The calendar page turns once again. As we eagerly watch the dropping of the ball in Times Square to usher in 2011, we also make resolutions for the New Year. We will resolve to live life in a better way than we did in the past, to do something of benefit for ourselves or others, to strive to become better people. We will resolve to exercise more, to eat in moderation, to be kinder people, to work harder, to engage in spiritual practices more frequently, and to be the best we can be. Our resolutions reflect our hopes and desires to be the people we think we should be. Yet, we know from our own experience that these resolutions won’t stand for more than a few weeks. However, each year, we make more resolutions. Each year, by February, the resolutions are usually forgotten.
Perhaps we continue to make resolutions each year because the custom is deeply engrained in us. The tradition of New Year’s resolutions is rooted in the very origins of Western culture. In the first month of each year, the Babylonians returned items that had been borrowed from others as a way to start the New Year free from debt to others. Some historians also find a connection between New Year’s resolutions and the Roman deity, Janus, for whom January is named. Janus is a two-headed deity who is able to see both the past and the future. Creation is attributed to him. Because he is the creator who can see what has been and what will be, when new commitments were made, as at weddings or when negotiating contracts, Romans invoked Janus to sustain commitment into the future.
While much can be said for the positive approach taken in New Year’s resolutions to do something to improve self, perhaps for 2011 a different approach to resolutions would be more helpful. As a culture, our days are packed with far too many commitments. We are deprived of eight hours of restorative sleep each night. Schedules that keep us busy and unable to properly rest result in over-eating, poor nutrition, and a host of physical and mental health concerns. In addition, many of us spend more money than we earn and struggle with debt from attempting to live up to expectations about the way we should live.
Rather than making resolutions to do more things that don’t fit into our over-crowded schedules, to buy more items than we really need, or to be involved with more activities than we can balance, would it be helpful for us to resolve to just say no? Saying no to long work hours, to additional activities, to running here and there to do all the things expected of us, to accumulating more debt, can create the possibility of saying yes to living in a more positive way.
The great spiritual traditions all maintain disciplines related to some form of asceticism. For example, traditions of fasting are meant to serve as a reminder of the human hunger for the Divine. Great saints from various world religions made sacrifices in order to grow in spiritual depth. While many of the things that these saints did as ascetical practices seem very odd today, at root those practices were the attempt to just say no to something that hindered the growth of the saint.
In a similar way for us today, living overly busy, fragmented lives marked by exceeding our means in many dimensions negatively impacts our growth and health: physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Rather than resolving to do more, perhaps it’s time to do less. Doing less opens us to the possibility of resting more, spending quality time with family and loved ones, and living in a way that is more in-tune with who we are most deeply.
As the New Year draws near, my simple resolution is to just say no to the things that prevent me from living well. By saying no, I can create the room in my life for health and happiness in 2011 and beyond. Perhaps saying no is the resolution that will help to improve your quality of life as well.
© 2010, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.