good provider, when knowledge is downloadable instead of learned, when the internet is what fills the gaps and explains our relationships, or when memes instantly validate all our shortcomings, why bother with mustering the willpower to make drastic life choices?
Perhaps meaningful change is necessarily a response to what is lacking in the environment, hence it explains why it is a huge struggle for most of us to keep our New Year’s resolutions in what appears to be a world of instant and eternal abundance.
But we are forgetting that marketing ads and online shopping are illusions about the state of the world.
We have to acknowledge that whatever personal conveniences and privileges we have acquired through our genius as a species, we have paid for by lumping all our problems into big global issues such as poverty, economic inequality, nuclear weapons stockpiles and climate change.
These massive concerns require a collective response—a collective change—because their effects upon us are and will be collective as well.
This is perhaps why the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions should be more relevant and urgent for our times.
We need to focus and commit to bettering ourselves constantly, not just as an end to one’s personal goals, but also in order to have more meaningful impact on the world that we have forgotten we are unavoidably a part of.
We have to redefine self-change as a necessary adaptive measure to our current world crises. After all, only people who can change themselves can change the world.
Now more than ever, we need a lot of them.
Derik Cumagun is a college instructor from Lipa, Batangas.
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